Death and sex intersect in AIDS Adagio's gripping photographs

The University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus has a futuristic quality, what with its gigantic neo-modernist buildings, all of them dedicated to medical science. But at the north end of the campus, finishing off one side of the Boettcher Commons, there's a scrupulously detailed little jewel of a building dedicated to the idea that philosophy and the arts are important to the practice of medicine, too.

The elegant structure is called the Fulginiti Pavilion for Bioethics and Humanities. It was named after Vincent Fulginiti, the chancellor emeritus who pushed for the school's move from Denver to Aurora. The building, which is beautifully detailed and luxuriously appointed, was designed by NAC Architecture with principal designer, Stuart Crawford.

The Fulginiti includes a handsome gallery, and the current exhibit there, AIDS Adagio, was put together by curator Simon Zalkind. In it, photos by the late Wes Kennedy have been paired with those by Albert Winn.

It had been so long since I'd seen a Kennedy show that I'd forgotten how good an artist he was. During his very brief Denver career – from 1986 to 1993, when he died of AIDS – he revealed himself to be nothing short of a genius. The work in this show not only holds up, but it looks better than ever.

In an early piece like "Cheating Death," Kennedy shows himself nervously playing cards with a skeleton. Other Kennedy photos are homoerotic, such as "Bird Dream #2" (pictured). All of them eloquently express precisely where Kennedy actually was at the time he created them: the intersection of sex and death. The absolutely gripping "Desolation" conveys the idea of Kennedy's spirit, in the form of a bird, flying away, thus poetically recording the artist's deteriorating health through his sad and ravaged face.

Winn's snapshot-style photos reflect a different world, one in which AIDS is no longer a death sentence. The photos, all self-portraits, show him becoming more fit as the disease progresses; we only know he has AIDS because he tells us.

AIDS Adagio runs through February 14 at the Fulginiti Pavilion (13080 East 19th Avenue at Uvalda Street in Aurora, 303-724-3994, www.ucdenver.edu.)

 
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