September 1 - 30, 2008

Visual AIDS and The Body

Sex, Drugs and Religion
Curated by Frank Spinelli, M.D.

Sam Orwen, Lovers, 1982
Treasure House
Rob Anderson
oil on canvas, 43" x 57"

Featuring the artwork of Archive Members: Alex Aleixo, Rob Anderson, Dominic Avellino, Barton Lidice Benes, Jack Brusca, Luis Carle, Gregg Cassin, David Cannon Dashiell, Max Greenberg, Carlos Gutierrez-Solana, and Ronaldo Sanduval.

In the Curatorís Statement:

My approach as curator was to review the vast number of works that Visual AIDS has compiled and from them select a variety from different artists, which provoked a visual, sensual, and visceral response.

I have been treating HIV in my role as doctor but have experienced its affects first hand through family and friends. Recently, I attended the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City and even after 25 years, themes of isolation, depression and the stigma "that gay men brought this disease upon themselves" still occur so often. That is why the works of Rob Andersen struck me so deeply. His Dali-like figures trapped in their seclusion beckon a time when spirituality and fluidity were depicted in art but of another time.

In the Cathedrals of Mexico City, I wandered, marveling at the murals and paintings, which depicted the passion and the struggle man has with God. In the works of Gregg Cassin, I see his pain, turmoil, and detachment. These are the same emotions many HIV positive men experience with regard to religion. This sense of detachment and dissociation is also realized in the works of Ronaldo Sanduval.

Pop culture has also influenced homoerotic art. The works by Carlos Gutierrez-Solana and Alex Aleixo portray men as sexual beings and play on the influence of their favorite pop cultural icons, contrasting the traditional Cowboys and Indians with television and movie personalities. While other artists utilize comic books for inspiration, particularly because they represent a form of American Mythology. David Dashiell's panels depict these superheroes as dominatrix inspired figures sexualizing the erotic element superheroes had in influencing many of us as young gay boys. Other artists celebrate the sexual bond gay men share with each other. The paintings of Jack Brusca and Dominic Avellino show this wonderfully, and the photograph taken by Luis Carle lends a nostalgic eye to the gay life before AIDS, when gay men were seen as sexually threatening.

The connection with drug culture and the pharmaceutical industry is also influential in the works of Barton Lidice Benes and Max Greenberg, who rely heavily on these themes and contrast the legal, moral and ethical dilemmas gay men face with regard to these subjects. The world AIDS conference ended with appeals for further funding along with increased efforts to put an end to AIDS stigma. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people, and 33 million are infected with the virus. It has been estimated that by 2015, billions of dollars will have been spent in treating men and women infected with AIDS due to costly antiretroviral medication alone. The rising number of cases, especially in younger gay men, leaves me concerned for the future.

As I rode back to the airport, I noticed the hillsides are blanketed by the colorful roofs of the small meager homes of the poverty-stricken regions of Mexico City, much like the favellas in Rio de Janeiro. It struck me as odd that the inhabitants would even bother to paint their homes in bright pretty colors, and then it was suddenly apparent. Leaving this conference after hearing so much information, I am concerned with how these facts get interpreted by our community. In light of the growing number of new cases of HIV especially among younger gay men, I would hope we could remedy this disconnection and not just ignore it by painting over it with bright shiny colors.

b i o g r a p h y

Frank Spinelli, M.D., practices medicine in New York City, where he also makes his home. His primary focus is internal medicine and HIV.

Dr. Spinelli is a contributing writer for Instinct Magazine and the Advocate. He appears monthly on Out Q with Larry Flick on Sirius Radio, CBS News on LOGO, and is the author of the Advocate Guide to Gay Health and Wellness. Currently, he is on a national speaking tour to promote gay health.

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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“The abstract, especially in those rough sketches, is very important to me, perhaps because of my advertising background, where layout is so important. Sometimes those first few lines cut the paper into such satisfying shapes that I don’t want to go on, but I always do, adding nostrils and nipples and bootstraps until I have filled the paper up as usual.” — Tom of Finland