LEAD: Nearly 600 arts institutions throughout the United States plan to observe "A Day Without Art" on Friday to draw attention to the effects of AIDS on the arts community.
Nearly 600 arts institutions throughout the United States plan to observe "A Day Without Art" on Friday to draw attention to the effects of AIDS on the arts community.
Museums, galleries and other arts organizations plan to darken their galleries, temporarily remove or cover artworks, hold memorial services, or sponsor performances, lectures and exhibitions about AIDS. Some galleries plan to close. "It's a national day of mourning and action," said Thomas W. Sokolowski, a member of Visual AIDS, a group of arts professionals that organized the day's activities. "Some events are more activist while others are more elegiac." The day is intended to honor artists and others in the arts community who have died of AIDS, increase awareness of the epidemic's toll and call for greater support for AIDS services and research, he added.
"A Day Without Art," which will coincide with the World Health Organization's second "AIDS Awareness Day," will be marked by dozens of large museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, Calif., the Dallas Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, as well as scores of university and private galleries, theaters and alternative performance spaces.
A Metaphor for Losses
"We want to use the prestige and credibility of cultural institutions to dramatically call attention to how widespread and serious the problem is," said Philip Yenawine, an organizer of the observance and the director of education at the Museum of Modern Art. "But 'A Day Without Art' is a misnomer in some ways. The name was chosen because we hoped there would be a moratorium, in which museums and galleries would close. But it's also an apt metaphor for the losses the art world has suffered and the specter of more losses to come."
In New York, where about 150 institutions will participate, the Metropolitan Museum will take down Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein for five days, and a placard will say it has been removed "to symbolize the losses the art community is currently experiencing because of AIDS."
Posters spelling "AIDS" - based on Robert Indiana's Pop Art "Love" paintings - will be installed in 3,000 New York subway cars throughout December by the Public Art Fund, a nonprofit group dedicated to presenting art in public spaces. The image, created by a Toronto artists' collective called General Idea, consists of the word AIDS in red letters on a green-and-blue field. "We're backing this because AIDS affects all neighborhoods, and the subway system communicates that connectedness," said James Clark, the fund's managing director.
Four Days of Events
Tomorrow night, a program called "A Jewish Perspective on AIDS" at the Jewish Museum will include speakers, music, performances and prayers, while a memorial service with three musical groups will be held at the Museum of Modern Art. Performances and videos about AIDS geared to children will be presented all weekend at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, and film or video programs on AIDS will be shown on Friday at the Brooklyn Museum, the Lehman College Art Gallery, the Bronx Museum and the Dia Art Foundation.
Other observances in New York include displays of parts of the Names Project Quilt, each panel of which memorializes someone who has died of AIDS, at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, the American Craft Museum, the Museum of American Folk Art and the New-York Historical Society; a reading by gay black men at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and an exhibition of AIDS-related work owned by Chase Manhattan Bank at the bank's downtown headquarters. Creative Time, a nonprofit arts group, is coordinating a census of artists who have died of AIDS. Galleries that plan to close include Leo Castelli, Mary Boone, Robert Miller, Artists Space and the Alternative Museum.
Theaters Join In
Some theater directors will also participate. Shows will be interrupted at the Theater for the New City, and La Mama will be dark. "In a lot of ways we have been closed, because 52 artists who've worked at La Mama have died of AIDS," Wickham Boyle, the company's executive director, said.
Symbolic actions are planned at museums from New England to California. Empty chairs representing Boston artists affected by AIDS will be displayed in the courtyard of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University; a coffin will be placed in the center of the gallery at the University of Florida at Gainesville, and at the Dallas Museum of Art, temporary black walls with panels of names of artists who have died of AIDS will block the entrance and a digital counter enumerating the worldwide AIDS death toll will be installed. In Madison, Wis., the Madison Art Center will lead a candle-lit vigil at the state Capitol, and works of art owned by the University of Wisconsin will be draped with black fabric. The Louisiana State Museum will place mourning wreaths on the historic houses it administers in the New Orleans area.
In Southern California, the Getty Museum will dim the lights in its photography galleries to honor the photography collector Sam Wagstaff, who died of AIDS in 1987, and both the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art will waive their admission fees, suggesting that money be donated to the AIDS Project Los Angeles. Panels from the Names Project Quilt will be displayed in many museums throughout the country, and posters about the day's observance will be put up on city streets in Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere.
How It Started
The idea for the observance came up a year and a half ago when about a dozen New York arts professionals met to establish what Mr. Sokolowski described as "an information-gathering service on AIDS-related programs at arts institutions."
"This spring, we started floating the idea of a day without art," he said, "but many museum people said it would be too hard to get this past boards of trustees. Others called it a negative action. So rather than closing doors, we decided to try to do something palpable and positive to focus attention on how we look at AIDS through the medium of art. We also decided to leave it open for each institution to do what they wanted."
Raising money and lobbying are not official parts of "A Day Without Art," but many institutions will have fund-raising events for AIDS-related causes, and Mr. Sokolowski encouraged people attending the events to "write a check to an AIDS organization and letters to politicians."
About 10 artists and arts professionals plan to meet on Friday with John E. Frohnmayer, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said Cee Brown, the director of Creative Time and a member of Visual AIDS. "We want to discuss how the arts community and the endowment can seriously increase AIDS awareness and education and jointly combat homophobia."