Death, Darkness, Alchemy, and Rebirth

I’ve always been attracted to the macabre in art and literature. I have a vivid memory of pronouncing Edgar Allen Poe my favorite author we had read that year in 7th grade; most of my classmates preferred Harper Lee or Mark Twain. While walking through the group exhibition A Wake: Still Lives and Moving Images at the Dumbo Arts Center, which combines video, cinema, and photography to explore the theme of death, I had a similar experience to when I first read Poe.

Family Portrait on the Moon

Have you seen the photograph of Astronaut Charles Duke and his family that was left on the Moon in 1972? It is a small 3×5 color photo of Duke, his wife Dorothy and their two sons Charles and Thomas posing for a studio portrait. If you visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York you can find a document of this photo near the end of the ramp that exits the Hayden Planetarium.

An Artist Caught Between Two Floods

As has been all too visible in the tossed wreckage of homes and devastation of whole neighborhoods from the recent storm, floods ravage what they consume into fragments, pulling away some things and leaving the rest in disorder ready for decay. Although Phong Bui’s current exhibition at Show Room, Work According to the Rail, Part I (After the Flood), was planned before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, it features 25 collage paintings mostly created after a flood in the artist and Brooklyn Rail publisher’s studio this past August that destroyed around 20 percent of his work. Unfortunately, Bui was also hit hard by Sandy just a day after the opening at Show Room, telling Hyperallergic that his Greenpoint studio was “decimated” by flooding that rose from the Newtown Creek.

We Were Not Making Art, We Were at War

At some point, nearly two hours in, Marlene McCarty, one of the members of the AIDS activist group Gran Fury, an affinity group that was part of ACT-UP, reminded those gathered: “We were not making art.” The event was a panel discussion that took place at Columbia University on November 15, organized by Columbia’s School of the Arts, and was intended to draw on some of the themes present in the exhibition that just opened at the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston, This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s. The panel was comprised of ICA Boston curator Helen Molesworth and four members of the eleven-member collective that was Gran Fury: Avram Finkelstein, Tom Kalin, Marlene McCarty, and Robert Vazquez-Pacheco.

The question that prompted McCarty’s response was one of a handful that arose during the Q&A that followed the presentations by the panel. There was a similar tone to many of the questions that came up, the majority of which were something along the lines of: “How can we do what you did?” In addition to reminding those present that Gran Fury’s intention was never to make art, per se, McCarty added, “We were very brash about the fact that we were making propaganda.”