featured gallery for October 2019

Queering Postminimalism: The Elegiac Body

Feminist and queer artists have long debunked the notion that abstract and minimalist art lacks content, or serves formal aims alone. Seeking a more inclusive, political, and subjective relationship to abstraction, artists like Eva Hesse, Rachel Whiteread, Jim Hodges, and Felix Gonzales-Torres, have shown the metaphoric potential of abstraction through reductive, indirect, and often lyrical means.

Dedicated to the late Tony Feher, Queering Postminimalism: The Elegiac Body brings together artists who share Feher’s emotional relationship to minimalism, echoing his belief that “When you strip things bare, you allow them to take on the possibility for broader meaning.” Known for his masterful transformation of everyday objects—marbles, plastic water bottles, shells, fruit crates, colored water, broom handles, paper, jelly jars, pennies—into resonant poetic forms, Feher’s work in the early 1990s reflected his struggles as an artist living with HIV. These humble works often took the form of makeshift shrines, surreptitiously exuding a melancholic quality despite their bright colors and formalist geometries. A vocal member of ACT UP who fought hard for the rights of PWA, Feher found allegorical import in the ephemeral and generic, a way to embody the Sisyphean efforts of his fellow activists, and their profound experience of loss.

The artists in Queering Postminimalism, drawn from the Visual AIDS archive, do much the same, similarly revealing the commemorative power of the fragile and mundane. From a string of lightbulbs (Felix Gonzalez-Torres) to the clothing left behind by a deceased loved one (Jim Hodges) to HIV-infected blood spots (Hunter Reynolds), their use of simple materials, personal remains, and the body itself evoke the deeply felt trauma of the AIDS crisis in the early 1990s. The specter of AIDS is evident in many of the titles as well (Ross Bleckner, Circle of Us, 1987; Jim Hodges, What’s Left, 1992; Andrew Zealley, Disco Hospital: Standard RGB Test (2012).

Spare and abstract, the sculptures, paintings, video and installations represented here also conjure the ever-changing notion of the queer body in all its glorious, stigmatized, and ineffable states. There are works alternately transcendent, evoking portals to a post-illness state like Lucas Michael’s neon outline of a door frame (Redress, 2015), and reparative such as Steed Taylor’s tattoo-inspired communal public art works.

Bruce Monroe also engages in the act of art-making as a restorative process. Referring to the net-like forms in his cast urethane rubber works of 2009, represented here by Meditation1, he states: “With each cut I make in my work, I attempt to reconstruct the destruction of the body… to shore up and reconstitute the self.” Younger artists like Joseph Cotgrave express the continued social stigma related to HIV-status, despite the progress made. Countering the cumulative shame with his cast replicas of the generic prevention pill, ‘PrEP’, are made into wearable pins that become badges of pride.

All share a penchant for the elegiac, with a performative, ritual-like catharsis that runs through much of their work. Anthony Viti’s 1993 painting, Elegy #67 (after MH's Iron Cross), for example, overlays body prints made from a mix of the artist’s blood and oil onto Marsden Hartley’s iconic Iron Cross painting (1915). By invoking the later historic work, believed to be a homage to Hartley’s lover, the Prussian officer Karl von Freyburg, Viti’s bodily imprint connects the coded work to his own sexuality.

More than anything else, the artists in this exhibition trace the aesthetic and political impact of AIDS, and the queer body, on the legacy of post-minimalism. They reveal the possibility of finding transcendence in the provisional, beauty in the abject, and agency in sorrow. Like Feher, and the poet Melvin Dixon, who prophetically declared months before his death in 1992, “You, then, are charged by the possibility of your good health, by the broadness of your vision, to remember us”, they summon the power of elegy through the simplest of means.