“The only way art lives is through the experience of the observer. The reality of art begins with the eyes of the beholder, through imagination, invention and confrontation.”
These words by artist and activist Keith Haring (who died in 1990 of AIDS-related complications at the age of 31) illustrate the impact of art on our lives: it can offers a mirror of our minds, portraits of our past, or glimpses into society’s ills.
All of this is on display in Art AIDS America, a traveling exhibition that examines the deep, ongoing influence of the AIDS crisis on American art and culture. At the Bronx Museum of the Arts through October, the exhibition presents a window into both the pain and promise of those affected by HIV and AIDS.
“I have seen so much art and [so many] exhibitions,” said Sergio Bessa, Bronx Museum Director of Curatorial and Education Programs. “But it felt important to him to have the museum take on “organizing an exhibition to look at the kind of artwork we are representing: art in response to the epidemic.”
“The AIDS epidemic is such a huge topic, and can clearly be approached in very different ways,” he explains. “This exhibition is a first attempt; I hope it will not be the last.”
Organized by Washington’s Tacoma Art Museum in partnership with The Bronx Museum, the exhibition features more than 125 multi-media works spanning from the early onset of AIDS to the present from artists including Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Leibovitz, Félix González-Torres, and Derek Jackson.
The art addresses AIDS’ impact on politics, medicine, culture, and society. It tells stories of resilience and beauty, and of communities that formed to demand action in the face of a devastating disease.
“We have moved really far away from the early years of AIDS, but the threat is still here,” Bessa said. He also noted that “the AIDS epidemic has to be seen in the context of the global village, because we are all interconnected.”
Appropriately, Bessa’s words call to mind yet another quote from Haring: “Art is nothing if you don’t reach every segment of the people.” This exhibition will next reach out to Chicago, where it opens at Chicago’s Alphawood Gallery on December 1.
Last modified: July 28, 2017