John Dugdale is a photographer who can barely see. In 1993diseases resulting from infection by the AIDS virus took most ofhis vision and hearing. He thought he had months to live, buthe's still here. That is why, Mr. Dugdale said, he is qualifiedto talk about the importance of a new on-line gallery of works byartists with AIDS.
"I am here to say that having a lasting record of my work wouldhave been so important to me when I was suffering five yearsago," said Mr. Dugdale, 38, whose work is also on display at theWessel & O'Connor Gallery in Chelsea through Jan. 3. "I know whatit would have been like for me to exit with no record."
The on-line gallery, the Virtual Collection(www.artistswithaids.org) is to have its premiere today, WorldAIDS Day, with ceremonies in five museums nationwide, includingthe Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum. Ithas some 3,200 images of objects made by some 150 artists who areH.I.V.-positive, are dying from AIDS or have died. For many ofthe artists the Virtual Collection is a means to show their artto a wider audience and to feel that it will live on after them.
But the Virtual Collection is also meant to be a historicalrecord of the AIDS era. It was founded by the Estate Project forArtists With AIDS, an eight-year-old program that helpsH.I.V.-positive and AIDS-stricken artists. "This is not an artcatalogue," said Randall Bourscheidt, president of the Alliancefor the Arts, the nonprofit arts advocacy group in Manhattan thatruns the Virtual Collection and the Estate project. "Our goal isto create something which is a powerful testament to the effectof this epidemic."
In the Virtual Collection each artist gets his own page. To theleft is a 100- to 300-word biography of the artist. To the rightare small images of 20 or so examples of the artist's work. Eachof these images can be expanded by a double click of the mouse tolarger-size, high-resolution digital pictures. Each picture isaccompanied by detailed cataloguing, including size, medium andeven a contact number for the artist or the estate.
Users can put together pieces by different artists and save themon their own private pages. This feature and the contactinformation are intended to allow teachers, curators andcollectors to study objects in different combinations on line andborrow or buy the pieces themselves for exhibition in the realworld. "The real gallery doesn't exist," said Glenn D. Lowry,director of the Museum of Modern Art. "These works are spreadout; this is a way of bringing them together in a context."
There are a number of well-known artists on the Web site,including Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Cratsley andDavid Wojnarowicz, but most of the names are obscure. The onlyrequirement for inclusion in the Virtual Collection is that theartist be H.I.V. positive or have AIDS and submit around 20slides of his work. If the artist cannot make slides, the EstateProject will help them.
"Whether these are achieved works of art isn't for us to judge,"Mr. Bourscheidt said. "The result we are striving for is topreserve the historical context of the artists' community duringthe AIDS crisis."
The Estate Project was founded in 1991 to address the fact thatartists of all stripes, including painters, sculptors, writers,poets and choreographers were dying of AIDS and their works werebeing sold off, given away, or even thrown away. Among otherthings, the Estate Project raised money for groups in themid-90's that were making slide archives of works by artists withAIDS. Slides, however, are fragile and inaccessible, so in 1995the Estate Project decided to gather the images together and putthem on line.
"This gives incredible access to these works," said Barbara Hunt,the director of Visual AIDS, an advocacy group in Manhattan thatwas the largest single source of slides along with groups in LosAngeles, Boston and San Francisco. "It brings together archivesfrom around the country."
In New York the Virtual Collection is to be celebrated today atthe Museum of Modern Art with a public demonstration of the Website at 10:45 A.M. The Brooklyn Museum has an exhibition ofpieces by some artists in the Virtual Collection and there is tobe a public reception for the artists at 6:30 this evening. Andthe Studio Museum in Harlem will display a computer with imagesby African-American artists in the Virtual Collection for todayonly.
No one is certain how many artists have H.I.V. and AIDS, but mostof the advocates for artists with AIDS say there are manythousands of them. The director of the Estate Project and the Website, Patrick Moore, said it was likely that the VirtualCollection would grow to over 6,000 images in the next few years.It costs around $150 to put one artist's works on line, he said,and the Estate Project plans to continue raising funds for theeffort.
Mr. Moore said he hoped that the Virtual Collection would stillbe up and running long after the artists and many of their workshad disappeared. "The reality is that not of all these artworkswill survive," he said. "All we can do is preserve their imageselectronically."
**John Dugdale, photographer who has been nearly blind since 1993because of AIDS eye infection, sets up Virtual Connection,on-line gallery of works by artists with AIDS; hiw own work is ondisplay at Wessel & O'Connor Gallery; photo; Virtual Collectionis run by Alliance for the Arts; president Randall Bourscheidtcomments (S)
***Alliance for the Arts; Virtual Connection (On-Line Gallery);Art; Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome; Computers andInformation Systems; Photography