Come As You Are
NATHALIE SCHERER On February 21st the Blanton Museum of Art unveiled the groundbreaking exhibit entitled “Come as You Are.” Not only is this one of the first major museum exhibits to explore works that influenced art world during the 1990s, but it also contextualizes issues that affected the ‘90s though art. This was a time of upheaval in almost every aspect of life; politics were unstable, the digital age was just beginning, and most importantly, America was still in the grip of a public health crisis: AIDS.
The AIDS crisis not only rocked the art world, but the scientific world as well. In 1982, the researcher Robert Gallo had discovered the link between HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), and its way of transmission through sexual activity or exposure to blood.
In the 90’s there was still a powerful stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. Although scientists knew that it could not be spread just through casual contact, this was a misconception that many in the public still believed, and something that the art from “Come As You Are” attempts to address.
Artists featured in this Blanton exhibit, such as Felix Gonzalez-Torres and art collectives such as Gran Fury, use art as a method of educating the public and fighting the stigma of HIV/AIDS by appealing to the public in a way that science could not. Many of the works that appear in this exhibit are artists’ attempts to dispel these myths and convey their personal emotions about this public health crisis through art.
The first work on display in “Come As You Are” is Gran Fury’s “Kissing Doesn’t Kill: Greed and Indifference Do.” It is a piece that parodies an advertisement format to convey that HIV is not spread through casual contact to the public.
Another work, titled “Untitled (Placebo)” by Felix Gonzalez-Torres work is an interactive piece that consists of a pile of silver wrapped lemon candy. Museum-goers are encouraged to take a piece, contributing to the slow undoing of the sculpture. In slowly disintegrating the sculpture, viewers are encouraged to think about the disintegration of life in loss, illness, and death; Gonzalez-Torres was inspired to create this sculpture after the loss of his partner to AIDS.
Together, these works and others in the exhibit fight the stigma of AIDS and reflect on the effect that it had on a decade. The “Come As You Are” exhibit displays the emotional side of the viral epidemic and the effect that it had on the culture of an entire decade.
The exhibit will be on display until May 15th, 2016 and UT students and faculty have free admission to the Blanton!