Spirits of Manhattan
Kathleen White

Pioneer Works is very pleased to present Kathleen White: Spirits of Manhattan and Nan Goldin: Kathleen, two separate but interconnected exhibitions revolving around White and Goldin; formidable colleagues, they were mutually affected by the AIDS crisis then unfolding in the 1980s and 90s, in real-time. A story of friendship and survival, these exhibitions mark the first time extensive presentations of White and Goldin’s work have been shown together, and are held in conjunction with an exhibition of White’s work at Martos Gallery.

Goldin photographed White continually during the 1990s, and the prints featured in Nan Goldin: Kathleen—some printed here for the first time—are not posed. Rather, in part they reflect the reality of haunting, unending loss affecting the two artists’ personal lives, at a time when White and Goldin’s shared downtown community of artists, writers, and performers were dying of AIDS in quick succession. In other ways they’re celebratory—of the joys of being alive, in all its difficulty, at a time when life seemed in short supply. Goldin first featured her and White’s extended network of artists and activists responding to the epidemic in a landmark, 1989 exhibition she curated at Artists Space, Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing. A decade later, Goldin returned to Artists Space to curate Shy, which featured works by friends who were her photographic subjects, as well as artists in their own right. The exhibition featured White’s large installation Spirits of Manhattan (1996), made primarily of human hair. At the time, many of the city’s drag performers were dying of AIDS. With no one to claim their possessions, their personal belongings, including wigs, were left on the street. White worked closely within this scene, so it hit close to home. They could’ve been her friends.

Though primarily a painter, White began to use the strewn hair as material. Before long, performer friends like Lady Bunny, Jojo Americo, Billy Erb, David Dalrymple, and numerous others were contributing wigs for the project. These reconfigured wigs, hair slicks and bobs comprise the bulk of Kathleen White: Spirits of Manhattan. Aside from that work, which gives the exhibition its name, also included are New York City phone book pages, hand altered with markings, watercolor, burn marks, and more hair, that function something like a compendium of White and Goldin’s social network at the time. The hair in both of White’s series equally resembles knots, tendrils, and hearts, the latter a recurring motif of White’s. This is particularly poignant, considering her life was so marked by tragedy and loss. She herself died of cancer in 2014. These exhibitions mark something of a posthumous return to White’s work, which, like Goldin’s, was so impacted by the people around her.

Kathleen White: Spirits of Manhattan and Nan Goldin: Kathleen are held in conjunction with an exhibition of White’s work at Martos Gallery, from December 14 – January 27, 2018. The exhibitions at Pioneer Works are curated by David Everitt Howe, Pioneer Works’ Curator, in conversation with Rafael Sánchez, on behalf of The Estate of Kathleen White and the Sánchez-White Archives.