I'd never heard of Ray Navarro before I saw Art AIDS America at Tacoma Art Museum last week. But his simple work made a big impression. It's the piece above, called Equipped, as in hung. He paired posed photos of his illness's implements (his wheelchair, his walker, and his cane) with deadpan office-door plaques printed with sexual jokes. Flipping over the wheelchair so that the wheels are upturned, for instance, he added the words "HOT BUTT." The frames are femmey soft-pinkish. (Before making this work, Navarro had co-authored an article about how media reports of AIDS protests used captions to blur what was clearly happening in the pictures.)
Navarro brought humor to disease and debilitation, but not just any humor. He insisted on sex in a world telling him he deserved to die because of his sex life.
Meanwhile, he wasn't even strong enough to make this piece on his own. He'd already gone blind and deaf. He relied on artist friend Zoe Leonard to help him fabricate Equipped, this dry-conceptual-art-looking dirty joke. It's dated 1990. That's the year Navarro died. He was 26.
Navarro is one of several artists in Art AIDS America who ought to be better known. In the video below, he's reporting the news of an AIDS protest as Jesus Christ. Remember Ray Navarro.