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

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