featured gallery for October 2004

Intimately Acquainted

There are any number of ways for a curator to approach an archive so large as that maintained by Visual AIDS.

Someone with a fixed idea in mind can very likely find a good selection of art to fit the bill. If you want art directly addressing issues surrounding AIDS -- protest, health care, identity, illness -- you can find it in the archive. You want homoeroticism? Got you covered. Realist painting? Abstraction? Conceptual art? No problem. Famous names? There are plenty.

But what if you approach the archive with no predetermined theme or concept? I saw curating this online exhibition as an opportunity to get intimately acquainted with the Visual AIDS archive, and so I elected to go about this in the most labor-intensive way: to simply look at each and every image and see what jumped out at me.

I found a good many familiar works by well-known artists. But I looked most closely at those artists I had never before encountered, due either to my own ignorance or their relative obscurity. Some are professional artists, others are gifted amateurs. I saw that this variety is a defining characteristic of the archive -- after all, the only thing these artists have in common is a virus.

And so I decided that my exhibition would reflect the archive's diversity.

Now, this presented a problem: If the artists are all so different, how well would the exhibition hold together? So I dug back in, looking for shared themes among the artists who first caught my eye. And suddenly, there it was: sex. Sometimes explicit, sometimes romantic, sometimes wry ... and so once again, I was struck by diversity.

Hewing to my self-imposed parameters of artistic and sexual diversity, I edited away, and in the end, I found myself with a group of selections that deal primarily, to my eye, with two aspects of intimacy: longing and touch. The desire for love and sex, and the satisfaction of a lover's proximity. These struck me as fine subjects for an online exhibition -- heck, if it was good enough for Shakespeare and Janis Joplin, it's good enough for me.