Observing a Day With(out) Art

AIDS awareness ribbonEach year December 1 is observed throughout the world as a day of solidarity with those living with HIV/AIDS, and of remembrance of those who have died. December 1 is also Day With(out) Art, on which museums and galleries worldwide celebrate a day of action and mourning in response to the AIDS crisis, with such events as shutting down museums, sending staff to volunteer at AIDS services, or sponsoring special exhibitions of work about AIDS.

Across the nation, many venues will be screening a new film, Untitled, from filmmakers Jim Hodges, Encke King, and Carlos Marques da Cruz. Learn more about the film, and find links to participating venues, here.

A visit to MOCRA’s current exhibition, Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion, is another way to mark this special day. Kellard’s life was cut short by AIDS in 1991, and he grappled with his experience of illness through his art. His colorful woodcuts poignantly express both pain and enduring faith.

Adrian Kellard, The Promise, 1989
Adrian Kellard, "The Promise," 1989. Latex on wood. Courtesy of the Estate of Adrian Kellard.

Today we also release a special episode of the MOCRA Voices podcast series, featuring an interview with curator and art historian Thomas Sokolowski. Sokolowski was instrumental in the founding of Day With(out) Art and the creation in 1991 — 20 years ago — of the red ribbon for AIDS awareness. In this interview, Sokolowski talks about the close relationship between art and AIDS activism, and reflects on the past, present and future role of art where AIDS is concerned.

We’ve prepared an extensive Listening Guide to accompany the podcast, with information about the 20th anniversary of the red ribbon, activist art, and more.

The podcast can be streamed from MOCRA’s website or downloaded from the iTunes Store. Visit the MOCRA Voices website to get the podcast and explore the Listening Guide.

As we pause to reflect, remember, and renew on this day, let us recommit ourselves to generous and untiring support and care for those living with HIV/AIDS,  and redouble our efforts to find a cure. Let us cultivate, as Adrian Kellard urged, healing — the learned art of compassion.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

New on MOCRA Voices: Adrian Kellard podcast

MOCRA Voices logoEarly this year we launched MOCRA Voices, a podcast series of conversations with thinkers and practitioners at the intersection of contemporary art, religion, and spirituality. Our aim is to take listeners in-depth with artists, scholars, theologians, religious leaders, and others who are engaged in the ongoing dialogue between visual art and the religious and spiritual dimensions.

We’ve just posted a new episode that focuses on the art and life of Adrian Kellard, the subject of MOCRA’s current exhibition, Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion. Host John Launius and MOCRA Director Terrence E. Dempsey, S.J., are joined by Regina DeLuise, a close friend of Kellard and an artist photographer in her own right, and Susan Schreiber, Kellard’s New York gallery dealer. Dempsey, DeLuise, and Schreiber share stories of Kellard that serve to illuminate his artistic aims and influences, his distinctive visual style and treatment of his woodcut medium, and the ways in which Kellard’s upbringing, sexual orientation, and faith found expression in his work.

In addition to the podcast itself, we’ve prepared an extensive listening guide that provides context about the East Village art scene, the early years of the AIDS pandemic, the art of woodcuts, and more.

MOCRA Voices is made possible with financial support from the Regional Arts Commission.

–David Brinker, Assistant Director

The Learned Art of Presence

MOCRA’s upcoming exhibition features the work of artist Adrian Kellard, who died in 1991 from AIDS-related causes. His name joined the too-long litany of creative lives cut short by the shears of the pandemic. This exhibition falls during the 30th year of the plague and the 20th anniversary of Kellard’s death, and the impact of AIDS on Kellard’s life is one sub-theme of the exhibition. The references are direct and explicit in some works, such as The Promise, Prayer of the Faithful in Ordinary Time, and Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion. But overall a sense of compassion and spiritual strength suffuses all of the works, qualities that sustained Kellard through the struggles associated with the disease.

Adrian Kellard, Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion (detail), 1985-86.
Adrian Kellard, "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion" (detail), 1985-86. Latex on wood. MOCRA Collection.

Yesterday I came across a recent New York Times review of We Were Here, a recently released documentary about the response of San Francisco’s gay and lesbian community to the onslaught of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. The article caught my eye not only for its resonances with the Adrian Kellard exhibition, but also because the documentary includes an interview with artist Daniel Goldstein. Works from Goldstein’s Icarian series were included in MOCRA’s seminal 1994 exhibition Consecrations: The Spiritual in Art in the Time of AIDS, and one of the works is now in the museum’s collection. That work appeared in MOCRA’s Good Friday exhibition, and prompted a thoughtful reflection from one of our visitors, recorded in this blog post. For the Icarian series, Goldstein took  leather covers from workout benches salvaged from a gym in the Castro District and enclosed them in simple but noble framing cases–creating, in a real sense, reliquaries for these mementoes of the many men who used the gym.

Daniel Goldstein, Icarian II / Incline, 1993.
Daniel Goldstein, "Icarian II / Incline," 1993. Leather, sweat, wood, copper, felt, plexiglas. Private collection.

Like Kellard, Goldstein employs his art to mediate and express a response to the reality of AIDS. Goldstein, it should be noted, also founded two non-profit organizations to generate funds for AIDS-related education and services. The trailer for We Were Here (on the film website, or on YouTube) includes snippets of the interview with Daniel Goldstein (he is the third person to speak).

As I re-read an essay by Robert Atkins on the Icarian series, I’m struck by one line: “The gay/AIDS subtext of Goldstein’s work is also open to a generational reading.” Atkins is referring to the different ways in which the works might be apprehended by gay men who remember a pre-AIDS world and those who grew up under the specter of AIDS. Since MOCRA is a university museum, I’m reminded of the “Mindset Lists” that circulate at the beginning of every academic year, updating educators on their students’ cultural frame of references. AIDS and HIV don’t rate a mention on this year’s list — the disease was entrenched well before these students were born, and reasonably effective treatments have been on the market for most of their lifetimes — so I’m curious to see how much background we’ll have to provide, how much translation will be entailed, in helping our younger visitors make a connection to Adrian Kellard’s work.

But, as with Goldstein’s reliquaries, the deeper currents of compassion, love, service, hope, and cherished memory expressed in Kellard’s woodcuts, flow well beyond the specificity any one disease, any one group of people, any one city, any one generation.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

Assembling Adrian Kellard

Saint Louis University’s Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) Fall 2011 exhibition will be a presentation of selected works by American artist Adrian Kellard (1959–91). Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion opens September 24 and continues through December 11, 2011.

This installation process has been more involved than most at MOCRA. As happened with many visual artists who were struck down by AIDS in the first decade of the pandemic, the long-term disposition of his estate and works was somewhat ad hoc. Several of his works found their way into museum collections (including MOCRA’s), but many others have been safeguarded in the homes of various friends and family members. So, a certain amount of effort has been involved in locating and securing the loan of works in the exhibition.

Components of an artwork by Adrian Kellard
Components of Adrian Kellard's "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion" wait to be fitted into place.

Additionally, a number of the works are built up of multiple component pieces. In some cases, we’ve only had photos of previous installations or of the works set up in Kellard’s gallery to go on in reconstructing the works. It’s like assembling a large IKEA dining room set without the step-by-step instructions . . . that is, if IKEA’s wood products came carved in bold lines and painted in arresting yellows, reds, and teals. Kellard’s best-known work is in the stylistic tradition of German Expressionism. Household paint on pine panels was his primary medium, and his principal tool was an X-ACTO knife.

Installing work by Adrian Kellard at MOCRA
MOCRA's installation team considers their next move assembling Adrian Kellard's "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion"

MOCRA’s installation team was recently assembling Kellard’s major altarpiece titled Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion. This large-scale work has an architectural quality, with a number of smaller components that come together in one grand statement. Each element, from the bold portrait of Christ to the decorative wooden fringe hanging from the canopy, contributes to the overall effect.

Adrian Kellard's "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion"
Adrian Kellard, "Healing . . . The Learned Art of Compassion" (1985-86) -- assembled, but not yet properly lit.

This work brings together many of Kellard’s common themes and sources, including visual quotes from works of religious art of the past, portraiture, Biblical references, personal biography, and an affinity to the work of the German Expressionists. Kellard’s work reflects his deep faith and a complicated set of identities: Irish-Italian ancestry, Catholic, gay. He brought all of these realities, and later on his struggle with AIDS, into his work.

MOCRA is fortunate to have the largest collection of Kellard’s work in any single art institution. Several works have been shown in MOCRA group exhibitions over the years, but now, 30 years after the identification of HIV and 20 years after Kellard’s death, we are pleased to present this solo exhibition in­cluding a number of Kellard’s most important works.

If you will be in the St. Louis region on Saturday, September 24, we hope you will join us for a free public opening reception from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Learn more about the exhibition on MOCRA’s website.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

Day With(out) Art 2010

December 1 is marked annually as World AIDS Day. Today museums and galleries across the world observe Day With(out) Art. As described on the Visual AIDS website,

Day Without Art (DWA) began on December 1st 1989 as the national day of action and mourning in response to the AIDS crisis. … In 1997 we suggested Day Without Art become a Day WITH Art, to recognize and promote increased programming of cultural events that draw attention to the continuing pandemic. Though “the name was retained as a metaphor for the chilling possibility of a future day without art or artists”, we added parentheses to the program title, Day With(out) Art, to highlight the proactive programming of art projects by artists living with HIV/AIDS, and art about AIDS, that were taking place around the world. It had become clear that active interventions within the annual program were far more effective than actions to negate or reduce the programs of cultural centers.

You can read more about Day With(out) Art and the Visual AIDS project here.

MOCRA has observed Day With(out) Art most years, sometimes with special works of art (here and here, for instance), or organizing community gatherings (here and here). This year, we do not have any special offerings, although a number of the works of James Rosen, while not specifically concerned with HIV/AIDS, certainly speak compellingly of love, loss, grief, and undying hope.

James Rosen, Homage to the Pietà d'Avignon
James Rosen, "Homage to the Pietà d'Avignon," 1989-91. Oil, wax/oil emulsion on canvas.

Today I came across a link to a film called Last Address, by filmmaker Ira Sachs, which “uses images of the exteriors of the houses, apartment buildings, and lofts where [a number of New York City-based artists] were living at the time of their deaths to mark the disappearance of a generation. The film is a remembrance of that loss, as well as an evocation of the continued presence of these artists’ work in our lives and culture.” (Read more about the film here.)

Keith Haring is among those artists. His last major work, Altarpiece: The Life of Christ, was exhibited at MOCRA in 1995. That casting of the altarpiece now resides in the The AIDS Interfaith Chapel at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco.

We invite you to join us in calling to mind and honoring those we have lost, those we love who live with the reality of HIV/AIDS, the many millions around the world who languish without access to treatment, and the dedicated researchers, manufacturers, and agencies who are working to find a cure.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

Day With(out) Art 2009 … join us in remembering

December 1, 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of Day With(out) Art (DWA). Over those twenty years, this annual day of mourning and action has metamorphosed from emphasizing loss (signaled by removing artworks or draping them, or dimming the lights in galleries) to encouraging the creative energy and insight that art can bring to a devastating and demoralizing situation. As the Visual AIDS website notes:

… Day With(out) Art has grown into a collaborative project in which an estimated 8,000 national and international museums, galleries, art centers, AIDS Service Organizations, libraries, high schools and colleges take part.

MOCRA has participated in DWA regularly since 1994. In addition to highlighting particular works of art, three times we have hosted and helped organize observances involving members of the wider arts community. For instance, in 2000 we hosted a DWA observance in conjunction with the exhibition Robert Farber: A Retrospective, 1985-1995. We were joined by members of the theater community, two local gospel singers, members of the Gateway Men’s Chorus, and local visual artists, in dramatically memorializing those we have lost to HIV/AIDS. In 2006, during an encore presentation of Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds, we subdued the Clouds and put the focus on photographer Carolyn Jones’ exquisite Living Proof, a series of portraits of people living — thriving — in the face of HIV/AIDS.

Adrian Kellard, The Promise, 1989
Adrian Kellard, "The Promise," 1989. Latex on wood. Courtesy of the Estate of Adrian Kellard.

This year, we observe DWA by exhibiting The Promise, by the late Adrian Kellard, a rising artist in 1980s New York. His large-scale carved wood block panels evoke both medieval shrines and the woodblock prints of 20th-century German Expressionists, but their bright colors and folk-art quality make them accessible to a wide range of audiences.

The Promise riffs on images of St. Christopher, the legendary giant who unwittingly carried the Christ child across a river. The image expresses endurance and perseverance in the midst of suffering. Its enigmatic text, “I will never leave you,” seems to assert love, hope, compassion, and loyalty. It is an especially poignant message when we consider that Kellard’s own life was cut short by AIDS. He died in the fall of 1991 at the age of 32.

The Promise was included in the 1992-93 international traveling exhibition From Media to Metaphor: Art about AIDS, and in the 1994 exhibition Art’s Lament: Creativity in the Face of Death (organized by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston).

MOCRA is pleased to be able to share The Promise with St. Louis audiences for this year’s Day With(out) Art.  MOCRA will have the work on display beginning Tuesday, December 1, through December 13. Find more information here.

I’d like to note also that the current exhibition at MOCRA, Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears, though not directly connected to HIV/AIDS, does speak to the ambiguity of suffering and the challenge it poses to us as a fact of our human existence. I suspect that Byron’s works speak to many of our visitors of the ways in which we can creatively elicit meaning out of all of life’s experiences, both the joys and the tears.

In whatever fashion makes sense to you, we hope you will join us in observing World AIDS Day and Day With(out) Art.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

Wrestling with Veronica’s Veil

Today we have our first guest blog. Thanks to Courtney Henson, MFA, Visitor Services Manager at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts for this commentary on a work by Daniel Goldstein. (Be sure to check out the PFA’s great blog, along with the blog of the PFA’s next-door-neighbor, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, at 2 Buildings – 1 Blog.


The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky cross-referenced with Icarian XI/Leg Extension by Daniel Goldstein:

After visiting Good Friday at MOCRA, I found attachments to several works — mostly those involving textile media or found objects and at this particular show, mostly dealing with the topic of HIV/AIDS.

A few days later, I found myself confronted with the story of Randy “the Ram” in The Wrestler and thinking back to Icarian XI/ Leg Extension. Between the workout scenes in The Wrestler, Randy’s overly tanned skin and the allusions of him toward Jesus, I kept thinking back to the leather seat because of its original life as an overworked piece of equipment. The seat now transcends that life and has this residue that shows its hard work — the stains of those who used it have become its stigmata.

When contemporary art finds an even more contemporary reference, I feel it proves the power of the work of art. When Randy shows off his scars to his friend, Cassidy (played by Marisa Tomei), Cassidy quotes a line from The Passion and draws parallels to Randy as a type of Christ figure. Certainly Randy, with his long blond hair and Jesus tattoo on his lower back, emulates a figure who aims to redeem himself.

from left: Luis González Palma, "El Santo Sudario" (1989); Daniel Goldstein, "Icarian XI/Leg Extension" (1993); Georges Rouault, "By His Stripes We Are Healed," from the series "Miserere et Guerre" (1922)
from left: Luis González Palma, "El Santo Sudario" (1989); Daniel Goldstein, "Icarian XI/Leg Extension" (1993); Georges Rouault, "By His Stripes We Are Healed," from the series "Miserere et Guerre" (1922)

The artwork by Goldstein similarly shows the struggles played out by the human body for the sake of becoming more godlike, at least by contemporary society’s standards. The work is composed of a leather covering for a workout bench, the brand name Icarian. The covering was salvaged from a gym in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood at a pivotal time during the AIDS epidemic. The piece is housed in a shadow box and displayed like a shrine. In this memorial, the leather is deeply scarred from use; years of sweat are seeped into its surface. There are creases and crinkles from where it was wrapped around the bench. The object is powerful in its stains of sweat, alluding to the story of Veronica’s clothIcarian XI/Leg Extension seems to have the faint image of a portrait; as I write this, I find my reflection placed in its outline — reminding me of the importance of placing myself in the shoes of others.

I would entreat you to view two things this week: The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky, and Icarian XI/Leg Extension by Daniel Goldstein at MOCRA.