Eric Rhein: The Course of My Life an Exhibition at Johnson & Johnson World Headquarters
Open to the Public by appointment
Monday – Friday, 9AM-5PM
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Opening on World AIDS Day at the world headquarters of Johnson & Johnson, The Course of My Life features a selection of work created by internationally exhibited artist Eric Rhein. The artwork was made over the nearly three decades of his having lived with HIV and AIDS. With pieces dating to 1987—when he first tested HIV positive at age 27—through today, this show is a rare opportunity to see a body of work intimately expressive of that complex experience. A selection from Rhein’s ongoing AIDS memorial artwork, Leaves—honoring more than 200 individuals that he knew—is included in the exhibit.
Eric Rhein, raised in New York’s Hudson Valley, spent many summers in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. These environments instilled in young Rhein an affinity with nature, providing him with an everlasting source of inspiration. In his work as an artist, Rhein uses photography, paper, found materials, and mixed media to explore and understand man’s interconnections and relationships with the natural world.
Nature has helped Rhein shape a personal iconography, for his art is replete with leaves, hummingbirds, flowers, and organic forms. For Rhein, what matters most are “the commonalities we can feel for all things in the natural world.” His images are metaphors “for the cycles of human experience: birth, life, death, and regeneration.”
His body of work serves as a memoir of his life’s experience. In 1987, after being diagnosed with HIV at age 27, Rhein became even more focused on universal rhythms, using his art to investigate both the tangible and the ephemeral, the known and the ethereal—particularly the relationship between life and death. Different facets of Rhein’s work express sexuality, vulnerability and resilience. It builds on a recognition of mortality, while allowing for moments of transcendence. His work portrays both the fragility of human experience and the strength-giving power of spirit. Rhein says, “Through art making, at its best, one can be a vessel to communicate with Spirit—touching the divine in ways that otherwise may be inaccessible. Through art I feel connected to a channel, a source to bring forth its wisdom. This is the same source that accesses innate healing power.”
Rhein has been creating art in Manhattan’s East Village since 1980. This neighborhood’s unique art scene permanently altered the city’s cultural and creative landscape—and was in turn deeply altered by the AIDS crisis. Both that environment, and the devastation it endured, has shaped Rhein’s work. In 1996, to honor the people he knew who died of complications from AIDS, Rhein conceived of his ongoing work, Leaves. Rhein evokes those remembered by carefully hand-forming silhouettes of different leaves out of wire. Although the memorial was started nearly two decades ago, Rhein has been nurturing and exhibiting the work ever since. Leaves is constantly evolving: Rhein fashions new portraits each time a loved one passes.
Rhein is currently engaged in archiving and restoring—and adding to—the initial installation version of the Leaves. A prime goal is to exhibit the work, in its entirety, in 2016—the 20th anniversary of the work’s conception. This is simultaneously the anniversary of the release of the protease inhibitor medications that allowed the artist to survive and honor his departed friends. He is also currently writing narratives of each person represented in Leaves, each of these texts being a companion to the artwork and offering both biographic information on the subjects, as well as a memoir of Eric’s personal experience of them.
Rhein earned his BFA and MFA degrees through full scholarships at the School of Visual Art. His work has been exhibited internationally at venues such as: the Victoria and Albert Museum; The New Art Gallery, Walsall, England; the Pera Museum, Istanbul; American embassies in Austria, Cameroon, and Malta; the Addison Gallery of American Art; Lincoln Center; the Morris Museum, Morristown, NJ; the Islip Art Museum, NY; the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art; the Portland Museum of Art, OR; and the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition for the Millennium. Reviews of Rhein’s work have appeared innumerous publications, including The New York Times, Art News, and Art in America. Rhein has received multiple grants and fellowships, including funding from: the Pollock/Krasner Foundation, Edward Albee’s “The Barn”, and the MacDowell Colony.
For More Information, Please Contact:
Curator, Corporate Art Program
Johnson & Johnson
telephone: (732) 524-2589