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Philip Zimmerman

American, b. 1956

American Krist

Oil and nails on wood panel
39 x 30 x 6 in. (99.06 x 76.2 x 15.24 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

Following the deaths of two friends from AIDS, Philip Christian Zimmerman began this painting as a meditation on suffering and salvation in response to the AIDS crisis, as well as on the fact of homelessness. One of the two friends had been homeless until Zimmerman registered him at his own address and got him admitted to a hospital. Around the same time, the artist also had repeated encounters with a homeless alcoholic man, to whom he gave money on a few occasions.

Zimmerman’s representation of Christ is a blending of two art historical sources: Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which the artist found very moving when he viewed it in person, and Northern Renaissance depictions of Christ, which were less idealized than their southern counterparts. However, Zimmerman’s Christ figure is not a traditional religious depiction. Rather, it represents organized religion and the devout who believed themselves benevolent but turned their backs on the health crisis, and those afflicted by it, due to ignorance, fear, or homophobia. To reinforce this idea, Zimmerman painted pairs of black and white dots as symbolic references to the duality of good and evil. The nails hammered into the sides of the painting suggest anger at the American government’s failure to respond to the catastrophe; the large quantity of them is a potent reminder of the staggering number of people whose lives were cut short by AIDS.

David S. Rubin

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