The Conversation Continues: Highlights from the James Cottrell and Joseph Lovett Collection; Orlando Museum of Art; Orlando, Florida; September 16, 2016 - December 31, 2016

Review by Keri Watson, University of Central Florida

Installation view of The Conversation Continues: Highlights from the James Cottrell and Joseph Lovett Collection. Orlando Museum of Art; Orlando, Florida; September 16, 2016 - December 31, 2016. Photo: Orlando Museum of Art.

For the past forty years, James Cottrell, an anesthesiologist and founder of the AIDS Action Foundation, and Joseph Lovett, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, have been collecting art. In this time, they have amassed a collection of more than 500 objects by both famous and emerging artists such as Andy Warhol, Deborah Kass, Barton Benes, Cindy Sherman, David Hockney, and Ray Smith. Over 100 of these works were brought together for The Conversation Continues. This exhibition is the second time the Orlando Museum of Art has exhibited parts of Cottrell and Lovett’s collection. In 2004, OMA mounted Co-conspirators, a show of more than seventy works, which subsequently traveled to the Chelsea Art Museum in New York City. Their collection is worthy of a revisit, however, as curator Sue Scott assembled an altogether different and larger collection of works for this timely and politically engaging show.

Personal identity politics come into play in Cottrell and Lovett’s collecting strategies, as much of their collection was acquired either through Cottrell and Lovett’s personal relationship with artists or through AIDS fundraisers. The Basquiat was bought at the inaugural AIDS auction for Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1982, and works by Laurie Simmons, Cindy Sherman, and Vic Muniz were acquired at the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America’s annual auction. A centerpiece of the exhibition was a collection of multimedia works by Barton Benes (1942-2012), a New York-based artist and good friend of Cottrell and Lovett. When many of his friends started dying of AIDS, and Benes, himself, tested HIV-positive, he began incorporating pills, capsules, intravenous tubes, and HIV-infected blood into his art. On display were twelve of his works that combine 1950s Dick and Jane illustrations of everyday life decorated with capsules and pills of antiviral drugs used to treat HIV. At first glance these objects appear to be nostalgic reminders of childhood innocence, but the juxtaposition of Cold War-era children’s books with HIV drugs, challenges notions of childhood, safety, and American exceptionalism. Benes’s small images mix media and styles to evoke a biting critique of stereotypical gender norms and contemporary culture.

Cottrell and Lovett have amassed an impressive collection of challenging work that engenders reflection on difficult topics. The Conversation Continues explores a diverse range of themes including racism, sexism, heterosexism, and the AIDS crisis, and as visitors remember the victims of last year’s Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando (June 12, 2016), it is an appropriate time to pause and listen to this valuable and intimate conversation. We look to museums to present us with exhibitions that speak to us about our shared humanity, and the Orlando Museum of Art has not disappointed.

--

Keri Watson is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Central Florida. She specializes in modern and contemporary art and the history of photography and has published on topics including Patricia Cronin’s public sculpture, Eudora Welty’s photography, and representations of disability during the Great Depression.