Today is World AIDS Day/Day With(out) Art. During the 1980s and 1990s, AIDS and complications from it killed nearly half a million people in the U.S., a disproportionate number of them gay men and people of color. The artist community lost thousands; still more friends, lovers, and family members faced lives transformed by grief, fear, indignation, and illness. Many artists made activist work that criticized government inaction, promoted awareness and treatment, and expressed support for people fighting and living with the virus. Here are two of those works from the Whitney’s collection, on view now in An Incomplete History of Protest
Thomas Cole (1801-1848)
The Course of Empire:
“The Savage State” (1834)
“The Arcadian” (1834)
“The Consummation of Empire” (1836)
Oil on canvas
Owned by the New-York Historical Society
The Course of Empire is a five-part series of paintings created by Thomas Cole in the years 1833–36.
The series of paintings depicts the growth and fall of an imaginary city, situated on the lower end of a river valley, near its meeting with a bay of the sea. The valley is distinctly identifiable in each of the paintings, in part because of an unusual landmark: a large boulder is precariously situated atop a crag overlooking the valley.
Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908)
“Medusa” (c. 1854)
Located in the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
At a time when less than 1% of American women went to college, Hosmer studied anatomy and moved to Rome to study sculpture. In 1858 she established her own sculpture studio in Rome, leading a team of more than twenty men. Hosmer often depicted strong female figures; such as Medusa, who in Greek Mythology was a beautiful woman that was transformed into a Gorgon, a creature with snakes for hair, whose gaze turned those who looked at her to stone. Hosmer’s compassionate rendering shows Medusa’s transformation in progress, snakes intertwined with her lovely hair.