Art for AIDS' Sake

For the past few years, Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art has simply closed its doors on "A Day Without Art," a global observance of World AIDS Day, December 1, that was first introduced in 1989. But this year, the museum staff wanted to do something more high-profile while still preserving the solemn spirit of the annual event (or non-event, depending on how you look at it) that commemorates the astonishing number of artists who have died of AIDS or are now living with HIV.

While the museum itself won't be open on December 1, the Peephole Memorial Project will be. Set up in three blacked-out front windows, the project features tiny peepholes through which viewers can see the names of thousands of artists lost to the illness over the years. The official list that museum staffers worked off is sixteen pages long, according to program director Patty Ortiz, with each page bearing several columns of eight-point type. "There must be at least 5,000 names, but we found that a lot of Colorado artists who'd died of AIDS were not even on the list," she says. For people wanting to know more, the Colorado AIDS Project will man an information table in the museum's foyer.

The Denver Art Museum will observe the day in its own way. As it has every year since 1996, when the work was given to the museum by Yoko Ono, Altar Piece, a bronze triptych with white gold-leaf patina by Keith Haring (his last major work before he died), will be placed in the lobby for a week's viewing.

Why display actual art on A Day Without Art? "I think it's better to try to celebrate what an artist like Haring contributed to the dialogue about combating AIDS," says DAM modern-art curator Dianne Vanderlip. "The museum used to stage a more formal observance, but it ended up that nobody came. It was like we were just doing it for ourselves. Instead, it seemed better to put up something so spectacularly beautiful and to put it in the main hall, where it's sure to be noticed."

To each his own.