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Eric Rhein

Raised in the Hudson Valley, with childhood summers in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains, Eric Rhein formed a deep affinity with nature—an ongoing inspiration for his work. Rhein’s art—which includes wire drawings, sculpture, mixed media collage, and photography—features a wide iconography shaped by the natural environment: hummingbirds, leaves, deer, and other organic forms. Frequently employing salvaged materials as varied as wire, pages from vintage scientific journals, hardware and jewelry, Rhein imbues these cast-off materials with new life, mirroring his own path as experienced through his evolving relationship with HIV.

A presence in the East Village arts community since 1980 (with fellow artists Greer Lankton, Huck Snyder, Luis Frangella, David Wojnarowicz, Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Hujar, Hugh Steers, and Mark Morrisroe—most of whom are in the Visual AIDS Archive), Rhein experienced not only the community’s creative explosion, and also its profound devastation due to the AIDS epidemic.

Diagnosed HIV positive in 1987, Rhein felt compelled to address universal aspects of the human condition.

His series of photographic and sculptural self-portraits, starting in 1991, trace the fluctuations, vulnerability, and resilience of body and spirit. Primarily nudes, these images softly convey a range of experiences and emotions. There is sensuality within in these works—which embrace acceptance, loss, and remembrance—and survival and faith. Portraits of intimate friends, commenced in the 1990’s, compliment this series.

Rhein’s rough and tender marker and mixed-media Hospital Drawings (made during his 1994 “artist-in-residency” at St. Vincent’s Hospital)—as with the whole body of his work—examine the permeable spaces between life and death, the tangible and the ephemeral, and the known and ethereal. Reflecting his metaphysical and spiritual approach to healing, Rhein’s art depicts our collective vulnerability, resilience, and possibilities for transcendence.

In 1996, the year protease inhibitors restored Rhein’s physical vitality, he began his ongoingseries, Leaves, which honors the lives of men and women he knew who died of complications from AIDS. Walking the grounds of the MacDowell artists’ colony, Rhein felt the presence of friends, lovers, and others who had touched his life. Returning to his studio, he rendered the leaf forms in delicate wire, each one expressive of an individual’s spirit. Leaves has now grown to over 250 tributes, existing as both a personal memorial and a reminder of the ongoing toll of the epidemic. Leaves continues to evolve and be shown internationally. Art historian and AIDS activist Robert Atkins wrote, “Art has always played a role in coming to terms with collective tragedy, and the role of an artist has frequently been to bear witness. Surely an art of memory like Eric Rhein’s can help harmonize our views by suggesting that honoring the past is one way to live more fully in the present.”

Following in the footsteps of his uncle Elijah “Lige” Clarke (an early gay rights activist who, with his partner Jack Nichols, co-founded the first national gay weekly newspaper Gay and the Washington Mattachine Society), Rhein relates to his art as a form of activism. In 1994, David Hirsch invited Rhein to a gathering in artist Frank Moore’s loft, where they founded Visual AIDS’ Frank Moore Archive Project, providing support to artists living with HIV/AIDS and protecting the legacies of those who passed.

Rhein received his BFA and MFA degrees through full scholarships at the School of Visual Arts, NY. His work has been exhibited internationally at venues such as: the Victoria and Albert Museum; The New Art Gallery, Walsall, England; the Pera Museum, Istanbul; 21er Haus Museum of Contemporary Art, Vienna; American Embassies in Austria, Cameroon, Greece, and Malta; the Addison Gallery of American Art; the Morris Museum, Morristown, NJ; the Islip Art Museum, NY; the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art; Lincoln Center; Artists Space; Art in General; Sculpture Center; White Columns; The Bronx Museum of the Arts; the Museum of the City of New York; and the Smithsonian

Reviews of Rhein’s work have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, ArtNews, and Art In America. Rhein has received multiple grants and fellowships, including: the Pollock/Krasner Foundation, Art Matters, Edward Albee’s “The Barn,” and the MacDowell Colony.

He is included in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art's "Visual Arts & the AIDS Epidemic Oral History Project”, in which participants are interviewed, in-depth, creating a comprehensive view of their life and work within the context of AIDS.

In 2017 Eric Rhein received Visual AIDS’Vanguard Award for his contributions to AIDS awareness through artwork and activism. This has special meaning for him: Visual AIDS has been a vital part of his life since the mid-90’s.



Solo Exhibitions


Eric Rhein

Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York, NY

Curator: Kris Nuzzi


The Course of My Life

Curator: Heather Cammarata-Seal, Johnson & Johnson World Headquarters, New Brunswick, NJ

Natural World

39th Street Gallery, Gateway Arts Center, Brentwood, MD



BoxoProjects, New York, NY



BCB Art, Hudson, NY


The Pencil of Nature

BCB Art, Hudson, NY

Journey Among Warriors

The Leslie/Lohman Gallery, New York, NY

Uncle Lige’s Sword

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, New York, NY



Frieda and Roy L. Fuhrman Gallery, Walter Read Theater, Lincoln Center, New York, NY



Bob Howard, Fire Island Pines, NY


A Gathering

The Schoolhouse Center, Provincetown, MA



David Lusk Gallery, Memphis, TN

Interior Structure

Froelick Gallery, Portland, OR


The Course of My Life

Richard Anderson Fine Arts, New York, NY

Human Biology

New York Public Library-Donnell Library Center, New York, NY


Room Ten-36

Art in General, New York, NY

Eye on a Sparrow

Froelick Adelhart, Portland, OR

In the Company of Shadows

Tricia Collins/Grand Salon, New York, NY


Still -an installation

AIDS Forum, Sculpture Center, New York, NY


26 Objects -an installation

Stockholm Mobile Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden

Group Exhibitions


Andras Borocz, Nancy Grossman, Eric Rhein

Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York, NY


Ephemera As Evidence

Curators: Joshua Lubin-Levy & Ricardo Montez, La MaMa Galleria, New York, NY


Fulton Street Gallery, Troy, NY

Round Hole, Square Peg

Artist’s Corner Gallery, Los Angeles, CA



BCB Art, Hudson, NY


Curator: Jil Weinstock, The Children’s Museum of the Arts, New York, NY

No Man is an Island: The Masculine Landscape in the 21st Century

Curator: Sarah Schmerler, Print Center of New Jersey, Branchburg, NJ

Recent Acquisitions

The Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York NY

Round Hole, Square Peg

Smart Close Gallery, 154 Stanton Street, New York, NY

Not Over:25 Years of Visual AIDS

Curators: Kris Nuzzi and Sur Rodney (Sur), La MaMa Galleria, New York, NY

Art Meets Art: Perspectives On And Beyond Olana

Curator: Richard Roth, Hudson Opera House and Olana, Hudson, NY

Secrets, Loss, Memory, And Courage

Addison Gallery of American Art,Philips Academy, Andover, MA


This Land

BCB Art, Hudson, NY

The Sexuality Spectrum

Curator: Laura Kruger, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute Of Religion Museum

New York, NY

Abstract Realities

Curator: Hal Bromm, Hal Bromm , New York, NY


Christina Grajales Gallery, New York, NY

Abstraction: What is Real

Edelman Arts, New York, NY


Curator: Kris Nuzzi, BRIC Rotunda Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

St, Sebastian: 1530-2011

Curtators: Asher Edelman and Ashley Dillman, Edelman Arts,

New York, NY


Ossessione Verde

Curator: Peter Weiermair, The Faveri Gallery Of Contemporary Art, Bologna, Italy

Apocryphal, Traditional, et al

Curators: Shannon Morris and Jon Coffelt, GCSU Museum, Milledgeville, GA

In Bloom

Curator: Karen Shaw, Islip Art Museum, East Islip, NY

Naked in New Hope

Curators: Paul Murphy and Ricky Godinez, New Hope Sidetracks Art Gallery, New Hope, PA


Local Self Portraits

Curator: Richard Roth, Hudson Opera House, Hudson, NY



Curators: Suzanne Anker and Peter Hristoff, Pera Museum, Istanbul, Turkey

Arbor Day-A Celebration in Art

Curator: Robert Yoner, The National Arts Club, New York, NY


Timeless: The Art of Drawing

Curator: Ann Aptaker, Morris Museum, Morristown, NJ

ART in Embassies Program

Curator: Imtiaz Hafiz, Ambassadorial residence, Yaounde, Cameron

The Great Gay Photo Show

Curator: Charles Leslie, The Leslie/Lohman Gallery, New York, NY


Curator: Walter O’Neill, Ernest Rubenstein Gallery, The Educational Alliance, New York, NY


Naked in New Hope

Curators: Paul Murphy and Ricky Godinez, New Hope Sidetracks Art Gallery, New Hope, PA


Animal House

Curator: Karen Shaw, Islip Art Museum, East Islip, NY

Between Ten

Curator: Visual AIDS, Visual Works of a Positive Mind, XVI International AIDS Conference,

Toronto Canada


Froelick Gallery, Portland OR


Flower Power

Curator: Buster Seccia, Barbara Ann Levy Gallery, Fire Island Cherry Grove, NY

Vintage East Village

Curator: Rick Prol, Hal Bromm, New York, NY


Hot New Work

Curator: Buster Seccia, Barbara Ann Levy Gallery, Fire Island Cherry Grove, NY

Hidden Histories

Curator: Michael Petry,The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall, London


Share Your Vision

Artists Space, New York, NY

Weather Report

Curator: Craig Bunting, Gallery for the Arts, Mount Sterling, KY

Jewish Community Center, Louisville KY


Millennium Messages

Curator: Barbara Coller, Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY

Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition

Small Works

Ledbetter Lusk Gallery, Mephis, TN

Radiant Children: Art of the East Village - 1980's

Curators: Jonathan Weinberg & Joel Handorff, Lamia Ink!, New York, NY

Four Artists

Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University, New Haven, CN

Plant Forms

Froelick Adelhart, Portland, OR



Froelick Adelhart, Portland, OR


Curator: Vince Aletti, Wessel & O’Connor Gallery, New York, NY


Home Is Where the Heart Is

Curator: Cassandra Langer, Ph.D., White Columns, New York, NY

Form and Function of Drawing

Curator: Peter Weiermair, Art Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany


Tricia Collins/Grand Salon, New York, NY

A Living Testament of the Blood Fairies

organized by Geoff Hendricks, Frank Moore, and Sur Rodney (Sur)

of the Archive Project/Visual AIDS

Printed Matter, New York, NY


Me, Myself, and I

ArtGroup for Lesbian and Gay Artists

La Mama La Galleria, New York, NY

Arts’ Communities: AIDS Communities: realizing The Archive Project

Boston Center the Arts, Boston, MA


The First 10

The Archive Project, PS 122 Gallery, New York, NY

Phallic Symbols: Phallic Images in Contemporary Art

Curator: Hal Bromm

24 Hours for Life Gallery, New York, NY



Curator: Bill Arning

White Columns, New York, NY

The Underwear Show

La Mama La Galleria, New York, NY


Personal Adornment

Textile Arts Center, Chicago, IL


Monumental Municipalities

The Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY


Selections from the Artist’s File

Curator: Cornelia Butler

Artists Space, New York, NY


The Small Works Show

Curator: Lisa Philips

BACA Downtown, Brooklyn, NY


Fashion and Surrealism

Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England,

Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, NY

Friends from the Heart -an installation

Spiral Building, Tokyo, Japan


Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, Evansville, IN



Ibu Gallery, Paris, France


Addison Gallery of American Art,Philips Academy, Andover, MA

Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation, New York, NY

North Dakota Museum of Art – Barton Lidice Benes Collection, Grand Forks, ND

Porter, Orlin Inc. New York, NY

Portland Art Museum – Gilkey Center for the Graphic Arts, Portland, OR

The MacDowell Colony

The American Embassy in Malta

The West Collection at SEI, Oaks, PA


1998 Pollock-Krasner Foundation

1998 Peter S. Reed Foundation

1996 Art Matters

1995 John Giorno Poetry Systems

1994 Adolph and Esther Gottlieb

1993 Art Matters

1990 Pollock-Krasner Foundation


1999 The MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, New Hampshire

1996 The MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, New Hampshire

1994 The Barn, Edward Albee Foundation, Montauk, Long Island, NY



School of Visual Arts, New York, NY

MFA Full Scholarship


School of Visual Arts, New York, NY

BFA Painting and Sculpture

Full Scholarship



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Atkins, Robert.Essay: "How to Make Art in an Epidemic”, POZ, April 1999

Atkins, Robert. Review: Village Voice, June 8, 1994

Brantley, Ben. Artist Profile: Vanity Fair, November 1989

Brass Perry Review: “Eric Rhein: AIDS and the Hummingbirds Warrior” Huffington Post,

February 15, 2015

Bunting, Craig Essay: “Weather Report”, Arts Across Kentucky, Spring 2003

Cotter, Holland.Essay: "Art and AIDS: The Stuff Life is Made Of”, Art in America,

April 1997

Cotter, Holland.Review: New York Times, January 17, 1997

Cotter, Holland. Review: New York Times, April 21, 1995

Barbara A. MacAdam Review: “Words of a Feather”, Art News, January 2014

Dijknmans, Marie-Louise.Artist Profile: Dutch Elle Magazine, March 1993

Editor, New York Times Letter To The Editor: “When Plagues End”, New York Times,

Section 6, December 1996

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James McDonald Artists Profile: “Eric Rhein: The Course of My Life” Out Magazine,

December 1, 2014

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June 11, 2013

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Not Over: 25 Years of Visual AIDS Visual AIDS publication, in conjunction with exhibition at La Ma Ma Galleria, New York, NY, 2013

Remembering Paul Monette Addison Gallery of American Art, 2013

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Ossessione Verde, Vanillaedizioni, for exhibition Ossessione Verde

The Faveri Gallery Of Contemporary Art, Bologna, Italy, 2011

Octet: Selected Works from School of the Visual Arts, New York

Pera Museum 36, Istanbul, 2009

Timeless: The Art Of Drawing Morris Museum, 2008

Untied States Embassy Yaounde, Cameroon Art in Embassies Exhibition, 2006

Share Your Vision Visual AIDS publication, in conjunction with exhibition at Artists Space, 2003

Popism / Stars and Stripes Forever / The Estate Project

Yale University Art Gallery and Jonathon Edwards College, 1999

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