Please join us on May 6th at VAVA VOOM as we honor the founders of Visual AIDS and the first Executive Director.

Like many organizations that formed in response to the AIDS crisis, Visual AIDS came together as a loose group of people who cared, fought, and activated against inaction together.

In his address “How to Have Art (Events) in an Epidemic: A History of Visual AIDS…” founding member Robert Atkins explains,

Visual AIDS formally appeared in the fall of 1988. It was preceded by perhaps six month of informal and sporadic discussions among four gay, white men: myself [Robert Atkins], William Olander (1951-1989), Thomas Sokolowski and Gary Garrels. Between us we'd volunteered and buddied at the Gay Men's Health Crisis, ACTed UP, raised funds for Art Against AIDS, and would continue to do these things after the emergence of Visual AIDS. In our roles as curators and critics, we were also tracking a growing body of artwork about AIDS and trying to give it visibility.

As part of our 25th year, at the 8th Annual Visual AIDS Vanguard Awards (VAVA VOOM), Visual AIDS will honor our founders and the first Executive Director, Patrick O'Connell.

Together the 5 of them, with much community support, worked to roll out the first Day Without Art, since renamed Day With(out) Art to reflect the changing nature of the epidemic, and set in motion an organization that continues to support artists living with HIV/AIDS, works with estates representing artists who have passed away, and uses art to provoke dialogue.

They understood, as we do now, that in the face of a crisis as wide spread and complex as AIDS, there is a need to respond from many angles, providing support in any way one can.

O’Connell and the founders created connections with like minded art groups that remain strong to this day, built organizational structures that still support the work we do, and cultivated a way of seeing that shows us art can be used to remind the world that AIDS is not over.

As we hit our quarter century mark we look back, as a way to understand the present and the future. Below are the bios of Atkins, Olander, Sokolowski, Garrels and O’Connell. Their accomplishments, many; their legacies, ongoing.

Robert Atkins is an art historian who has written about the relationships between art and politics, representation and identity for three decades. A former staff columnist at the Village Voice, he is the author of several books including the best-selling ArtSpeak: A Guide to Contemporary, Ideas, and Buzzwords (a third, 25th anniversary edition is due this fall), its modern art “prequel” ArtSpoke, and Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression (with Svetlana Mintcheva). He co-curated, with Thomas Sokolowski, From Media to Metaphor: Art About AIDS,the first international traveling museum show of its kind. A pioneer of online media, he produced Artery: The AIDS-Arts Forum and most recently, ArtSpeak China, the first bilingual wiki devoted to contemporary Chinese Art. He is currently collaborating with Visual AIDS on AIDS Over Time/Time Over AIDS, a series of programs designed to provide a snapshot of the complex nature of AIDS in contemporary US culture. (More information about him is available at )

Gary Garrels is the Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a position he assumed in September 2008. Previous appointments include Chief Curator and Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2005-2008); Robert Lehman Foundation Chief Curator of Drawings and Curator of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2000-2005); Elise S. Haas Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1993-2000); Senior Curator, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1991-1993); and Director of Programs, Dia Art Foundation, New York (1987-1991). Garrels received his M.A. in Art History from Boston University, and previously studied in Princeton University’s Doctoral Program in Sociology. He has written and lectured extensively about contemporary art in the United States and Europe. Garrels has organized numerous exhibitions throughout his career. Most recently he organized Jasper Johns: Seeing with the Mind's Eye presented at SFMOMA from November 3, 2012 to February 3, 2013.

William R. Olander (1951-1989) was the senior curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City. Since his arrival at the New Museum in 1985, Olander had been very much involved with video and performance art and with the theoretical issues and language of post-modernism. Olander's 1986 exhibition ''Homovideo: Where We are Now'' included several videos responding to AIDS. In 1987, at his invitation, the group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) presented an installation, in the museum's window on Broadway near Prince Street, juxtaposing information and statistics on AIDS with apparently indifferent, callous or manipulative responses to AIDS from national figures. He received a Ph.D. in art history in 1983 from the New York University Institute of Fine Arts. In 1983 and 1984, was acting director of the Allen Art Museum of Oberlin College, where he had been curator of modern art since 1979.

Thomas Sokolowski assumed his position as Director for The Andy Warhol Museum, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, in 1996. Under his direction, the Museum curated or collaborated with other institutions on more than 40 exhibitions that have traveled to more than 80 museums in 30 countries. Sokolowski previously served as Director for New York University's Grey Art Gallery & Study Center. He also served as chief curator for the Chrysler Art Museum in Norfolk, Virginia (1982-1984), and as curator of European Painting and Sculpture (1981-1982). Sokolowski earned his master's degree and did doctoral work in art history with an emphasis on late 17th- and early 18th-century Italian art at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. A native of Chicago, Illinois, Sokolowski received his bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago. Sokolowski is a co-author of the recent catalogue Andy Warhol: 365 Takes: The Andy Warhol Museum Collection and served as a member of the final jury for the selection of the Flight 93 Memorial; erected to honor victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack.

Patrick O'Connell is an artist and arts worker who joined Visual AIDS in 1989 and became the first Executive Director from 1990-1995. During his tenure, he helped to organize the pioneering years of Day Without Art, and worked with the Visual AIDS Artist Caucus, a group of artists which created “The Ribbon Project” in 1991, better know today, as the iconic “red ribbon”. O’Connell currently lives in Manhattan.