NEW YORK, Aug. 28, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In the 1980s, when the world was reverberating from the shockwaves sent by AIDS, Brazilian artist José Leonilson (1957–1993) adapted the political discourse of the epidemic into a metaphysical rumination. His work offers a pantheon of symbols, poetics, and patterns, charting in personal terms the odyssey of a disease, which sparked fear, confusion, and panic.
José Leonilson's mythical universe constructs an existential narrative around his own predicament, and this timeless intimacy resonates in the context of a disease characterized so often by losses. "José Leonilson's practice tackled the question of art as an exercise of introspection. It is mesmeric," describes Cecilia Brunson. "Whether sketched, painted, illustrated, or embroidered, his symbols evolve into a vocabulary that can articulate his love, isolation, gender, sexuality—ultimately, a reconciliation with the idea of his death."
The exhibition opens with the artist's most mature works from the last three years of his life and presents the trajectory of his interior world backwards. "José Leonilson's raw, self-exposed subjectivity constructed an enduring artistic myth that transcended a mere chronicle of the AIDS epidemic era," says Gabriela Rangel. "His work expanded the language of painting to become decentered, gender-troubled, inviting the viewer to share his transgressive intimacy."
The show features around 50 works, including drawings, paintings, and embroideries, and documents borrowed from public institutions and private collections in Brazil and the U.S. Focusing on the artist's production dating from the mid-1980s until his death in 1993, the exhibition will showcase his idiosyncratic language in which he combined a distinct iconographic lexicon with intimate text. The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated publication.
Born in Fortaleza in 1957, José Leonilson Bezerra Dias emerged as a seminal figure of the Brazilian contemporary art world during the 1980s. Over the course of his career, he traveled extensively throughout Europe, and his paintings, drawings, and installations were featured in solo and group shows in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, in addition to many exhibitions held in Brazil. In 1991, the artist tested positive for HIV. This diagnosis compelled a decisive shift in his career, as Leonilson began to develop his intimate embroideries, a practice he continued until his death in 1993 at the age of 36.
José Leonilson: Empty Man is made possible by Projeto Leonilson, Galeria de Arte Almeida e Dale, Fundación AMA, PHILLIPS, and Genomma Lab Internacional. This project is also supported, in part, by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
Americas Society is the premier organization dedicated to education, debate, and dialogue in the Americas. Established by David Rockefeller in 1965, our mission is to foster an understanding of the contemporary political, social, and economic issues confronting Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada, and to increase public awareness and appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage of the Americas and the importance of the inter-American relationship. Americas Society Visual Arts program boasts the longest-standing private space in the United States dedicated to exhibiting and promoting art from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada; it has achieved a unique and renowned leadership position in the field, producing both historical and contemporary exhibitions.