John Neff revives a Robert Blanchon project
Neff reprints the doomed photographs from Blanchon’s 1995 installation Untitled (aroma / 1981).
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley smiles above the slogan I WILL NOT GET AIDS on a sticker that artist Robert Blanchon (1965–99) created to critique Chicago’s AIDS awareness campaigns. Blanchon, who attended SAIC and returned there to teach, “was HIV positive for all of his creative life,” John Neff explained when I visited GOLDEN last month.
Neff’s show revolves around another Blanchon project addressing the impact of AIDS: Untitled (aroma / 1981), a 1995 compilation of sex-product ads from gay publications produced before the term AIDS entered common parlance in 1982. Blanchon made sepia prints of the ads, many of which tout amyl nitrate “poppers”—once blamed for HIV—but he didn’t fix the photos chemically, intending them to fade over time.
Neff replicates Blanchon’s photos: not from their long-vanished negatives, but from a batch of surviving prints made a few years ago. His copy-and-print stand (pictured) evokes Blanchon’s 1998 glass sculpture Untitled (Drawing Horse), which is also on display. When the show opened, the Blanchon prints hung on a gallery wall. As Neff copies each, he removes it and places his new, ephemeral version in the same arrangement on a different wall.
Neff emphasizes that his project isn’t a memorial to Blanchon. But his combination of performance and scholarship engages the late artist’s work and the disease that concerned him in a remarkably poignant way.