Today, my class went on a field trip! We went to the Zuckerman Museum of Art on Kennesaw University’s campus. They’re currently holding a powerful exhibition about AIDS and HIV in America and how artists have been working around that topic over the span of about 30 years. There’s even a neat and tidy timeline with facts and figures at the front of the exhibit.
I am going to relay the event in the order of my notes; the lay of the land is a wide open sunlit space. Just in front of the staircase is artwork representing the museum’s donor’s wife’s artwork. To the left are two pieces of artwork (one a bit obscure). The obscure piece of artwork leads into a large gallery space filled with beautiful artwork facing all aspects of AIDS in America from time, sickness, and death to overarching ideas of loss and love.
The obscure piece of artwork that I previously mentioned is Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Water which is a site dependent wall of beads. Who knew a string of beads could be so powerful? When I walked through it–even after being fully aware of its existence as an artwork–I felt cleansed.
Moving through Water, I was then struck by Glen Ligon’s Untitled (I feel most colored when I am thrown against a white background). Of course, we all have art history and we all pick and choose what we remember, and this happens to be one of the chosen. It’s so relieving to see artwork in person and experience it.
Now, I am a child at heart; so going into galleries is stressful sometimes because I want to get close to things and touch things; so I almost had an anxiety attack when I noticed a large white space filled with red sculptures next to my feet. I leaned over an entire foot just to read the label for it to be sure I didn’t disturb the essence of it. The delicate piece is Kiki Smith’s Red Spill, a group of glass sculptures shaped like red blood cells. The cells ranged from being opaque and dark to slightly transparent and light. They spoke volumes to me with their glass delicacy and vibrant red hue. They seem so effortless.
I have so much admiration for artists that take traditional elements from their cultures and wittily transform them. Masami Teraoka transformated traditioanl Japanese woodcuts to display a geisha ripping open condoms in her piece Tale of 1000 Condoms/Geisha & Skeleton. Tino Rodriguez mimics this wit in his Eternal Lovers with Dia de los Muertos traditional imagery of sugar skulls and flowered skeletons to display two figures kissing.
The last piece in that section from my notes struck me with a smile was Niki de Saint Phalle’s book AIDS You Can’t Catch it Holding Hands. I wish we could flip through the pages; only two pages were set in display in a box (the picture in the link shows the page we saw). What was so beautiful was how simplistic and friendly the book was, easy enough for children.
Then we walk through the donor’s wife’s artwork to a cold corridor which leads to many other hallways and avenues. The director led us into an even colder room that was filled with very charged and intense artwork, still as part of the Art AIDS America exhibition. The first piece I encountered in this room was Jenny Holzer’s condoms. What was more interesting to me though was Holzer’s label description. It talked about her openness to interpretation and how artwork is up to her audience. I admire this openness because so many artists and teachers of art seem to want to hone in on directed artwork; I personally think it’s impossible to have a fully 100% directed piece of artwork. That’s a conversation for another day.
Ray Navaro’s Equipped allowed for some comedic relief with this witty pairing of words with his (unfortunate) disabilities from AIDs.
After only an hour spent at the Zuckerman, I was on the edge of being emotionally and mentally spent, but I am so greatly to have had the opportunity to experience these pieces of artwork in person. This is a traveling exhibition, so if it happens to come near you, it’s a must go-see.