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Major group exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego explores artistic responses to sickness, health, and medicine
A still life painting with a red rose, corn on the cob, watermelon slice, and a bowl of guacamole on a table.

Special exhibition highlights how sick and disabled artists of the 20th and 21st century find alliances, foregrounding relations of mutual dependence and practices of care

(June 6, 2024 – La Jolla, California) The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is proud to announce For Dear Life: Art, Medicine, and Disability on view from September 19, 2024 to February 2, 2025. The exhibition is organized as part of PST ART: Art & Science Collide, an initiative of the Getty Foundation. Bolstered by the support and structure of the Getty Foundation, the special exhibition, organized by Senior Curator Jill Dawsey, Ph.D. and former Associate Curator Isabel Casso, is PST ART’s largest presentation by square footage this year.

Kathryn Kanjo, the David C. Copley Director and CEO at MCASD notes, “The artworks featured in For Dear Life bring compassion and criticality to the conversations surrounding health today. For Dear Life extends the museum’s legacy of presenting rigorous exhibitions that speak to societal consciousness through the art of our time.”

For Dear Life is the first survey of artistic responses to illness, disability, and the vulnerability of the body in American art since the 1960s. In recent years, the art world has seen an explosion of activity confronting issues of illness, disability, and forms of unruly embodiment more broadly. Tracing genealogies of art practices that have shaped contemporary currents, For Dear Life explores how this turn was preceded by the work of artists and activists beginning in the 1960s and 1970s.

Structured chronologically and thematically, this exhibition and accompanying film program gather work by an intergenerational group of over 80 artists from across the continental U.S. to spotlight relationships between art practices, social movements, and medical events of the past and present.

For Dear Life investigates how illness and impairment — long confined to the private realm — have found increasing public presence in art from the 1960s forward. Key areas of focus include the sickbed as a studio; humor as a tactic for coping with illness; the Black Panthers and community health; work by artist-veterans of the Vietnam War; the overlapping epidemics of cancer, HIV/AIDS, and substance use disorders; the Americans with Disabilities Act and its aftermath; and artists’ support systems, past and present.

Mutual Dependence and Practices of Care

Sick and disabled artists of the 20th and 21st century find alliances through an embrace of the generative possibilities that attend disability and states of bodily vulnerability more broadly. These artists have produced influential bodies of art and writing, often working collaboratively with peers and institutions to foreground relations of mutual dependence and negotiate practices of care.

In turn, they have dramatically expanded discourses about access, while reframing disability as a refusal to conform to the pace, architecture, and economic conditions of contemporary life. The project considers how health issues intervene in life and in art, spurring changes in medium, method, process, and scale— and in turn, prompting adaptation, improvisation, and often a reorientation to the world.

The project attends to specific contexts within the U.S., highlighting concentrations of disability art activism in the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago, as well as networks of artists in Los Angeles and New York that formed in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. The exhibition also features several artists who have migrated to the West Coast, drawn by its temperate climate, progressive educational institutions, and embrace of holistic forms of healing.

“We approach disability through a broad and inclusive lens, highlighting affinities between those who live with a gamut of maladies, including chronic illness and mental illness, sensory and mobility impairments—and also those who have no clear medical diagnosis,” Dawsey noted. “The art practices we highlight are not opposed to modern medicine, but instead aim to complicate and counterbalance mainstream models, often drawing on forms of healing rooted in community-based knowledge and an ethics of care,” she continued.

Participating Artists

Laura Aguilar, Carlos Almaraz, Ida Applebroog, Ron Athey, Rina Banerjee, Nayland Blake, Barbara Bloom, John Boscovich, Gregg Bordowitz, Morris Broderson, Beverly Buchanan, Lisa Bufano, Jerome Caja, Sophie Calle, King Cobra, Tee Corrine, Moyra Davey, Zeinabu Irene Davis, Jay DeFeo, Emory Douglas, Angela Ellsworth and TT Takemoto, Simone Fattal, Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Pippa Garner, Nan Goldin, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Milford Graves, Joseph Grigely, Ester Hernandez, Barbara Hammer, David Hockney, Camille Holvoet, Tishan Hsu, Kim Jones, Christine Sun Kim, Stephen Lapthisophon, Liz Larner, Carolyn Lazard, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Riva Lehrer, Simone Leigh, Zoe Leonard, Fred Lonidier, James Luna, Guadalupe Maravilla, Park McArthur, Juanita McNeely, Amalia Mesa-Baines, Mundo Meza, Frank C. Moore, Frank Moore, Ray Navarro, Senga Nengudi, Pauline Oliveros, Alison O’Daniel, Carmen Papalia, Howardena Pindell, Pope.L, Yvonne Rainer, Niki de Saint Phalle, Judith Scott, Kathryn Sherwood, Hollis Sigler, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Kiki Smith, Liza Sylvestre, Sunaura Taylor, Joey Terrill, Rigoberto Torres, Mary Anne Unger, Catherine Wagner, Charles White, Hannah Wilke, David Wojnarowicz, Martin Wong, Richard Yarde, Sandie (Chun-Shan) Yi, Liz Young, Constantina Zavitsanos

Further Descriptions of the Works

The special exhibition features a variety of works, including

  • Intimate pictures made by artists in states of convalescence;
  • Video and photography works suited to agitation, archiving, and memorializing;
  • Major sculptures and installations;
  • Instruction-based “scores”; and
  • A rotating film program.

Some highlights include:

  • Sculpture by Judith Scott and pastel drawings by Camille Holvoet, artists associated with Oakland’s Creative Growth Art Center — once segregated as “outsider” artists — whose work illuminates their artistic commitments and daily lives as persons with developmental disabilities;
  • Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose’s interactive sculpture Video Coffin (1994): One of Flanagan's last works — not seen in three decades — which exemplifies the artists' use of macabre humor to connect with audiences;
  • Catherine Wagner’s photographic series -86 Degree Freezers: 12 Areas of Concern and Crisis (1995), for which the artist documented frost-coated freezers that housed tissue samples for the Human Genome Project at university laboratories. Translated to vinyl wallpaper, Wagner’s photographs transform an MCASD elevator into a walk-in laboratory freezer;
  • Rina Banerjee’s restaging of Contagious Migrations (1999-2023), a wall-based installation comprising turmeric, Indian blouse gauze, fake fingernails and eyelashes, feathers, Spanish moss, light bulbs, Silly Putty, rubber gloves, acrylic and dry pigment, among other materials, with the aim of addressing the global AIDS crisis and how the West uses the language of contagion and disease when describing otherness.


Credits

For Dear Life: Art, Medicine, and Disability is organized by MCASD Senior Curator Jill Dawsey, PhD, and former Associate Curator Isabel Casso.

This exhibition is part of PST Art: Art & Science Collide, an initiative of the Getty Foundation. Major funding for this exhibition is provided by the Getty Foundation and The Henry Luce Foundation. Individual support for the exhibition is provided by Brook Hartzell and Tad Freese.

Financial support is also provided by the City of San Diego through the Commission for Arts and Culture.

About the Catalogue

Accompanying the exhibition and film program will be a richly illustrated catalogue presenting new scholarship and writing by Dodie Bellamy, Amanda Cachia, David Evans Franz, and Sami Schalk, together with an introduction by co-curators Isabel Casso and Dr. Jill Dawsey.

About MCASD

The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) is the region’s foremost forum devoted to the exploration and presentation of the art of today. Open since 1941, we welcome all audiences to reflect on their lives, communities, and the ever-changing world through the powerful prism of contemporary art. We showcase an internationally-recognized collection. MCASD’s dynamic exhibition schedule features a vast array of media in an unprecedented variety of spaces, along with a growing dedication to community experiences and public programs. As a cultural hub, MCASD seeks to catalyze conversation in our region. www.mcasd.org

About PST ART

Southern California's landmark arts event, PST ART, returns in September 2024 with more than 60 exhibitions from museums and other institutions across the region, all exploring the intersections of art and science, both past and present. Dozens of cultural, scientific, and community organizations will join the latest edition, PST ART: Art & Science Collide, with exhibitions on subjects ranging from ancient cosmologies to Indigenous sci-fi, and from environmental justice to artificial intelligence. Art & Science Collide will share groundbreaking research, create indelible experiences for the public, and generate new ways of understanding our complex world. PST ART is presented by Getty. For more information about PST ART: Art & Science Collide, please visit pst.art

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