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Frank Moore

David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of work by the artist and activist Frank Moore (1953–2002), organized by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author, critic, and curator Hilton Als, at the gallery’s 525 West 19th Street location in New York. Opening on September 14, 2021, this show will provide an overview of Moore’s practice as a painter during the years he was most active, from the 1980s through the late 1990s.


An essayist with a brush, Moore connected complex ideas in his works and illustrated a polymathic desire to elucidate the wonder and anguish of the world around him. He turned to painting as his primary form of expression in the late 1980s, considering it “an intensely sensual activity” that occupied both a limitless and bounded space: “When a painting is activated, my universe seems to cease at the framing edge.” Moore committed himself to a rigorous research-based studio practice that resulted in exquisitely rich allegories of contemporary queer life and fabulist modes of self-portraiture.

A photo of Frank Moore by the Sirena River in Costa Rica.

Frank Moore by the Sirena River, Costa Rica, n.d.

Frank Moore by the Sirena River, Costa Rica, n.d.

Born in Manhattan, Frank Moore grew up on Long Island, spending the summers on a family farm in the Adirondacks—an experience that fostered his abiding love of the natural world. Following his studies in psychology and painting at Yale and at the Isabel O’Neil School of the Painted Finish, Moore moved to New York and later Paris, working as an artist, filmmaker, costume designer, and increasingly as an activist.

A detail view from the painting self-portrait made by Frank Moore, dated 1976

Frank Moore, Self-portrait, 1976 (detail)

Frank Moore, Self-portrait, 1976 (detail)

“The interplay between irrepressible life and loss is everywhere in Moore’s work.”

—Hilton Als, 2021. Click here to read the full curatorial statement.

a painting by Frank Moore, titled Debutantes, dated 1992.

Frank Moore, Debutantes, 1992

Frank Moore, Debutantes, 1992

An artist who moved freely between creative communities, between 1985 and 1987, Moore worked on an experimental film called Beehive with the choreographer Jim Self. Moore’s studio loft was converted into a giant honeycomb set for the production, which won a “Bessie”—a New York Dance and Performance Award—for outstanding creative achievement.

BEEHIVE, 1985 (film clip)

A painting by Frank Moore, titled Weed, dated 1989.

Frank Moore

Weed, 1989
Oil and glass eyeballs on canvas on wood in artist's frame with gilded cast plaster ornaments and white Madagascar mica
82 x 59 inches (208.3 x 149.9 cm)

“Moore’s work is a telling mix of homespun American virtue and high-style European glamour.… Weed depicts a sad, sentient seeing flower, replete with glass glue-on eyes, being uprooted by an offstage male. Behind lurks an austere and faintly threatening formal garden. Sinister garden imagery would remain a constant in Moore’s work.”

—Brooks Adams, “Master Moore,” in Frank Moore: Paintings, Drawings and One Carpet, 2006

A detail from a painting by  Frank Moore , titled Weed,  dated1989.

Frank Moore, Weed, 1989 (detail)

Frank Moore, Weed, 1989 (detail)

A detail from a painting by  Frank Moore , titled Weed,  dated1989.

Frank Moore, Weed, 1989 (detail)

Frank Moore, Weed, 1989 (detail)

Moore produced scenographic compositions informed by his studies as well as his time working in experimental film, theater, and performance. Using a variety of unorthodox brushes, brilliant pigments, and elaborately constructed supports, he conceived of painting as “an intensely sensual activity” that occupied both a limitless and bounded space: “When a painting is activated, my universe seems to cease at the framing edge.” 

A painting by Frank Moore, titled Wildlife Management Area, dated 1990.

Frank Moore

Wildlife Management Area, 1990
Oil on canvas on panel, with deer antlers, electrical wire, found objects, and lamps in artist's wood frame
79 x 72 inches (200.7 x 182.9 cm)
A painting by Frank Moore, titled Country Club, dated 1992.

Frank Moore

Country Club, 1992
Oil on canvas on wood with attachments
34 x 29 inches (86.4 x 73.7 cm)
A painting titled Niagara made by Frank Moore between 1994 to 1995

Frank Moore, Niagara, 1994–1995. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Frank Moore, Niagara, 1994–1995. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

“As beautiful as our modern Arcadia may appear to be, it is a beauty that is alloyed with all the complexities and toxicities of modern life. Focusing primarily on issues of human health (including AIDS) and environmental issues, I also work with images which can be seen as anti-gardens; spaces which are disordered, decaying, toxic, depressing, stressful and raw. It is perhaps a conundrum of life today that many of these images function on both levels; sites of great, but toxic, beauty.”

—Frank Moore, in Toxic Beauty: The Art of Frank Moore, 2012

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Frank Moore at David Zwirner, New York, in 2021.

Installation view, Frank Moore, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

Installation view, Frank Moore, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

A painting titled Hospital made by Frank Moore in 1992

Frank Moore, Hospital, 1992

Frank Moore, Hospital, 1992

A painting by Frank Moore, titled Lullaby II, dated 1997.

Frank Moore, Lullaby II, 1997. Whitney Museum of American Art

Frank Moore, Lullaby II, 1997. Whitney Museum of American Art

“What I miss the most in the hospital is nature—it seems that nature is the opposite of hospital.… Since we are 99 percent water, I figured that we’ve got all these beds full of water.… There’s a kind of trajectory in the pictures that I think is similar to a trajectory that many people I know have gone through.” 

—Frank Moore, Skowhegan lecture, 1998. Watch the full lecture below.

A painting titled Patient by Frank Moore made between 1997 to 1998

Frank Moore, Patient, 1997–1998. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin

Frank Moore, Patient, 1997–1998. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin

A painting titled Lullaby made by Frank Moore in 1997

Frank Moore, Lullaby, 1997. Private Collection, Italy

Frank Moore, Lullaby, 1997. Private Collection, Italy

For Moore, art and life were inseparable, and by the mid-1990s, nearly every work was a kind of self-portrait. Every detail in Arena (1992), his first major autobiographical work, corresponds directly to something that was happening in the artist’s life at that time. The painting focuses on Moore’s partner, Robert Fulps, who had recently died from AIDS-related complications. Fulps is depicted on an operating table at the center of the composition, which in turn is based on a wood engraving of a seventeenth-century Dutch anatomy theater. 

A painting titled Arena made by Frank Moore in 1992

Frank Moore, Arena, 1992. Private collection, Italy

Frank Moore, Arena, 1992. Private collection, Italy

“The gamble was that the central event of that painting, the loss of my partner of eight years to AIDS,” Moore explained, “could ultimately be seen as emblematic of so many similar losses that were occurring all around me, attaining a level of universality.”

A detail view from the work titled Arena by Frank Moore, dated 1992

Frank Moore, Arena, 1992 (detail)

Frank Moore, Arena, 1992 (detail)

A painting titled Birth of Venus by Frank Moore made in 1993

Frank Moore, Birth of Venus, 1993

Frank Moore, Birth of Venus, 1993

Moore painted Birth of Venus in 1993, when the AIDS crisis had reached pandemic proportions. Inspired by The Century of Titian exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, which Moore visited in 1993, the picture depicts a drag queen emerging from a polluted sea— a “toxic beauty”—reclining amidst syringes, unused condoms, and pills.

Lady Bunny. Photo by Linda Simpson.

Lady Bunny, n.d. (detail). Photo by Linda Simpson

Lady Bunny, n.d. (detail). Photo by Linda Simpson

“I couldn’t help thinking about female beauty,” Moore recalled, “particularly its seductive aspect … and drag—the arena in which our cultural norms of beauty and femininity are maximized, hyper-styled, freed from sex and gender, satirized and worshipped. I thought of the Lady Bunny, an increasingly renowned drag diva and gender illusionist whom I had long admired.… Instantly it clicked, and I could see the whole composition.”

A painting by Frank Moore titled Wizard made in 1994

Frank Moore, Wizard, 1994. Private collection, Italy

Frank Moore, Wizard, 1994. Private collection, Italy

“This picture is probably the peak of the work that I was doing about AIDS,” Moore explained in 1998. “It’s called Wizard.… It’s sort of an apocalyptic landscape, and I crammed into it everything I knew. Some of it’s funny, some of it’s sad, some of it’s really scary, to me. The frame is cast lucite, and floating in the lucite are all the major AIDS medications.”

A detail from the work titled Wizard by Frank Moore, dated 1994

Frank Moore, Wizard, 1994 (detail)

Frank Moore, Wizard, 1994 (detail)

A second detail from the work Wizard made by Frank Moore, dated 1994

Frank Moore, Wizard, 1994 (detail)

Frank Moore, Wizard, 1994 (detail)

A detail with pill bottles from the work Wizard made by Frank Moore, dated 1994

Frank Moore, Wizard, 1994 (detail)

Frank Moore, Wizard, 1994 (detail)

The cover of Art in America magazine featuring frank Moore's painting Wizard, made in 1994.

The cover of Art in America’s June 1994 issue, featuring Wizard

The cover of Art in America’s June 1994 issue, featuring Wizard

A mixed media artwork by Frank Moore, titled Library, dated 1989.

Frank Moore

Library, 1989
Oil on canvas framed with found book assemblage
57 1/2 x 77 1/2 x 4 inches (146.1 x 196.9 x 10.2 cm)

In 1995, two of Moore’s paintings were included in Klaus Kertess’s Whitney Biennial: Yosemite (1993) and Moore’s homage to Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting Freedom from Want, which he titled Freedom to Share (1994). 

A painting made by Frank Moore in 1994 titled Freedom to Share

Frank Moore, Freedom to Share, 1994

Frank Moore, Freedom to Share, 1994

Here, Thanksgiving, as depicted by Rockwell for The Saturday Evening Post in 1943, has morphed into something more sinister—yet far more diverse. The traditional turkey dinner has been replaced by a main course of pharmaceuticals and water glasses by laboratory beakers. Puddles of small glass beads form on the work’s surface like bacterial cocci.

This image depicts a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner scene,  it is the original painting made by Norman Rockwell titled Freedom from Want, dated 1943

Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, 1943. Story illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, March 6, 1943. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections.  Image: ©1943 SEPS: Curtis Licensing, Indianapolis, IN

Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, 1943. Story illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, March 6, 1943. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections.  Image: ©1943 SEPS: Curtis Licensing, Indianapolis, IN

“You cannot have healthy people in an unhealthy environment, and you can’t have a healthy environment where unhealthy—greedy, exploitative—people predominate.”

—Frank Moore

An acrylic and collage artwork by Frank Moore, titled Untitled (The Cure), date to be confirmed.

Frank Moore

Untitled (The Cure), n.d
Acrylic and collage on paper
36 1/2 x 29 3/4 inches (92.7 x 75.6 cm)
Framed: 40 1/2 x 33 5/8 inches (102.9 x 85.4 cm)

Diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, Moore was a founding member of Visual AIDS, and helped launch the Red Ribbon Project in 1991.

Now a universally recognized symbol of AIDS awareness, the Red Ribbon was created to show support and compassion for those with AIDS and their caregivers. Ribbons of different colors are now used to symbolize other causes.

A image of a postage stamp from USA World AIDS Awareness Day, dated 1993

USA World AIDS Awareness Day postage stamp, 1993 

USA World AIDS Awareness Day postage stamp, 1993 

Here is Moore’s poster for the first Day without Art, organized by Visual AIDS in 1992.

Frank Moore, Face It, Lick It, 1992. Poster for the first Day without Art, organized by Visual AIDS

Frank Moore, Face It, Lick It, 1992. Poster for the first Day without Art, organized by Visual AIDS

“I do think that art can effect change in the society, though it takes a long time to operate—almost to the point that the better the painting the longer it takes to achieve its full impact. That’s what painting does over time. It gets louder and louder as the vibrations travel.”

—Frank Moore, in Toxic Beauty: The Art of Frank Moore, 2012

A painting by Frank Moore, titled Everything I Own II, dated 1993.

Frank Moore

Everything I Own II, 1993
Oil on canvas on wood panel
40 1/8 x 48 1/8 inches (101.9 x 122.2 cm)
Framed: 45 1/4 x 53 1/8 inches (114.9 x 134.9 cm)

“This picture is called Everything I Own. It’s a Buddhist mudra that is called a mandala offering, and what happens is you make this gesture and a lama comes and puts grains of rice in your paws and you’re supposed to imagine that each grain of rice is something you own or even a person that you love … and then at a certain moment in this ritual you just throw it all up in the air.… It’s a kind of letting go. The only problem I found is that I would throw it all up in the air but it was still stuck on there and I couldn’t quite get free of it all.”

—Frank Moore, Skowhegan lecture, 1998

A detail from the painting titled Everything I Own II made by Frank Moore, dated 1993

Frank Moore, Everything I Own II, 1993 (detail)

Frank Moore, Everything I Own II, 1993 (detail)

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Frank Moore, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2021.

Installation view, Frank Moore, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

Installation view, Frank Moore, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

A painting made by Frank Moore titled Gulliver Awake, dated 1994-1995

Frank Moore, Gulliver Awake, 1994–1995

Frank Moore, Gulliver Awake, 1994–1995

“Frank drew connections, sketching a humanist vision of how the world was, and what it could be, even as he pointed to that which is hardest to look at—greed, environmental degradation, homophobia, the voracious maw of industry, death. Even there … he could find something beautiful—a hint of redemption even within our biggest missteps.”

—Loring McAlpin, friend and founding member of the AIDS activist art collective Gran Fury

A painting by Frank Moore, titled Untitled, dated 1992.

Frank Moore

Untitled, 1992
Oil on canvas on wood with attachments
26 3/8 x 29 3/4 inches (67 x 75.6 cm)

“[Moore’s best works] … are too ardent, argumentative and finely wrought—and also beautifully lighted—not to hold our attention. Their concerns are enduring, and their imagery can be amazingly versatile, gaining new pertinence as time goes by.”

—Roberta Smith, The New York Times, 2012

A long horizontal painting titled Release by Frank Moore, dated 1999

Frank Moore, Release, 1999

Frank Moore, Release, 1999

Narrative text is drawn from “Frank Moore,” a lecture by gallery Partner David Leiber at Cornell University, 2012. Click here to read the full lecture.

An undated photo of Frank Moore as a young artist.

Frank Moore, n.d. (detail)

Frank Moore, n.d. (detail)

A photo of the Frank Moore Studio at Skowhegan art school.

The Frank Moore Studio at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, 2020

The Frank Moore Studio at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, 2020

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