“Art AIDS America” has closed at Tacoma Art Museum. But another smaller exhibit at the University of Puget Sound’s Collins Memorial Library goes deep into the details of living — and dying — with HIV/AIDS. It covers from the early days of ignorance and hate to recent local memories from the Pierce County AIDS Walks, with current UPS student work and two stunning entries from TAM’s Condom Couture competition.
In other words, “Surviving and Thriving — AIDS, Politics and Culture” is a mish-mash of media and genre, from professional to community art. But the show is powerful in the details and in the culture of opening up to knowledge that necessarily pervades a library.
The physical centerpieces are two mounted costumes from the recent Condom Couture fashion show at Tacoma Art Museum. Held to wrap up “Art AIDS America,” the museum-organized traveling show that made national headlines because of its subject matter, controversy and iconic artists, the fashion show is a common idea to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS, and it’s amazing what you can make out of condoms. The first prize winner (Jill Frey and Jennifer Gaines) is a magnificent peacock cocktail dress, with aqua, royal blue and teal condoms rolled up for the bodice, unfurled for the skirt and inflated (cheekily) for the bustle, with a trailing tail of gold packages and peacock feathers adding to the themes of beauty, vanity and sheer camp.
But the dresses flank a more serious set of cases of ceramic work by Scott McDowell, the national ceramic artist who grew up in Tacoma and made it big in New York. Diagnosed with HIV in 1985, he temporarily set up a studio where The Grand Cinema now is, then moved to Seattle and back to New York, an active AIDS activist until his death in 1992. McDowell’s vibrant, squiggle-streaked bowls and plates sing of joy and innovation. There’s also a case of media coverage (TIME, Home and Garden, novelist Ann Beattie) and a section for him in the wall-size portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
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Other elements in the show contribute a wider community feel: strings of postcards, test tube memorials and tiles from recent AIDS Walk art events, historic posters on AIDS awareness from the lilac-tinged misery of “It won’t kill you to spend time with a friend who has AIDS” to the sexy “Read My Lips,” bordered by Keith Haring figures and the text “ignorance=fear, silence=death.” Six long banners tell the history of both the disease and society’s reactions; in the corner are 10 woodblock prints by students in the fall printmaking class at UPS. They react to “Art AIDS America” by encapsulating single themes: ignorance, silence, isolation, and in their white-on-black inking are small but powerful.
A reception Feb. 24 will include discussions on the work by associate art professor Janet Marcavage and student dramaturgs involved in the university’s upcoming production of “Rent,” the opera-inspired musical about a group of young artists in New York City dealing with HIV/AIDS. Members of the Pierce County AIDS Foundation will also be present to share personal experiences and information.
Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics and Culture
Where: Collins Memorial Library, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma.
When: 7:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays, 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Sundays through March 20.
Reception: 5-6 p.m. Feb. 24.
Cost: Free (canned food donation).
Information: 253-879-3669, pugetsound.edu/library.