April 1 - 30, 2011

Visual AIDS and The Body

The Architecture of Loss
Curated by Rafael Sánchez

Sam Orwen, Lovers, 1982
Untitled (Self portrait), 1976
Polaroid / "trade photo", 3.25" x 3.25"
Courtesy of the estate of Mark Morrisroe
(Ringier Collection) at Fotomuseum Winterthur

This month, Rafael Sánchez curates a special exhibition of rarely seen paintings, drawings and photographs by his late friend, Archive Member Artist Mark Morrisroe.

NOTE: Previous exhibitions are also available on the website.

In the Curatorís Statement:

I wonder how they will actually cease and come to an end
as drawings, and into what new phases of being
they will then enter.

-- Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

Sur Rodney (Sur): Decades have passed now since Mark Morrisroe's untimely death. Until very recently his photography has been presented on occasion without any major acknowledgement of the artist's significance in relation to his influence. Seeing the immense body of work from the Morrisroe Estate's recent catalogue presently being put forward (Ringier Collection, Fotomuseum Winterthur) along with these non-photo works that were left to you by Mark, I'm beginning to recognize something that I hadn't considered before -- Morrisroe was using his photographed imagery as a canvas to paint on as well as using it as a template to make paintings and prints.

Rafael Sanchez: That is accurate both in that painting was a considerable aspect of Mark's mind-set and that there has been scant evidence of this in the way that his work has been presented up until very recently. In part this may be due to the intensity of Mark's biography that is evident as subject matter in much of his work. The main thing to keep in mind in this regard is that ultimately for Mark the chemistry and processes of photography were his painterly tools and that meaning was penultimate as techniques and explorations met with his primary subject, his life.

SRS: So that's to say that there was, in a sense, a kind of playful fusion going on. Looking back at what was happening in the New York art world of the 1980s, the decade of Mark's productive output, there was much inter-referencing and exchange between artists' production methods and mediums ... any given show at International With Monument, for example, was cause to consider this interface.

RS: And there was comedy involved, if you could sift through the rhetoric and art-speak. Mark was very aware and interested in that, the comedy. For example, there were a bunch of typed out jokes Mark came up with that he used to make a series of photograms with. One of them read, "What do cowboy hats and hemorrhoids have in common? Sooner or later every asshole gets one." That was partly directed at Richard Prince, whose Marlboro Man pieces were getting a lot of attention at the time.

SRS: The political climate of the 80s is often overlooked as well in terms of art production partially due to the big party that was going on. The term zeitgeist was often used in just about every piece of art criticism in those days. It was the Reagan era, which produced a kind of self-determination and economic boom on the one hand and a gross misappropriation of priorities on the other. The Cold War was being played out with death squads in Central America, Apartheid in South Africa and AIDS was at our doorstep in a very real way. New York City was simultaneously opulent and falling apart. Graffiti and Punk aesthetics were brought into the galleries with large bank accounts. Artist led coalitions like Group Material and ACT-UP were very effective in presenting a social criticism through a mixture of innovative media overlap. Morrisroe's work falls somewhere in between these extremes, in terms of social conscientiousness. Was any of this pertinent to his thinking?

RS: Once in New York Mark did not fit into any of this, though as Mark Dirt (his punk alias in Boston) and with DIRT magazine he had already qualified quite a punk reputation in Boston for himself at a very early age. That probably heightened his awareness of what was going on around him in New York to some extent. But one has to understand that he was not at all interested in politicizing his sexuality. He was completely open about it and it was part of him and his work as truth. Period. That was completely brave and political in itself. Even later as he was being destroyed by the disease that swallowed him whole, he chose to deal with it as an aesthete. Of course he was angry. Who wouldn't be? But it is a testament of strength that he stayed on point with his art as a playful source of creative purity. I'd also go as far as to say that art itself gave him strength in that fight. That being said, he understood that he had the power to challenge assumptions through his work and he very much enjoyed being provocative.

[More of this interview on the website.]

b i o g r a p h y

Rafael Sánchez is a Cuban born visual artist, performer, filmmaker and coeditor with his life partner, the artist Kathleen White, of alLuPiNiT, the new york city environ mental magazine. His projects have been presented locally at Participant Inc., Thread Waxing Space and the legendary nightspot Jackie 60. A great percentage of his work has been presented abroad (London, Paris, Mexico City) often with a stream of collaborators that include performer/writer Jim Fletcher, artist/musician Neke Carson, photo artist Gail Thacker and film/video artist Glen Fogel. He has also participated on projects with New York City Players, locally and abroad. Currently his collaborative work with Kathleen White, TABLE project and Some-what Portable Dolmen will be included here in New York City in this year's S(treet) Files bienial at El Museo del Barrio. His essay Panorama With Hood Ornament about Morrisroe was published for the exhibition catalog, "Boston School", Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 1995.

Sur Rodney (Sur) is enigmatically recognized as an archivist, curator, surrealist, artistic collaborator, community activist, and essayist -- most renowned for his position as co-director of the Gracie Mansion Gallery (1982-1988). His work with artists' estates, at cause to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, led him to serve on the board of Visual AIDS, beginning in 1995. Along with his lover Geoffrey Hendricks (the queer artist associated with FLUXUS) and the late Frank Moore, he helped establish the Archive Project of Visual AIDS to assist artists with HIV/AIDS and their estates.

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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