Thursday, October 8, 2015
Art AIDS America at Tacoma Art Museum
World Class Exhibition surveys 30 years of AIDS
Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 8, 2015
If I were allowed 6,000 words instead of 600, I probably still couldn’t do this exhibition justice. The amazing thing about it is that it was locally curated, by Tacoma Art Museum’s Rock Hushka in partnership with The Bronx Museum of the Arts and co-curator Jonathan David Katz from the University at Buffalo (The State University of New York).
Art AIDS America is as good as any major exhibition put together by any great museum in America. This is a major coupe and a show that should be seen by everyone. Way to go, Rock Hushka and TAM!
This exhibition surveys some of the best and best-known art about the AIDS epidemic from the early 1980s, when AIDS was a mysterious disease called “the gay cancer”, until today. Much of the art was created by artists living with AIDS or by artists who have died due to AIDS-related illness. The disease may no longer be an automatic death sentence, but people living with the HIV virus are kept alive by drugs that often have devastating side effects, and they do not save everyone who is infected.
The exhibition “creates spaces for mourning and loss, yes, but also for anger and for joy, for political resistance and for humor, for horror, and for eroticism,” says co-curator Katz.
Famous artists represented in the show include such luminaries as Keith Haring, Jenny
Holzer, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, Judy Chicago, and Jasper Johns. Lesser known artists such as Shion Attie, Eric Avery, Charles LeDray make devastatingly powerful statements Luis Cruz Azaceta’s “Babies with AIDS” is an American flag with dead or dying babies strung out on it like so many insects or like Kaposi sarcoma lesions. Looking at it made me gasp.
David Wojnarowicz’s “Bad Moon Rising” is a breathtaking collage of multiple photos of his dying lover and fellow artist, Peter Hujar (works also included in this show) with a horrifying rant against people and institutions that ignored the AIDS crisis printed over his images.
Jim Hodges’ “When We Stay” is a delicate yet strong curtain of silk, cotton and polyester flowers sewn together, each flower connected with a single thread. Beautiful and expressive, its connection with AIDS sinks in gradually.
Leibovitz’s portrait of Kerie Campbell’s nude body painted with primitive-looking symbols for the HIV virus is frightening and strong. I could not look away.
These are but a tiny sampling of the 125 works of art in this exhibition. Many of the images and descriptions cannot be printed in this newspaper, and that is a shame. It is an uncomfortable show. It will make you squirm, and it will make you angry. It should make you want to support the effort to eradicate this horrible disease. The fact that a lot of what can be seen here is great art is almost a side benefit.
There will be many excellent programs held in conjunction with the exhibition, including an artist’s talk by Micha Cárdenas Oct. 15 at 6: 30 p.m.; a talk on the AIDS Memorial Quilt with Julie Rhoad, president and CEO of the Names Project, Nov. 15 at 2 p.m.; a community conversation on “Faith and Positivity” Nov. 19 at 6 p.m.; and an artist’s talk and performance by Karen Finley Dec. 5 at 2 p.m.