In the Thursday, September 6th edition of the New York Times, a poignant review of "Toxic Beauty: The Art of Frank Moore", by Roberta Smith appears.
Unfortunately, there are some inaccuracies. Smith incorrectly states "One of the first members of Visual Aids [sic], the artistic arm of Act Up [sic], he was instrumental in designing the looped red ribbon that became a symbol of the fight against AIDS." The two misconceptions here are:
1.) Visual AIDS was not the "artistic arm of ACT UP", (Gran Fury more closely fits that description, in that they "kept the group open to anyone from ACT UP" and work directly with the organization to create agit-prop). Visual AIDS was founded as a separate organization in 1988 (by four arts administrators). Under Visual AIDS an artists based group, who's members and size varied from year to year, called the Visual AIDS Artists' Caucus was created and many of its members did participate in ACT UP actions, but Visual AIDS was never any official arm of ACT UP.
2.) It was the Visual AIDS Artists' Caucus that created the red ribbon (originally known as "The Ribbon Project") in 1991. The red ribbons should always be credited to the Visual AIDS Artists Caucus as a whole and not to list any individual as the "creator" of the red ribbon. All of the members of the Visual AIDS Artist Caucus were instrumental in the design. (see previous NYTimes correction from Dec 14, 1997 here)
I realize these might be small issues to some, and we appreciate Smith's commitment in honoring Moore's work, however, for Visual AIDS, it is important to not conflate histories, or credit individuals over communities. Actions should not be re-written, ideas should not be lost and histories should not be silenced. As part of our mission, Visual AIDS is committed to preserving and honoring the work of artists with HIV/AIDS and the artistic contributions of the AIDS movement. - Nelson Santos, Executive Director
Read Smith's article below:
Where Anxieties Roam
by Roberta Smith
Frank Moore had a busy, productive career in and around painting until it was cut short by AIDS in 2002. He was 48, one among many artists felled by the disease.
Measured in works that will never be made, the cultural losses wrought by AIDS are elusive, and perhaps less immediately heart-rending than the raw human deficit, but they are losses all the same. So the work that Moore left behind cuts two ways: it sheds much light on his life and time and also indicates a void of unrealized potential.
The point is driven home by “Toxic Beauty: The Art of Frank Moore,” a retrospective divided between the Grey Art Gallery and the Fales Library & Special Collections, both at New York University. The first survey devoted to Moore’s art, it lavishly details his multifaceted achievement as painter, set designer, filmmaker, writer and activist. (One of the first members of Visual Aids [sic], the artistic arm of Act Up, he was instrumental in designing the looped red ribbon that became a symbol of the fight against AIDS.) It is an ambitious undertaking for such relatively modest cultural entities; it has been organized by Lynn Gumpert, director of the Grey Art Gallery, and Susan Harris, a freelance writer and curator.
In a time — the 1980s and ’90s — when some artists re-embraced representational painting and others tackled thorny political topics, Moore did both, and with unusual flair. He belongs to a tradition that includes one-of-kind 20th-century eccentrics like Frida Kahlo, Florine Stettheimer and Pavel Tchelitchew, and also medieval manuscript illuminators and altarpiece painters.
An intellectually fervent, fiercely independent maverick, he revived and revised a panoply of outré realist styles to comment on pressing contemporary issues, especially the environment and AIDS. His achievement centers on always luminous, often panoramic but exquisitely rendered allegorical paintings that crib from, expand upon and subtly parody sources and styles ranging from the Hudson River School to Norman Rockwell, with American Social Realism and Surrealism in between, as well as commercial art, collage and illustration. Not by chance, the magic realist Peter Blume and the insinuating neo-Classicist Paul Cadmus were prominent among the artists Moore loved as a child.
Sustaining currents of humor, anger and generosity run through Moore’s work. The 35 paintings and related gouaches at the Grey are amazingly weird metaphorical mélanges — rich with seductive painterly touches — that don’t mince images. One of my favorites is “Bubble Bath,” a jade-toned aqueous expanse dominated by a torrent of books going down a toilet that is also a brain spotted with Kaposi’s sarcoma and festooned with black-and-white diagrams of men having sex.
It bristles with a mordant sense of reality and loss, as well as menacing bits of bacteria and fauna suggesting drain water, while framed in copper pipe with spigot handles. The work is emblematic of Moore’s desire to make the viewer look and look again, teasing out themes, jokes and morals while also enjoying shifts in scale, plays on form and translucent color.
Moore was born in New York, grew up on Long Island and spent childhood summers at his grandfather’s home in the Adirondacks, an experience he once said made him “a kind of activist naturalist.” As interested in science as in art, he trained in psychology and painting at Yale, graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1975, and arrived in New York with a skill set that prepared him to conduct detailed research and distill lots of facts into images.
He initially inclined toward abstract art. The Fales display, which presents additional gouaches, ephemera, film storyboards, sketches, letters and notebooks, includes studies of abstractions whose perpendicular bands of color are indebted to the early 1970s works of the New York painters Brice Marden and David Novros, except for Moore’s relatively real sense of glowing light. (There is also a wonderfully garish, altogether more characteristic ceramic fish, with plate, that Moore made at the age of 17.) Two years spent in Europe, mostly in Paris, reaffirmed his interest in representational art. “Getting out of New York got me free from the grip of Minimalism,” he later told an interviewer.