Fred Eychaner brings AIDS arts exhibition to light
November 29th, 2016
Fred Eychaner doesn’t make little plans. He’s built a gallery adjacent to his Lincoln Park offices to showcase a ground-breaking exhibition about AIDS.
Art AIDS America Chicago opens Dec. 1 for a four-month run in a former bank building that Eychaner owns on the corner of Fullerton and Halsted.
“Bringing Art AIDS America to Chicago is exactly the sort of activism our country needs so badly right now. This is the core of Alphawood Foundation’s purpose,” he said in an emailed statement that hinted at his thoughts about the recent presidential election. He was a major donor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential run. Alphawood is his philanthropic foundation.
The Chicago businessman came to fund the show after talking to his friend, Jonathan Katz, an arts historian and co-curator of the AIDS exhibit. Katz was having difficulty finding museum venues for the show.
“I mentioned that I was so disappointed that Chicago, a city I have always thought of as home ( I lived here 10 years), could not find a place for Art AIDS America,” Katz told me. “Fred popped up with ‘OK, we’ll do it.’ I thought at first he was joking, but in short order it was clear he was not. He was undaunted by the checklist–find a building, convert it to meet museum standards, hire a director, etc. He just did it. It was breathtaking. Yes, I was stunned.”
The show has already appeared in Tacoma, Wash., Atlanta and the Bronx, where it attracted raves and rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle. A few pieces interpreted as being too graphic were omitted from those exhibitions, held at traditional museums.
Under the Alphawood umbrella, the Chicago show will appear in its entirety–and with additional works by Chicago artists.
Eychaner is founder of Newsweb, publisher of small newspapers, and he’s launched TV and radio stations. WPWR-TV Channel 50 was sold in the 2002 to Fox Television for a reported $425 million.
His foundation is the sole funder of the AIDS show, though dozens of Chicago businesses have partnered to promote it. “We’ve told them ‘Bring your boards here. Bring your donors. Bring your members.’ We want people to see it,” says Jim McDonough, the executive director for Eychaner’s Alphawood Foundation.
The exhibition takes viewers back to the 1980s when then-President Ronald Reagan refused to say the word “AIDS.” Art pieces run the gamut in addressing political, medical and spiritual issues. You’ll leave wondering what might have been as so many of the artists featured died too young, victims of AIDS.
There are pieces from notable artists, including Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith and Annie Leibovitz. And a dramatic oil on canvas by the late Roger Brown is a Chicago story. “Peach Light” features a skeleton illuminated by an orange halo. The powerful piece represents a gay bar in Chicago that replaced normal lighting with peach lights–it was more flattering to customers whose was ravaged by the disease, explains Anthony Hirschel, director of exhibitions of the foundation. “It made them feel more whole and alive.”