By Leslie Adatto
AIDS began its tsunami of devastation in 1981 in our West Village neighborhood. Thirty-five years later, also in our neighborhood, is one of the first significant art installations featuring long-term survivors and prematurely lost artists of diverse genders and races. They depict their experiences of the gay, lesbian, transgender and queer lifestyle using multiple mediums. Called PERSONS OF INTEREST, this installation exhibits sculpture, drawing, painting, photography, collage, and video that is skillfully and sensitively displayed by curator and artist Sam Gorden at the LGBT Community Center’s Bureau of General Services–Queer Division, a book store, public event venue, and gallery space in Room 210.
Nineteen artists’ works are featured. Seventeen of them either live with HIV or died from AIDS-related complications prematurely, and the other two were deeply impacted by HIV/AIDS: the sister of an artist who passed from AIDS and a gallerist who focused on artists from this community.
PERSONS OF INTEREST is coordinated by Visual AIDS, an arts non-profit founded in 1988 and based in Chelsea. The exhibition was touted in the New York Times by art critic Holland Carter, as “an experience with more traction” as compared to the larger museum show at the Bronx Museum of Arts called “Art AIDS America.” PERSONS OF INTEREST, an “eclectic group show,” includes works by artists from a “multicultural universe,” notes Carter in his July 28, 2016 review.
Themes throughout PERSONS OF INTEREST are portraiture and legacy, according to Visual AIDS Programs Director Alex Fialho. For example, the show begins with sculptural works by Joyce McDonald, some of which are self-portraits. Ms. McDonald, a former drug user, describes herself as going from the “shooting gallery to the art gallery.” One of the younger artists in this group show, Luna Luis Ortiz, contracted AIDS at age 14 and is a long-term survivor, having lived with HIV for 30 years. In his lush photographs, he is a rich, beautiful, and powerful pharaoh. The most widely recognizable artist included in this show, Keith Haring, has a long history with the LGBT Community Center. His unmistakable drawings adorn the wall on which other works are displayed, including two remarkable pieces in which dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones’s entire body was painted by Keith Haring and then photographed in varying poses by Tseng Kwong Chi.
A final public program related to the PERSONS OF INTEREST exhibition takes place on Friday, September 9th from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center, 208 W. 13th Street in Room 210. “Legacies on the Wall” will feature a conversation on the legacy and lineage of Chloe Dzubilo, Arnold Fern, Tim Greathouse, Hudson, and Affrekka Jefferson, all artists whose work is in the show.
PERSONS OF INTEREST is on display through September 18th and is free and open to the public. https://www.visualaids.org/events/detail/persons-of-interest
Leslie Adatto is a NYC and rooftop enthusiast, and the author of “Roof Explorer’s Guide: 101 New York City Rooftops.” She lives, bikes, and cooks in the West Village.