Patrick O’Connell, 67, Dies Lifted Recognition of AIDS With Art

Patrick O’Connell, who as the founding director of Visual AIDS, an advocacy team that supports artists dwelling with the disease, assisted shatter the stigma surrounding AIDS in the 1990s with recognition campaigns which include the ubiquitous purple ribbon, died on March 23 at a clinic in Manhattan. He was 67.

His brother, Barry, confirmed the loss of life, from AIDS-related leads to. Mr. O’Connell lived with AIDS for almost 40 a long time.

In the 1980s, as New York grew to become the epicenter of the AIDS disaster, Mr. O’Connell was amid a team of homosexual adult men in the arts group dwelling in anguish and confusion. Seemingly every single month, he located himself attending one more friend’s funeral. On his answering machine, he located messages of despair from these who discovered they were being ill. The public’s acknowledgment of AIDS was muted the White Dwelling was silent.

“We were residing in a war zone,” Mr. O’Connell claimed in a 2011 job interview with Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about.”

In hopes of getting motion, Mr. O’Connell began meeting with some others at a loft in Chelsea, which turned the headquarters of Visual AIDS. Armed with a fax equipment and a Macintosh computer, Mr. O’Connell commenced making conceptual art-dependent consciousness campaigns that forced the general public to reckon with the illness.

In 1991, Visible AIDS commenced the Ribbon Venture, which made the inverted V-shaped crimson ribbon that would come to be an global image of AIDS advocacy.

Its color represented blood, and its sparse style and design nodded to the silence surrounding the disease. Mr. O’Connell aided manage “ribbon bees” in which 1000’s of the grosgrain ribbons ended up lower and folded for distribution close to the town. He also established his sight on a mission: getting the pink ribbon to surface on the Tony Awards telecast.

With just two weeks right until the ceremony, Mr. O’Connell and his crew labored the telephones to connect with any Broadway connections they experienced: hairdressers, actors, costume designers. On the eve of the awards, volunteers put purple ribbons on the seats of the Minskoff Theater. That night, Mr. O’Connell watched on television with nervous anticipation.

When the curtains rose, Jeremy Irons, one particular of the hosts, stepped onto the phase sporting a crimson ribbon on his lapel. Scores of superstars followed fit all over the night.

Very little purple flecks before long started out appearing on shirts in towns throughout the country. They appeared at the Oscars, the Emmys and the Grammys. The United States Postal Support issued a purple ribbon stamp in 1993.

“If you just can’t do everything major about AIDS, 2nd finest is to show up to do a little something,” the manner designer Isaac Mizrahi advised The New York Periods in 1992. “That’s why I enjoy the ribbon. It ruins whichever you are sporting, it does not do the job compositionally, it is the improper color, it throws your hair off, and who cares, because you have human inner thoughts and you are displaying them.”

As the red ribbon turned a phenomenon, some AIDS activists derided it as a hollow development that experienced lost its significance. As considerably as Mr. O’Connell was anxious, the final results were what mattered.

“People want to say a thing, not always with anger and confrontation all the time,” he advised The Periods in 1992. “This lets them. And even if it is only an effortless to start with stage, which is wonderful with me. It won’t be their very last.”

If the purple ribbon was delicate in its symbolism, Mr. O’Connell’s other AIDS recognition strategies didn’t shy absent from the starkness of the disorder.

In 1989, Visual AIDS commenced “Day Without the need of Art,” in which galleries and museums shrouded their artworks to signify human reduction. Hundreds of establishments participated, which includes the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which changed a Picasso portray with a somber informational placard. Visual AIDS has continued the initiative yearly to this day.

Evening Devoid of Gentle,” a sprawling function that also evoked grief, was held in conjunction with Earth AIDS Working day for the very first time the future yr. New York’s skyline went darkish as buildings, bridges, monuments and Broadway turned off their lights for 15 minutes. In 1993, the White Dwelling dimmed its lights, way too.

Each individual 10 Minutes,” a sound set up by Robert Farber, highlighted a recording of a church bell that tolled each individual 10 minutes to signal the interval concerning AIDS fatalities in the United States. “Electric Blanket,” a photography clearly show that featured the operate of Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe and Peter Hujar, documented the AIDS disaster as a result of portraits of individuals dwelling with the condition and pictures of protests and rallies.

“All these assignments, at that second in time, some thing substantial was at stake,” Mr. O’Connell claimed in “Enable the Report Clearly show,” a 2013 documentary about AIDS a
ctivism by Demetrea and Rebekah Dewald. “It was the life of our buddies and other individuals whom we did not know.”

Patrick James O’Connell was born on April 12, 1953, in Manhattan. His father, Daniel, was a wire lather and iron employee. His mother, Helen (Barry) O’Connell, was a secretary.

Patrick attended Fordham Preparatory Faculty and later on worked summer time jobs at development sites with his father. He graduated from Trinity College or university in Hartford, Conn., in 1975 with a bachelor’s diploma in heritage.

In his 20s, Mr. O’Connell began pursuing an art profession and grew to become the director of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center in Buffalo. He returned to the city following about a yr to work for Artists Place, an alternate downtown gallery, the place he dealt with artists like Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine and Robert Longo.

In the late 1970s, in a harsher town, Mr. O’Connell was attacked in a loathe crime. He was walking household from a bar in the East Village when a team of teenagers ambushed him and broke his arm. He required pores and skin grafts and would bear a foot-prolonged scar for the rest of his life.

In the mid-1980s, Mr. O’Connell discovered that he had contracted AIDS. He commenced using a cocktail of around 30 capsules a day. Right after quite a few years of battling with alcoholism, he checked into rehab.

“I am pretty much stripped and bereft of contemporaries who try to remember me as youthful and sweet and vibrant,” he stated in an job interview with POZ, a journal about H.I.V. and AIDS, in 1994. “Part of our definition is the reflection we get from our mates. It is distressing that that is all absent.”

Mr. O’Connell went on to embrace sobriety, and around 1989 he became involved with Visual AIDS. In 1995, as his wellness worsened, he remaining the business.

His longtime spouse, James Morrow, died of most cancers in 2000.

Mr. O’Connell existed quietly in New York over the very last decade. He lived sparsely off his disability aid in a rent-controlled apartment in Washington Heights. With each and every calendar year that passed, he felt his world get a little more compact.

“Patrick’s mission in existence was rooted in a moment of crisis, but that perception of urgency sooner or later finished,” explained Peter Hay Halpert, a shut buddy. “So numerous people associated in that battle alongside him died, and he was remaining to offer with residing with the health issues by yourself. He grew to become a person of the past survivors from that time however still left.

“It was this instant wherever everybody united to facial area a crisis,” Mr. Halpert included, “but then Patrick still experienced to keep living with AIDS.”

Nonetheless, Mr. O’Connell’s call to activism never ever ended. He not often wore a shirt that did not have a pink ribbon pinned to it.

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