1987: Drawings by John Ruggeri

what is ordinary?
I thought I had that as my main purpose…to document ordinary men…how absurd, I must
remember to have my head examined.
there are soldiers, lieutenants, sergeants, they are in uniform, the color white.
they have a language, T cells
they wear beautiful designer gloves … latex, that prevent them from the enemy of the battlefield
called the body.
John Ruggeri

In 1981, five young men were diagnosed with a rare lung infection. At the same time, numerous gay men in New York and Los Angeles were being diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, Kaposi Sarcoma. These illnesses would soon be understood as being caused by an immuno-suppressing virus, HIV. By the end of 1987 the World Health Organization estimated that up to 10 million people were living with HIV worldwide. This exhibition is titled “1987”, the year that the antiretroviral drug AZT was made available to help combat the plague. By 1999 an estimated 33 million people were living with HIV and 14 million people had died of AIDS. Today, approximately 36.7 million people are living with HIV.

BFA Visual and Critical Studies proudly presents 1987: Drawings by John Ruggeri (BFA SVA 1983 / MFA SVA Visual Journalism 1986), February 8th through 28th, 2018, with an opening reception February 8th, 6 to 8PM. The exhibition of approximately 80 drawings made between 1984 and 1987 document the devastating early years of the AIDS crisis in New York City. The work, all charcoal drawings on Strathmore spiral-bound paper, were done in the bars, bathhouses, hospitals, prisons and public spaces of New York City and poignantly capture the anxiety etched onto the city and particularly to its often marginalized denizens. Initially a part of Ruggeri’s Graduate thesis, the endeavor consisted of over 300 drawings and 100 poems that function as a historical record. This remarkable body of work is a reminder of how Post-Stonewall but Pre-“Will & Grace” New York was in the 1980’s, not nearly as accepting of its LGBTQIA population as it is today. The initial response to the AIDS crisis, then referred to as the “Gay Cancer” and “the plague,” often cruelly stigmatized those who suffered from the disease and their loved ones. Despite great obstacles,the tireless work of organizations like ACT-UP, GMHC, AMFAR, Project Inform, and numerous fearless individuals—like Ruggeri— helped liberate and empower the community. Ruggeri’s documentation, with crisp and flowing lines, neither embellishes nor exaggerates. He records victims, heroes, and witnesses, capturing an unfolding drama in its tender and horrific moments.

John Ruggeri has been a faculty member of SVA since 1982, teaching in the BFA departments of Illustration, Graphic Design and Advertising, Interior Design, Computer Art and Continuing Education. This exhibition is curated by VCS faculty member Peter Hristoff and is part of an on-going series that recognizes the work and accomplishments of artists who are part of the SVA faculty.

*US Dept of Health & Human Resources / SMAIF (HIV.gov)

Visual & Critical Studies