August 23, 2013

Whitney Museum Takes AIDS Paintings Out of the Closet

Just a few more days to catch “I, YOU, WE,” an intense and poignant selection of works from the Whitney’s permanent collection that closes September 1. Curator David Kiehl focuses on the ’80s and early ’90s, moving from the postmodern fixations of Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger, and others, to the identity politics of Shirin Neshat, Juan Sanchez, Glenn Ligon, Deborah Kass, and more.

Then there is the gallery devoted to AIDS, which shows how far we have come, or haven’t. There is the General Idea AIDS logo, which riffs on Robert Indiana’s LOVE. There are the drawings Sue Coe made in AIDS wards, and David Wojnarowicz’s famous photo of Peter Hujar right after he passed, and Keith Haring’s elegiac bronze altarpiece.

This gallery includes three works the Whitney had never exhibited, until now: Donald Moffett’s He Kills Me (1987), an indictment of Ronald Reagan; Frank Moore’s Puritan Theorem (1991), and a beautiful painting by Hugh Steers of a patient in a hospital bed. Titled Bed Pan, it is a clear reference to Manet’s Olympia, with the ailing figure taking the place of the insouciant prostitute and the black orderly standing in for her maid. It was painted in 1994; the artist himself died of AIDS the next year.

This is identity politics too, creating a record of lives before their vanishing. It shows how much art history of the ’90s remains to be told.

Read more at artnews.com

Left: Hugh Steers,
Bed Pan, 1994,
oil on canvas. COLLECTION OF WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART. GIFT OF WHEELOCK WHITNEY III IN MEMORY OF THE ARTIST. Right: Édouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, oil on canvas, now on view at the Ducal Palace in Venice. PARIS, MUSÉE D’ORSAY. COURTESY MUSÉE D’ORSAY, DIST. RMN-GRAND PALAIS

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