|ERIC AVERY MID-CAREER RETROSPECTIVE
Eric Avery has been an artist and a physician for his entire adult life. At first, beginning in the 1970s, he practiced printmaking and psychiatry alternately, all the while hoping to find “the space between art and medicine,” as he said as early as 1983.(1) In 1980, under the extremes of physical and emotional stress attendant upon his work as a doctor in a Somalian refugee camp, extraordinary and inventive prints materialized: wooden Koran boards became the supports for woodcuts. Soon after, working with Haitian refugees in Texas under the auspices of Amnesty International, Avery carved into Mexican wooden dough bowls, printing from pressed-in paper pulp to form sculptural imagery -- the printed staff of life. Yet art and medicine still were not harnessed in tandem in Avery’s life. Their alternate pulses enriched each other until the explosion of AIDS in the early 1980s, which catalyzed a fusion of the disparate currents. By the early 1990s Avery began realizing environments and events that combined printed art and medical practice, as both healing spaces and educational tools.
His most recent decade of mature art-making by a practicing physician definitively separates Avery from the many artists in all media who have responded to the AIDS epidemic with highly personalized, inner-directed laments and eulogies. It has also, unfortunately, tended to separate Avery from contemporary art culture. Gallerists have rejected his environments as too functional (and/or obscene and/or frightening) and found his single-sheet prints unsaleable because of the focused insistence of their message. Ironically, the complexity of Avery’s oeuvre is also unknown to his small, enthusiastic audience among collectors, private and institutional, with medical associations.
Our proposed exhibition will encompass all of the printmaker Eric Avery. An art-medicine space will be evoked on site, and the exhibition will present the full range of Avery’s single-sheet prints over three decades, which includes meditations on nature as well as man, posters (aggressive riffs on politics well beyond the world of diseases), and innovative paper-pulp works. Although prints by other artists will not be included, Avery’s consistent appropriation of their imagery, which lends to his prints layers of meaning as well as a frisson of recognition, will make obvious his place within the long line of passionate, sometimes angry humanists, such as Rembrandt, Goya, Daumier, Posada, and the German expressionists.
B. Cohn and David Becker, print specialists who have held curatorial
positions at Harvard
University’s Fogg Art Museum and the Boston
Museum of Fine Arts over the past twenty years, will coauthor the exhibition
catalogue. Essays will provide overviews of Avery’s relationship
to earlier print traditions, referring both to his aesthetic inheritance
and to his continuance of the print as the premier art medium for protest.
Avery’s creative extension of the power of the print into the twenty-first
century will be emphasized. The catalogue of the prints included in the
exhibition will be supplemented with documentation of art-medicine actions
into which the prints were integrated.
1Eric Avery, “Hands Healing: A Photographic Essay,” The Visual Arts and Medical Education (Southern Illinois University Press, 1983), p. 11, which documented a photo series created in 1977 at the invitation of the Department of Humanities, Pennsylvania University College of Medicine.
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