The Art AIDS America exhibit at Tacoma Art Museum examines how AIDS changed American art forever. From the public awareness campaigns by Gran Fury when AIDS was still a mysterious disease unacknowledged publicly by President Reagan himself, to modern artists grappling with what it means to be HIV positive, the exhibit opens the doors to a dialogue about the AIDS epidemic –where it started, its effects today, and all that it has affected.
“It’s important to remember that the AIDS crisis is not over,” said co-curator Rock Hushka. “There are 1.2 million Americans who are living with HIV. Every 10.5 minutes on average another American citizen becomes HIV positive.”
For Hushka, Art AIDS America has been a dream for nearly a decade. He wrote his master’s thesis on the affects of Gran Fury’s work in graduate school. For 10 years he’s been compiling the exhibit with co-curator Dr. Jonathan D. Katz to show how a diverse set of artists have been influenced by the disease.
While there are some stunning works, much of Art AIDS America is unpleasant. It’s jarring and at times difficult to look at. The topic is dark. The fear and pain that’s laced through much of the powerful work is highly effective. It’s provocative, something executive director of TAM, Stephanie Stebich, condones.
“It’s okay that works of art make you uncomfortable,” she said after quoting president Obama’s line, “the job of an artist is to provoke.”
Art AIDS America as a whole takes that job seriously.
See the exhibit at TAM through Jan. 10. Afterward it will tour the country. Read more about Art AIDS America in the Dec/Jan issue of South Sound.