b. 1949, USA

Ross Bleckner Biography

Ross Bleckner is a legendary painter from the late 1980s famous for his poetic works mourning the victims of the AIDs epidemic. He is renowned for works that feature glowing lights and symbols of transience, such as hummingbirds, flowers, or flickering lights, acknowledging the brevity of all human existence.

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Early Years

Raised in a supportive Jewish family in Brooklyn, Bleckner studied painting for a BFA at New York University alongside Chuck Close and Sol LeWitt. After graduating in 1971, he then completed an MFA at the California Institute of the Arts in 1973. In 1974 he returned to New York, leading his first show with Cunningham Ward Gallery in 1975, and then with Mary Boone Gallery in 1979.

Ross Bleckner Artworks

Ross Bleckner's paintings when they referenced the AIDs epidemic brought him national recognition. As a gay man himself, Bleckner produced haunting artworks that poetically emphasised the community links and the enormous scale of the tragedy, but for him referenced the passing of specific friends and colleagues.

Early examples that incorporate ominous medical information include: Small Count (1980), with white dots representing decreasing white blood cells; 8,122+ As of January 1986 (1986), with accurate sequential statistics of deaths painted in its corners, and Throbbing Hearts (1994), referencing the tell-tale marks of Kaposi's sarcoma.

However many of Bleckner's paintings also involve appropriated Op art abstraction. The glowing striped fields of works such as Brothers' Swords (1986) and Infatuation (1986—1987) comment in turn on the viewing body that is thinking about a particular body in crisis, or alluding to bars of a cage.

Often he incorporates symbolic plants, birds, lights or candelabras that while restlessly vertiginous, also evoke deep melancholy, bereavement, and profound loss. These are evident in works such as Bird Painting For Bid for Life (1995), Love and Lost (2020), and Memorial II (1994).

Awards and Accolades

Bleckner is involved with many philanthropic organisations, but his most well-known commitment is as board member of ACRIA (AIDS Community Research Initiative of America).

In 2009 he was awarded the title of Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.


Ross Bleckner has been the subject of many solo and group exhibitions.

Solo exhibitions include Heart in the corner of the room, Petzel Gallery, New York (2021); Quid Pro Quo, Capitain Petzel, Berlin (2020); Overhead and Below, Neues Museum, Nuremberg (2020); How to Survive the Present, Allouche Benias, Athens (2020); Find a peaceful place where you can make plans for the future, Dallas Contemporary (2017); Architecture of the Sky, Böhm Chapel, Cologne (2016).

Group exhibitions include Meine Generation. Die Sammlung Jablonka, Albertina Museum, Vienna (2020); Grand Opening, Allouche Gallery, New York (2021); Black and White Prints and Works on Paper, Alpha 137 Gallery, New York (2021); I have an idea!, 1969 Gallery, New York (2021); AMTSALON Berlin, Capitain Petzel, Berlin (2021); The ShitShow Must Go On, Maune Contemporary, Atlanta (2020); A Light in the Dark, ArtWise, New York (2020); Touch the Sky, Shari Brownfield Fine Art, Jackson Hole, Wyoming (2020); Selections — Minimalism, Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles (2019).

Art Collections

Bleckner's work is included in several major public collections, including Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; Collezione Maramotti, Emilia Romagna, Reggio Emilia; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Jewish Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo.

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2022

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