Talk + Tour, José Leonilson: Empty Man exhibition with Tom Kalin, Susanna V. Temkin and Alex Fialho
To highlight José Leonilson: Empty Man, the first solo exhibition of Brazilian artist José Leonilson Bezerra Dias (1957–1993) in the United States, Visual AIDS and the Americas Society hosted a guided talk and tour engaging the artist's life and practice. The event featured Tom Kalin, filmmaker, ACT UP / Gran Fury member, and friend of Leonilson, Susanna V. Temkin, the exhibition's co-curators from the Americas Society, and Alex Fialho, Visual AIDS Programs Director.
Born in Fortaleza in 1957, José Leonilson Bezerra Dias studied at the Escola Pan-Americana de Arte and the Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado (FAAP) in São Paulo. A participant in the generation defining exhibition, Como vai você, Geração 80? (How Are You, Generation 80?), he emerged as a seminal figure of the Brazilian contemporary art world during this decade. Over the course of his career Leonilson traveled extensively throughout Europe, and his paintings, drawings, and installations were featured in solo and group shows in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, in addition to many exhibitions held in Brazil. In 1991, the artist tested positive for HIV. This diagnosis compelled a decisive shift in his career, as Leonilson began to develop his intimate embroideries, a practice he continued until his death in 1993 at the age of 36. Artworks by Leonilson are today included in such major public and private collections as the Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges-Pompidou; the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Barcelona; the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others.
Tom Kalin’s work traverses diverse forms and genres, from installations to narrative features. His film, Swoon, won prizes in Berlin, Stockholm and Sundance and is considered a key film in the New Queer Cinema. Savage Grace premiered in Cannes and was named “top ten” by Artforum and the LA Times. He was a founding member of the AIDS activist collective Gran Fury, which exhibited in the Venice Biennale. In 1991, he was a panelist at the 21st Bienal Internacional de Sao Paolo where he met Jose Leonilson and Adriano Pedrosa (now Artistic Director of MASP). During a few memorable days, Kalin visited Leonilson’s studio and was inspired by his politically charged yet emotionally intimate works that combine a cool, conceptual approach with the handmade and autobiographical. When Leonilson died in 1993, he left behind a remarkable body of work that offers a singular window into that now historic time.
Susanna V. Temkin is Assistant Curator at the Americas Society. She earned Master’s and PhD degrees from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, where her research focused on modern art in the Americas. From 2011-2016, she served as the Research and Archive Specialist at the gallery Cecilia de Torres, Ltd., where she assisted in co-authoring the digital catalogue raisonné of Joaquín Torres-García (www.torresgarcia.com). Previously, she held positions at El Museo del Barrio in New York and The Wolfsonian-Florida International University in Miami. Her essays and reviews have been published in the Rutgers Art Review and Hemispheres, and she recently authored the chronology of Concrete Cuba: Cuba Geometric Abstraction from the 1950s, produced by David Zwirner Books.
Alex Fialho, Programs Director at Visual AIDS, has facilitated art projects and conversations around both the history and immediacy of the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic, with particular stakes intervening against recent widespread whitewashing of HIV/AIDS narratives. Fialho’s extensive oral history interviews with Ron Athey, Nayland Blake, Gregg Bordowitz, Douglas Crimp, Lia Gangitano, Nan Goldin, Lyle Ashton Harris, Bill Jacobson, Patrick Moore, Jack Pierson, Marguerite Van Cook and Carrie Yamaoka will be part of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art’s forthcoming “Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic Oral History Project.” He has presented his research on the art of Glenn Ligon and Keith Haring at the College Art Association and NYU Fales Library. He also curates exhibitions for Lower Manhattan Cultural Council as Research and Curatorial Associate, and is a frequent contributor to Artforum.