True to Life. (Passages)

By Solomon, Andrew | Artforum International, September 2002 | Go to article overview

True to Life. (Passages)


Solomon, Andrew, Artforum International


ANDREW SOLOMON ON FRANK MOORE

THE WHOLE TIME I KNEW FRANK MOORE, he was dying; but this made his actual death, at the age of forty-eight, even more shocking than it would otherwise have been. Frank's characteristic state of hovering transition seemed permanent: As clearly as I believed that Frank would never be well, I believed that he would never die. He came so close to dying so many times and always managed to pull back: Deathbeds were places he visited the way the rest of us visit sleep. Like Evel Knievel, he stayed alive against the odds, almost ostentatiously, as though he believed death could be defied through pure bullishness. Frank had AIDS for fifteen years, survived multiple cancers, endured experimental bone marrow replacement therapy, tried drugs that never made it to market and drugs he helped bring to market, fought off more opportunistic infections than one knew there could be opportunities for, built death into his life without sacrificing his resilient vitality. Though he was eventually consumed by his illness (he died A pril 21), his legacy is not that ultimate demise but the long survival that preceded it.

Both in his life and in his work, Frank harnessed outrage as an engine of creation and kept bitterness at bay. His work, usually about things going wrong in the world, is horrifying and nightmarish, upsetting and sad. And yet, despite their dark warnings, these paintings convey hope, an optimism about art itself: Frank believed that he could help the world along by depicting the dangers that beset it. The work is sinister and terrifying in part because it is so elegantly executed, and his trademark magic realism became ever more sophisticated as he grew older. Frank's attention to detail--the homemade frames, for example--gives even his most dire paintings a quality of love. And there is always wit: a friendly bird to catch your eye in the corner, a lit cigarette glowing comfortably as it sprouts from a milkweed plant, a lurid figure of Donatella Versace in a commission for Gianni.

In his mature work, Frank's twin concerns were AIDS and the destruction of the environment. In the AIDS pieces, an iceberg in the shape of a human heart breaks apart, its valves bleeding (Hospital, 1992); or the whole earth has turned into a surrealist landscape of medical waste, through which Dr. Jean-Claude Chermann, a codiscoverer of HIV, strolls with a retinue of white lab rats (Wizard, 1994); or a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving is marred because the presentation turkey has turned into a platter of pills, syringes, and vials (Freedom to Share, 1994); or, more optimistically, a hospital bed floats in a wide sea, the patient hooked up to an IV, while a lighthouse sends out a radiant beam of genetic code (Beacon, 2001). The environmental works include images of insects amid thick clouds of pesticides (Resistant Fauna, 1994); or a Hudson River School view of Niagara with a pretty spume that, examined up close, is painted tracery of the chemical structures of pollutants currently found at the site (Niagara, 1994 -95); or genetically modified DNA blasting out of an ear of corn and into the world (Wild Blue Yonder, 2000). …

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