Hunter Reynolds, artist who disguised AIDS, dies at 62


One evening in 1989, Hunter Reynolds, then a 30-year-old artist living in New York City, did his makeup at home with the help of a friendly drag queen. He is intrigued by the result: her beautiful face embellished and transformed, neither male nor female, like an androgynous cabaret star in Berlin during the Weimar years. He donned a tweed coat and went to various art world events. His friends didn’t recognize him, so he pretended to be a performance artist from Los Angeles.

As a gay man and an artist, Mr. Reynolds was already interested in exploring the limits and possibilities of gender. As a newly diagnosed HIV-positive gay man and a member of ACT UP, the grassroots protest group founded by Larry Kramer and others, he was on the front lines of the fight against the disease that would eventually kill him – and the homophobia in politics, health care and the art world that made the fight so much more urgent. Making art focused on his body would become more and more important to him.

Before long, he had developed an alter ego he called Patina du Prey. For Patina, Mr. Reynolds designed a wardrobe of dresses – full-skirted pre-war numbers in satin, organdy and taffeta, with stiff bodices fashioned to Mr. Reynolds’ very masculine torso, which highlighted his hairy chest and muscular arms. The dresses became more elaborate as Patina performed.

In one of her earliest works, Patina wore blue taffeta and hung from a cage in a gallery for hours at a time. In 1992, in a piece called “The Banquet,” shown at the SoHo Thread Waxing Space gallery, he spun slowly on a pedestal, like a ballerina in a music box, in a white satin dress printed with images of sound drops. blood and hair of a collaborator, Chrysanne Stathacos – the engravings resembled roses and delicate vines – as attendees munched from a banquet set on a naked man and women dressed as maenads read aloud from feminist texts. Mr Reynolds and Ms Stathacos were paying homage to a surrealist work from 1951, Meret Oppenheim’s ‘Spring Feast’ – but while that work served a naked woman its meal, they ostensibly used a man for theirs.

One of Mr Reynolds’ most moving pieces – and the star of Patina – was a black satin dress printed with the names of 25,000 AIDS victims from the AIDS Quilt catalogue, which he made in 1993 as a living memorial. When Mr. Reynolds first presented it in a Boston gallery, spinning for hours on a pedestal, as he was wont to do, people cried when they discovered the names of friends, members family and lovers.

Mr. Reynolds died on June 12 at his Manhattan home. He was 62 years old. Wendy Olsoff, founder of the PPOW gallery at TriBeCa, said the cause was an aggressive form of squamous cell carcinoma.

“Hunter carried his pain and his suffering, and he did so with honesty and grace,” said Anne Pasternak, director of the Brooklyn Museum and former director of the public art organization Creative Time, which has collaborated with M Reynolds in 1994 to present the Memorial Dress and other works to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Mr. Reynolds wore the dress all over Manhattan, ditching the bodice on the steps of the main branch of the New York Public Library.

Ms. Pasternak had met Mr. Reynolds years earlier, when she curated his work at a gallery in Hartford, Connecticut, and appeared as one of the maenads in “The Banquet.”

“He didn’t hide his HIV status,” she said in a phone interview. “He wrapped himself in it, especially with the memorial robe, centering his own virus-infected body there. I don’t think at the time I could understand what a brave action that was.

“It was like saying, ‘Don’t you dare look away.’ And you couldn’t look away. There he was, spinning on his platform, saying, “It’s me. It’s us.'”

Hunter Wayne Reynolds was born July 30, 1959, in Rochester, Minnesota to Robert and Danielle (Dusseau) Reynolds.

His parents divorced when Hunter was 7 years old. Hunter grew up in Florida and then, at age 15, moved to California to live with his father, who was out of work and trying to become an actor.

Hunter has worked as a lifeguard, in the mailrooms of an insurance company and accounting firm, as a disco dancer at parties, and as a telephone sex worker. After graduating from high school equivalency, he attended the Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles (now the Otis College of Art and Design) and, after earning a BFA in 1984, moved to New York.

Mr. Reynolds was one of the founders of ART+Positive, an affinity group ACT UP, as these spinoffs were known, of activist artists galvanized to protest homophobia with flyers, and artwork and other actions by the Helms AIDS Amendments, sponsored by the conservative Republican senator. Jesse Helms, who banned federal funding for AIDS education.

In addition to Patina’s escapades, Mr. Reynolds’ performance pieces included a series he called “Mummification”. For this work, a more strenuous exercise, it was wrapped in plastic wrap and duct tape and pulled through places on a loading cart, or placed in a gallery or public park, after which assistants cut its carapace and released him.

He also made two-dimensional pieces: his “Survival AIDS” series consisted of photo weaves in which he assembled articles on AIDS that had appeared in The New York Times with photo scans of his own work , splatters of his blood and other imagery.

Among the many honors he has won, Mr. Reynolds was a Guggenheim Scholar in 2017.

Mr Reynolds is survived by his mother, now Danielle Englander; his brothers, Mark Reynolds and Brian Reynolds; and a sister, Tasha Reynolds.

The patina has swirled around the world, from Muscle Beach to Santa Monica to the Berlin metro, from Roman ruins to Gothic cathedrals. She often danced with passers-by, dressed in clouds of tulle and looking like a cross between a whirling dervish and a bride. These images were captured by photographer Maxine Henryson as part of an eight-year ongoing collaboration they called “I-Dea The Goddess Within”.

In 1997, their work was exhibited at the Linda Kirkland Gallery in Manhattan. The exhibition consisted mainly of photographs, but Patina’s white dress was also there, placed in the middle of the gallery, “as if frozen in half-reverence and surrounded by a halo of dried flowers”, wrote Holland Cotter of New York Times. in a journal. It was, he added, “the emblem of a brilliant but politically sharp performance on the still-ongoing liberation”.


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