TAG’s Exhibit Honors Artists Fighting AIDS

TAG board president Barbara Hughes, executive director Mark Harrington, photographer Richard Renaldi, and photographer and curator Joy Episalla, in front of Renaldi’s photograph “Matt, Fort Worth, TX, 2005.” | TEQUILA MINSKY

Westbeth’s expansive gallery exhibited Limited Art Editions — 40 pieces in 14 editions, created from 1999-2017 — presented by the Treatment Action Group (TAG). Media ranged from photography to mixed media to printing. TAG owns the limited edition art by the 14 artists represented, and the exhibit marked the first time the editions were shown together. Sales support the important and life-saving work of TAG.

The 26-year-old organization is an outgrowth from the activist group ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. In January 1992, members of the Treatment and Data Committee of ACT UP left the parent group to create a nonprofit organization focused on accelerating treatment research.

TAG continues to work, through science-based research, community engagement, and collective action, for the day when there will be a cure and an end to HIV, hepatitis C, and tuberculosis.

Westbeth show offered 40 works in mixed media produced by 14 seminal talents

Joy Episalla, the curator and an exhibiting photographer, writes in the accompanying exhibition catalogue that “the financial support that the sale of the TAG editions provides is more important than ever…. [particularly as we] are living in dark times. Government funding for HIV research is being rescinded as are all kinds of not-for-profits and advocacy organizations….”

More than 30 silver gelatin selenium-toned prints donated in 1999 by photographer Ben Thornberry established the collection. The photographer documented ACT UP activists in action from the late 1980s into the early 1990s, when the AIDS crisis unleashed its most devastating blows. An entire side of the room was devoted to exhibiting 20 of his images.

One of the images exhibited — “David Wojnarowicz’ memorial march, East Village, NYC” — was turned into a over-sized poster hung just behind the reception desk, greeting visitors.

“I was at that event,” said TAG’s board president Barbara Hughes, recalling the political performance funeral at Astor Place when a banner was burned. An artist, writer, photographer, filmmaker, performance artist, and activist, Wojnarowicz died in 1992.

“A few days after he died, at least 100 candlelit marchers walked through the East Village and a banner was burned,” Hughes said. People speak of Wojnarowicz with reverence, his talent, activism, and writing drawing attention to AIDS at a time when it was too commonly ignored. The Whitney will host the first major, monographic presentation of work by Wojnrowicz in more than a decade beginning July 13.

“His activism is an inspiration,” said Mark Harrington, TAG’s co-founder and executive director, who is no slouch himself, boasting his initial arrest with ACT UP at Wall Street, the week following his first civil disobedience training in 1988. Harrington has been arrested eight times; Hughes, 12 times. Harrington recalled one-action-a-day, for 11 days, in April 1988.

“There is a long history of visual graphic arts partnered with activism,” said TAG staff member Joe McConnell, commenting on the sensibility and sensitivity these artists brought to their work. Since 2005, the TAG collection has continued to grow.

If you missed the exhibition, the art is still available for purchase at treatmentactiongroup.org/limited-art-editions. The exhibition’s catalogue is dedicated to: David Armstrong (1954-2014), Tony Feher (1956-2016), and Mathilde Krim, Ph.D. (1926-2018), and all “those we have lost in the fight against AIDS.”