Art in Review
‘MIXED MESSAGES’: ‘A(I)DS, Art + Words’
Published: June 23, 2011
La MaMa La Galleria
6 East First Street, East Village
Through July 3
All the art in “Mixed Messages,” this year’s edition of the annual summer group show sponsored by Visual AIDS, is based on words. This theme of language in art is a bit shopworn, but the curator, John Chaich, brings some snap to it through his multigenerational choice of artists. And the H.I.V./AIDS context around which the show revolves gives the idea of communication a certain urgency.
Some of the art — by General Idea, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Kay Rosen and Gran Fury — dates from the 1980s and ’90s and refers to AIDS directly. So do a few newer pieces. The New York artist J. Morrison silk-screens the words “AIDS Made in the U.S.A.” on miniature American flags, free for the taking. And for a poster Andrew Graham lifts a phrase that appeared on placards protesting the ordination of the gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson in 2003: “AIDS is God’s Curse.”
There are references to safe sex. Sam McKinniss makes one, in a painting composed of the words “Lifestyles Ultra Sensitive.” So does the artist duo and transgendered couple Chloe Dzubilo and T. De Long, in a canvas tote emblazoned with the words “No Glove No Love.” (Ms. Dzubilo, a fixture of the East Village music and art scenes for decades, died this year. The show is dedicated to her and to the painter Lou Laurita, who died last year.)
Most of the rest of what’s here touches on more general existential and relational matters. “Life is a Killer” says a painting by the poet John Giorno. Ivan Monforte embroiders the words “You’re Beautiful” in elegant script. Joe De Hoyos turns to collage to deliver a life-and-death lover’s plea: “Stay Stay Stay.” A text drawing by Frederick Weston strikes a note of 1960s uplift. David Wojnarowicz’s “Untitled (One Day This Kid…)” from 1990, with its bitter description of the fate of a gay child coming of age, is included only as a photocopy, but who cares? It’s one of the great works of political art of its time.
An installation by Larry Krone called “And I Will Always Love You” also ranks pretty high. It consists entirely of the words of the title repeated in handwritten, unpunctuated, tightly spaced lines over the walls in the gallery’s bathroom. The phrase is from a torchy song associated with Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston and untold numbers of drag performers. As in much of his art Mr. Krone makes the piece both a tender joke and more than that: an expression of manufactured pop emotion taken seriously. Three decades on in the age of AIDS it’s enough to bring tears to your eyes.