New York

Frank Moore

In his soulfully surreal narratives, Frank Moore weaves together a series of allegorical images that resonate with the shattering reality of AIDS. Nowhere else has the medical profession’s estrangement from the healing arts been more vividly depicted; aside from the late David Wojnarowicz, no artist has come closer to capturing the indignation, and extreme tenderness, provoked by the drama of this disease.

In one detailed, fastidiously plotted painting after another, Moore simultaneously instructs and bedevils the viewer, rendering intimate the numbing losses known to both AIDS sufferers and survivors. Beginning with Pearline, 1992, in which drops of blood fall like a tropical rain past an impassive, syringe-bearing nurse, these color-filled works bring one to a rueful confrontation with an array of unsettling visual pleasures.

In The Great American Traveling Medicine Show, 1991–92, snake-oil salesmen work a ramshackle town on the edge of a chilling landscape, presenting an ironically folksy, dream indictment of drug profiteering against a backdrop of environmental plunder. Similarly, what seems at first glance to be a whimsical day at the beach in Eclipse, 1992, a moment later registers as a spot on the sand closer to hell than the mouth of Lethe. Cavorting on the frothy shore amid a plethora of marine and medical waste, giant folded newspaperlike stick men, with mechanical HIV representations for bones, bask in a sun whose microbial core emanates mortal fear.

Sometimes lurid, often cynical, Arena, 1992, shows Moore at his souped-up-magical-realist best. Set in an operating theater just this side of Bedlam, it’s the sort of painting that might, in a more perfect world, replace the dull charts and tired prints hanging in doctors’ offices. The specter of death repeatedly appears as a salivating wraith floating in the air, but more affecting are the simple details, like that of an abject mother whose dead son’s exhausted body lies draped over her supplicating arms in a modern-day version of the Pietà.

The smaller works, in which Moore equates the age-old persecution of homosexuals with a parallel rape of the natural world, seem flatter and more mannered than the larger paintings with the exception of the barbed-wire-edged Debutantes, 1992. But on the whole, Moore manages to avoid cheap didacticism with a balance of reportage, allegory, and advocacy. His vision makes almost containable the chaos more than a decade of AIDS-related grief, fear, and defiance has introduced into the community that was one of the first to face it.

Linda Yablonsky