July 1 - 31, 2008

Visual AIDS and The Body

Militancy and Mourning
Curated by Paul Sendziuk

Sam Orwen, Lovers, 1982
Mr. Coffee 1993
Hugh Steers
oil on canvas, 48" x 34"

Featuring the artwork of Archive Members: Ronald Casanova, John Dugdale, Brent Nicholson Earle, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Derek Jackson, Nancer LeMoins, Edward Lightner, Elliot Linwood, Eric Rhein, Kurt Reynolds, Hugh Steers, Alberto Velasco, David Wojnarowicz and Steven H. Wolf.

In the Curatorís Statements:

In 1987, influential cultural critic Douglas Crimp demanded that arts institutions and artists cease simply trying to raise money for the fight against AIDS and start actually intervening in the epidemic. He was frustrated by pronouncements that the elegiac and transcendental tone of the works being made about AIDS would be the epidemic's cultural legacy. "We don't need a cultural renaissance," he retorted, "we need cultural practices actively participating in the struggle against AIDS. We don't need to transcend the epidemic; we need to end it."

Crimp sought a more robust, political aesthetic, in which artists would expose the techniques of representation by which people with AIDS were either stigmatized or made invisible. Accordingly, he championed the confrontational and explicit graphic style of the activist collective Gran Fury, which drew attention to the homophobia and sexism preventing effective government action, and the provocative work of ACT UP, whose cleverly choreographed protests ensured that its statements made the TV news.

Crimp's manifesto sparked an ongoing debate about how artists should respond to the crisis. Many of the artists represented in this gallery took up his call to arms and address the injustice, prejudices and silence that make people vulnerable to infection and marginalize those living with HIV/AIDS.

The other artists represented force us to rethink what constitutes "political" action. Does one have to participate in a protest rally or storm the headquarters of a pharmaceutical company to be political? In a society that is uncomfortable with homosexuality, and especially black men-who-have-sex-with-men, isn't survival -- the simple act of slipping on a condom every time one fucks -- a political act in itself? And what of work that represents grief and loss? While seemingly passive in nature, such work reminds us that one of the most useful functions of art is to help us mourn, to suggest that our pain is shared and that we're not alone, so that our energies might be restored and renewed for the fight ahead.

The final two images in the gallery are by Albert Velasco, who became a good friend during my stay in New York. His recent health problems (including a cyst on his brain) were eerily foreshadowed in drawings he completed over 10 years ago. Far from being disappointed with the body, and even when it fails, Velasco celebrates the amazing abilities of human physiology and consciousness, reminding us to continue living even when faced with the prospect of death.

b i o g r a p h i e s

Paul Sendziuk is a senior lecturer in the School of History and Politics at the University of Adelaide, Australia. His most recent book is Learning to Trust: Australian Responses to AIDS, which was short-listed for the 2004 Human Rights Award bestowed by Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. He spent the first half of 2008 in New York working on a project in collaboration with Visual AIDS titled The Art of AIDS Prevention: Cultural Responses to HIV/AIDS in Australia, South Africa and the United States.

Every month, Visual AIDS invites guest curators, drawn from both the arts and AIDS communities, to select several works from the Frank Moore Archive Project.

Founded in 1988 by arts professionals as a response to the effects of AIDS on the arts community and as a way of organizing artists, arts institutions, and arts audiences towards direct action, Visual AIDS has evolved into an arts organization with a two-pronged mission: 1) Through the Frank Moore Archive Project, the largest slide library of work by artists living with HIV and the estates of artists who have died of AIDS, Visual AIDS historicizes the contributions of visual artists with HIV while supporting their ability to continue making art and furthering their professional careers, 2) In collaboration with museums, galleries, artists, schools, and AIDS service organizations, Visual AIDS produces exhibitions, publications, and events utilizing visual art to spread the message “AIDS IS NOT OVER.”

The Body is now the most frequently visited HIV/AIDS-related site on the Web, according to the Medical Library Association and also the most frequently visited disease-specific site on the Web, according to Hot 100. The Body contains a rich collection of information on topics ranging from HIV prevention, state-of-the-art treatment issues, humor and art. An invaluable resource, The Body is used by clinicians, patients and the general public. Part of The Body's mission is to enable artistic expression to reach the Web, and to join art with other resources needed to help the public comprehend the enormity and devastation of the AIDS pandemic and to experience its human and spiritual dimensions.

Visual AIDS 
526 W. 26th St. # 510, New York, NY 10001
Phone: 212.627.9855  Fax: 212.627.9815

Visual AIDS Gallery

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