Tag Archives: taryn simon

Joe Pabst and MAM refine the art of AIDS awareness

Focusing attention on serious issues is a challenge in a culture that seems intent on distracting people from them.

One way that issue advocates fight back is to designate special events, commemorative days and fundraisers that highlight what might go unnoticed: Al’s Run, Breast Cancer Awareness Week, World Kidney Day. 

It was in this spirit that World AIDS Day was established in 1988 and is honored each year on Dec. 1. Globally, an estimated 42 million people carry HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In Wisconsin, about 6,500 individuals are living with HIV or AIDS. 

Focusing attention on serious issues is a challenge in a culture that seems intent on distracting people from them.

One way that issue advocates fight back is to designate special events, commemorative days and fundraisers that highlight what might go unnoticed: Al’s Run, Breast Cancer Awareness Week, World Kidney Day. 

It was in this spirit that World AIDS Day was established in 1988 and is honored each year on Dec. 1. Globally, an estimated 42 million people carry HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In Wisconsin, about 6,500 individuals are living with HIV or AIDS. 

The intent of World AIDS Day is to support those living with HIV, remind the public that the virus has not gone away and remember those who have died. But how do we use this vast global initiative to generate reflection within our local community?

Philanthropist Joseph R. Pabst, an LGBT funder and activist, regularly thinks about that question and has come up with a gently innovative means of marking World AIDS Day in Milwaukee this year.

As Pabst tells it, he was inspired by the work of the internationally known photographer Taryn Simon after seeing her exhibitions at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2011. The three Simon projects presented by MAM included “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” (2007), which documented significant places and objects to which the public normally does not have “the privilege of access,” as she puts it. Those ranged from the CIA’s art collection to quarantine sites, nuclear disposal sites and prison death rows. 

One photograph particularly struck Pabst. It was the image of a small flask of live HIV virus, photographed at the HIV Research Laboratory at Harvard Medical School in 2007. Pabst said his initial reaction was, “I want it.” But then he realized that he could not only purchase the photograph but also “activate” it within the community. He gifted the 37 1/4 x 44 1/2 inch color print to the art museum with the stipulation that it be put on view every World AIDS Day.

The photograph will be on view Dec. 1–9. A panel discussion with Ronald S. Johnson, AIDS International’s vice president of policy and advocacy, takes place at 2 p.m. on Dec. 1.

“HIV is always evolving, mutating. It is constantly on the move,” Pabst said. “It is a constant challenge to keep up with it. In this photograph, for one brief moment, it is stopped and you have absolute control of it. It’s not running rampant so people can think about it in a different way than the molecular view.”

The image is meditative. The small, generic flask with its handwritten serial numbers and date seems both insignificant and ominous. It is photographed against a plain background, seen head-on.

The vial casts a slight shadow that propels it into the third dimension, pushing it outward. There are no distractions in the picture. We stand face to face with the clear golden container sealed by a red cap.

The image triggers both caution and allure, the two sides of danger. Mostly, the image speaks of the paradox that something so small can be both containable and unmanageable. Projecting power in the same way as a medieval religious icon, the photograph arrests the viewer in its the stark reality and stubborn presentness.

Pabst’s brand of philanthropy almost always emerges from a combination of personal, emotional and civic engagement. He thinks more like an artist or curator than a wealthy check writer. Pabst, who has degrees in art history and design, is able to apply his understanding of art’s connective force throughout history to unpack broad issues and unite seemingly disparate communities. In his hands, philanthropy is a creative vehicle for social activism. 

A perfect example of Pabst’s engaged style of giving is another project that he initiated in 2010 when the Milwaukee Art Museum presented a major quilt show from the Winterthur Collection. The traditional quilts that were displayed spoke of life in the early American Republic through the intimacy of the home. Pabst saw an opportunity to pair that show with nine panels from the Names Project AIDS Quilt.

Both shows used quilting to anchor stories, create community and memorialize people or events. The pairing of these exhibitions challenged viewers to think beyond the specifics of either show and consider human similarities rather than differences. 

“Productive civic work should share more than one purpose,” Pabst says. “It should bring things together to create a richer, denser tapestry. Two generations ago, our grandparents simply gave to big organizations like Red Cross or American Lung Association.”

Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, says charitable giving has become more “transactional”: Today’s donors want to know the impact of their giving and be more actively involved in the mission of their causes.

“Joe often sees innovative correlations between things and then brings them together to create more depth and impact,” Taylor said. “The beauty of what Joe does is that he takes fairly disparate ideas and sees a new nucleus. He creates a whole new synergy. Also, he creates a way for everyone to be involved, to share the stage.”

Pabst credits his great-great-grandfather as inspiration. The beer baron patriarch would give food baskets to needy families during holiday seasons. But beyond the basic foodstuffs, he also included nuts and chocolates, things that fed the soul as well as the stomach. 

The insertion of Taryn Simon’s Live HIV photograph into the public eye on World AIDS Day requires nothing in return. It is not a fundraising initiative. It does not ask us to run or walk, solicit donations or proselytize. This particular act of “activist philanthropy,” as Taylor describes it, only asks for a moment of reflection or wonder.

It empowers by staging a context for viewers to think their own thoughts in response to one succinct truth presented by one succinct photograph: 1.8 million people died of HIV in 2010 alone.

Joe Pabst and MAM refine the art of AIDS awareness

Focusing attention on serious issues is a challenge in a culture that seems intent on distracting people from them.

One way that issue advocates fight back is to designate special events, commemorative days and fundraisers that highlight what might go unnoticed: Al’s Run, Breast Cancer Awareness Week, World Kidney Day. 

It was in this spirit that World AIDS Day was established in 1988 and is honored each year on Dec. 1. Globally, an estimated 42 million people carry HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In Wisconsin, about 6,500 individuals are living with HIV or AIDS. 

The intent of World AIDS Day is to support those living with HIV, remind the public that the virus has not gone away and remember those who have died. But how do we use this vast global initiative to generate reflection within our local community?

Philanthropist Joseph R. Pabst, an LGBT funder and activist, regularly thinks about that question and has come up with a gently innovative means of marking World AIDS Day in Milwaukee this year.

As Pabst tells it, he was inspired by the work of the internationally known photographer Taryn Simon after seeing her exhibitions at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2011. The three Simon projects presented by MAM included “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” (2007), which documented significant places and objects to which the public normally does not have “the privilege of access,” as she puts it. Those ranged from the CIA’s art collection to quarantine sites, nuclear disposal sites and prison death rows. 

One photograph particularly struck Pabst. It was the image of a small flask of live HIV virus, photographed at the HIV Research Laboratory at Harvard Medical School in 2007. Pabst said his initial reaction was, “I want it.” But then he realized that he could not only purchase the photograph but also “activate” it within the community. He gifted the 37 1/4 x 44 1/2 inch color print to the art museum with the stipulation that it be put on view every World AIDS Day.

The photograph will be on view Dec. 1–9. A panel discussion with Ronald S. Johnson, AIDS International’s vice president of policy and advocacy, takes place at 2 p.m. on Dec. 1.

“HIV is always evolving, mutating. It is constantly on the move,” Pabst said. “It is a constant challenge to keep up with it. In this photograph, for one brief moment, it is stopped and you have absolute control of it. It’s not running rampant so people can think about it in a different way than the molecular view.”

The image is meditative. The small, generic flask with its handwritten serial numbers and date seems both insignificant and ominous. It is photographed against a plain background, seen head-on.

The vial casts a slight shadow that propels it into the third dimension, pushing it outward. There are no distractions in the picture. We stand face to face with the clear golden container sealed by a red cap.

The image triggers both caution and allure, the two sides of danger. Mostly, the image speaks of the paradox that something so small can be both containable and unmanageable. Projecting power in the same way as a medieval religious icon, the photograph arrests the viewer in its the stark reality and stubborn presentness.

Pabst’s brand of philanthropy almost always emerges from a combination of personal, emotional and civic engagement. He thinks more like an artist or curator than a wealthy check writer. Pabst, who has degrees in art history and design, is able to apply his understanding of art’s connective force throughout history to unpack broad issues and unite seemingly disparate communities. In his hands, philanthropy is a creative vehicle for social activism. 

A perfect example of Pabst’s engaged style of giving is another project that he initiated in 2010 when the Milwaukee Art Museum presented a major quilt show from the Winterthur Collection. The traditional quilts that were displayed spoke of life in the early American Republic through the intimacy of the home. Pabst saw an opportunity to pair that show with nine panels from the Names Project AIDS Quilt.

Both shows used quilting to anchor stories, create community and memorialize people or events. The pairing of these exhibitions challenged viewers to think beyond the specifics of either show and consider human similarities rather than differences. 

“Productive civic work should share more than one purpose,” Pabst says. “It should bring things together to create a richer, denser tapestry. Two generations ago, our grandparents simply gave to big organizations like Red Cross or American Lung Association.”

Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, says charitable giving has become more “transactional”: Today’s donors want to know the impact of their giving and be more actively involved in the mission of their causes.

“Joe often sees innovative correlations between things and then brings them together to create more depth and impact,” Taylor said. “The beauty of what Joe does is that he takes fairly disparate ideas and sees a new nucleus. He creates a whole new synergy. Also, he creates a way for everyone to be involved, to share the stage.”

Pabst credits his great-great-grandfather as inspiration. The beer baron patriarch would give food baskets to needy families during holiday seasons. But beyond the basic foodstuffs, he also included nuts and chocolates, things that fed the soul as well as the stomach. 

The insertion of Taryn Simon’s Live HIV photograph into the public eye on World AIDS Day requires nothing in return. It is not a fundraising initiative. It does not ask us to run or walk, solicit donations or proselytize. This particular act of “activist philanthropy,” as Taylor describes it, only asks for a moment of reflection or wonder.

It empowers by staging a context for viewers to think their own thoughts in response to one succinct truth presented by one succinct photograph: 1.8 million people died of HIV in 2010 alone.

Simon says | Photographer’s work merges art, documentary

The photography world is generally divided between artist photographers and the lower class of documentarians. Seldom do their paths cross.

But Taryn Simon (who holds a degree in environmental science) has not only managed to merge the fields but also has achieved international acclaim, even while her work remains essentially that of a journalist. 

Simon lives in New York City and is married to a filmmaker (Gwyneth Patrow’s brother). She is represented by Gagosian Gallery in NYC and currently has a show of new work at the Tate Modern in London.

Three of her major projects are on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum, through Jan. 1. The show was organized by curator Lisa Hostetler, with the Helsinki Art Museum and the Moscow Multimedia Art Museum.

Perhaps what allows Simon’s projects to drift into the art world is her heightened awareness of how the photograph is the perfect vehicle for examining subjects that share a complicated relationship with the real or the true. Distortions of desire and meaning, misread information, the struggle to interpret “evidence” arise from living in a complex and desensitized world. 

Photography, with its split personality (both real and not real), can be a potent tool when put in the service of examining topics with similarly elusive moral grounds. It’s like a great liar sparring with another great liar. What we get in the end is theater, a kind of framing and staging of the struggle toward truth and knowing.

Simon allows both the subjective (personal view) and the seeming blunt reality or data to co-mingle actively. 

But no matter how big and pretty, no matter how well-lit and color-saturated, Simon’s work tilts to the conventional. It is straightforward, illustrational, indexical and project driven. The images require expositional text to keep them afloat. This is not a bad thing. It is just the nature of the work. 

Each of the projects on view started out as a book. Even while occupying an enormous space in MAM’s east galleries, the serial history of the page and packaging stays paramount. While the three projects fully represent their own troubling worlds, they share the sense of an insistent looking, prodding, wanting to see and know. 

“Contraband” features more than 1,000 six-inch by six-inch images of forbidden things taken from airline passengers over a four-day stretch at JFK airport. They range from the predictable – weapons, drugs and vegetables – to odd materials such as cow dung toothpaste and deer blood.

This project is interesting for the diversity of things seized. We sense the vast play of once-distant cultures and belief systems meeting in an airplane in the sky: wants, needs, dreams all laid out in Simon’s rows of small square, elegant specimen pictures. Even in the 21st century, there’s traffic in rituals and magic (deer penis) as well as commercial objects of status and power, such as fake Louis Vuitton handbags and Viagra. 

Encasing the images in rows of narrow rectangular plexiglass boxes forces us to read them as abstracted sentences, a continuous movement of hidden things, passing across borders, time and space. 

The second body of work, “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,” is a series of 37-inch by 44-inch chromogenic prints from 2007 showing places and things to which we do not normally have visual access: the CIA’s art collection, an exploding warhead test area, a great white shark in captivity, a marijuana crop research grow room, etc.

The photographs are elegant. Similarly to the contraband images, Simon heightens the sealed off nature of these places. The camera peers in and consciously composes an image that serves as a meditation on the oddness of the enterprise.

A cryopreservation unit, for example, becomes an almost abstract composition of grays. We would not know a body was being frozen in this device without the text. The picture elevates the poetry and hope of the endeavor by pairing big concepts of human myth and desire within the equally strange, cold clinical language of technology.

Likewise, when Simon photographs a vial of active HIV, she presents it as both fact and mystery. Here is this deadly potent human plague held in what looks like a tacky plastic bottle. Simon suspends this paradox in front of us. The ironic looms large in all of her work. 

Her third project, “The Innocents,” from 2002, holds the greatest emotional pull and the images are the most captivating. Large-scale prints (48 inch by 62 inch) are fused behind glass. Each one tells the story of a person who was wrongly committed of a violent crime and served a lengthy prison sentence before being exonerated. Simon photographs these maligned individuals at the scenes of their arrest or the site of the crime. 

The portraits are fully staged and lit to enhance the disjuncture between the individual and the place that has now become so wrongly central in their lives. There is both a slick commercial beauty and sadness in the pictures as each testifies to a malfunctioning legal system and the subsequent human toll. We see that these people will never fully recover from the mistake of their prison sentence. 

Again, Simon uses the photograph to reveal something normally not accessible. Like her other bodies of work, these images are both true and false. They hold incomprehensible yet stubborn facts created by a world of contradictions.

Artwatch

Sometimes, the discretely remote art history gallery tucked into UWM’s Mitchell Hall, 3203 N. Downer Ave., Room 154, hosts some delicious shows, most often with an academic swirl.

Opening Oct. 6, from 5 to 7 p.m. and running through Oct. 26 is a knock-out little exhibition curated by art history graduate student Nathan Gramse. “The Expressionist Portrait: Pathos and Persona in German Art” features drawings, paintings and prints by Max Beckmann, Oskar Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and others hailing from Germany and Austria at the turn of the century.

What used to be called angst may now be called Emo, but it still stacks up to the idea of feeling all you can feel to the detriment of your health. The German expressionists got it right.  At no other time in history has a line collided with a jagged shape only to be lit on fire with achingly bruised tonalities and then scraped and scoured into compositions where you can nearly hear moaning if you lean close. Nowhere does this assault of the canvas ring more true than through the genre of the portrait.

Art history professor Kenneth Bendiner will present a 6 p.m. lecture during the opening.

Also of note is a major photography exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Opening Sept. 22, is “Taryn Simon: Photographs and Text.” The show was organized locally by MAM photography curator Lisa Hostetler and will travel to Helsinki and Moscow.

Taryn Simon, a photographer from Brooklyn, creates sociological bodies of work that require courageous engagement with difficult subjects. The show will feature excerpts from several of her large projects: “The Innocents” (2002), about people falsely convicted of violent crimes; “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” (2007), about normally unseen places such as waste disposal sites or operating rooms; and “Contraband” (2010), involving 1,075 images of things detained from airline passengers.

Taryn Simon will speak at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 19, at the art museum.