Painting a plague: Exhibit celebrates artists affected by AIDS

Back to life: Marc Lida’s 1985 painting “The Saint,” which depicts the gay nightclub of the same name, will be on display at the upcoming “Painting to Survive” exhibit in Red Hook on March 18.
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He is giving their art new life.

A new exhibit will showcase a dozen under-recognized artists who were affected by the devastating HIV and AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, and the subsequent collapse of the East Village art scene. “Painting to Survive (1985-1995),” opening on March 18 at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition in Red Hook, brings their important work back to the spotlight, said its curator.

“I think they are spectacular great paintings, and all should be better known,” said art historian and artist Jonathan Weinberg, who lives in Connecticut. “These are artists whose work has been ignored because it sold out of fashion — this phenomenon of amazing painting going on and then suddenly it all shut down.”

Two of the artists — Marc Lida and Richard Hofmann — died from the disease, but each artist in the show has a personal connection to it, he said.

“All the artists in the show have been very deeply touched by the AIDS epidemic, all have friends who died from it or also have friends who are still living with the disease,” said Weinberg, who contributed his own portrait of Lida to the show.

The artists, who mostly worked in expressionist and figurative paintings at the time, used their art to express their feelings about the deaths that surrounded them, and to challenge the indifference of the government towards the disease, said Weinberg.

“The ’80s was a tumultuous time, with Ronald Reagan and then George Bush. Reagan didn’t mention the word ‘AIDS’ until his last months,” he said. “It’s as if there was a war was going on, and painting was a way for us to cope.”

The epidemic cost the world a generation of art, said Weinberg.

“The work they might have made, we also lost the people who were part of the audience, might have lost their critique and advice and richness of their lives,” he said. “Marc and Richard should be alive right now, and they probably would have been if the government had been more responsive.”

“Painting to Survive (1985–1995)” at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition [481 Van Brunt St. near Beard Street in Red Hook, (917) 603–2154,]. Opening reception March 18 at 1 pm. On display weekends through April 14; 1–6 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 5:47 pm, July 9, 2018
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