Entertainment

Powerful Paintings Depict the Trauma of the AIDS Crisis

“On top of everything, the newsman told us AIDS came from Africa... From a green monkey... Why everything got to come from Africa?”

by Antwaun Sargent
Nov 20 2015, 4:10pm

Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford. Be Strong Boquan’, Hauser & Wirth New York, 18th Street, 2015 © Mark Bradford Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Genevieve Hanson

The most atypically successful artwork in artist Mark Bradford’s new solo show at Hauser & Wirth gallery, entitled, Mark Bradford. Be Strong Boquan, is Spiderman. The six-minute, profanity laced comedy routine hilariously exposes all that is wrong with the largely privately held, current stigma, and historically public discrimination, towards those living with HIV/AIDS. Mark Bradford’s closed-captioned black screen performance could easily be mistaken for Eddie Murphy’s 1983 HBO special, Delirious. But what Spiderman and the exhibition, which also include a new series of Bradford’s signature abstract layered paintings, represents, is a clear challenge to the homophobic hysteria that defined both the first ten minutes of Delirious and 1980s public opinion.

Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford. Be Strong Boquan’, Hauser & Wirth New York, 18th Street, 2015 © Mark Bradford Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Pacing back and forth on a stage, and dressed in a skin-tight matching red leather bomber jacket and pants, Murphy starts his routine by saying, “I got rules when I do stand up: Faggots aren’t allowed to look at my ass,” before saying as the crowd cheers. “You know what’s real scary about that shit is that new AIDS shit—AIDS is scary because it kills motherfuckers, it’s not like the good old days when venereal disease was simple.” The show was recorded as the AIDS crisis began, which would eventually kill an entire generation of gay men. “Hell, AIDS is still trending like a motherfucker, aint it?” Riffs Bradford, in a cadence and manner that clearly draws parallels to Murphy’s stand-up, “On top of everything, the newsman told us AIDS came from Africa... From a green monkey... Why everything got to come from Africa?” The artist’s first foray into comedy, as a form of performance art, is his way of using abstraction to remember those lost to HIV/AIDS. Spiderman also reveals the role that fear played in preventing a coordinated governmental response that could have saved many of those lost to the disease. "I know how serious an issue AIDS is the world over. I know that AIDS isn't funny. It's 1996 and I'm a lot smarter about AIDS now,” said Murphy in a public apology.

Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford. Be Strong Boquan’, Hauser & Wirth New York, 18th Street, 2015 © Mark Bradford Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Genevieve Hanson

On display also are new mixed-media collage paintings that seek to locate, through the materiality of multilayered paint, the chaos that the 1980s AIDS crisis and ensuing epidemic left on the bodies of its victims, and on the collective psyche. A trio of paintings, Jayquan, Maquan, and Boquan, are pink and white with black dots that abstractly represent sarcoma cells—once skin markings on those who contracted AIDS early in the crisis, before advance breakthroughs in AIDS drugs made physical signs of the disease largely invisible—spread generously throughout the canvas. The works also seem seem to comment sublimely on the decades-long battles that have changed the lived experiences of the LGBTQ community. The dots seem to map out the contested and hard-won terrain upon which queer people have constructed their lives, scars and all. There is also a captivating large scale sculptural work entitled Waterfall, comprised of rope and painted paper hung over a steel beam, and the shorter video work, Deimos—in Greek Mythology, Deimos personified terror—that shows detached orange roller skate wheels careening uncontrollably across the screen, seemly recalling the role AIDS played in ending the sex-positive culture that sprouted up around the roller disco scene.

Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford. Be Strong Boquan’, Hauser & Wirth New York, 18th Street, 2015 © Mark Bradford Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Genevieve Hanson

In using the crisis as a point of departure, Mark Bradford. Be Strong Boquan raises questions about the long-term effects AIDS has had in shaping sex politics, the generational divide in the LGBTQ community, asks if society has done enough to meaningfully remember those lost during the crisis, and addresses the stigmas surrounding those living with HIV/AIDS today.

Installation view, ‘Mark Bradford. Be Strong Boquan’, Hauser & Wirth New York, 18th Street, 2015 © Mark Bradford Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Mark Bradford. Be Strong Boquan is on view at Hauser & Wirth through December 23. For more information, click here.

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