Cultured Magazine

April/May 2016

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106 A LOST GENERATION In a new traveling exhibition, artist Doug Meyer pays tribute to 50 unsung heroes. BY WENDY GOODMAN PORTRAIT BY MARK ROSKAMS Doug Meyer, a design Renaissance man if there ever was one, has devoted an amazing amount of time in creating a tribute to many of the talents we lost in the maelstrom of the AIDS epidemic. For people who didn't experience the devastation personally, it's impossible to describe how a landscape of dreams and opportunity turned into a nonstop nightmare, as one by one, people in the prime of their lives became ill and withered away—with no one understanding why or what was happening. Fear, shame and denial took over where there should have been an urgent resolve to research a cure. It was only after ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and other courageous voices rose that the ugly truth of that stigmatization began to be addressed. But by then the nation was devastated, and the waves of death just kept coming. Doug started his "Heroes" project in early 2015 as a tribute portrait gallery for New York's chapter of the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA). He was asked to do a "room" but wanted to do more than that. "I felt it was important to do an actual project that was reflective of what DIFFA is all about. So the idea of creating a contemplative gallery space that honored some of the earliest creative icons lost to AIDS came about," he says. Doug created 19 portraits for that DIFFA event in 2015. He has created a total of 50 for the 2016 tour of the show. "As I get older the thing that really bothers me is the lack of interest in our history," says Meyer. "The knowledge of the existence of these pioneers and their contributions has been lost to younger generations." "When I look at the list of names it just pulls at my heart," says Liz O'Brien, whose Upper East Side showroom is exhibiting "Heroes" this month. It will then travel to NIBA Home in Miami, followed by Dragonette Limited in Los Angeles. "They were rock stars in the prime of their careers, and we are living with their influences today." The viewer feels like crying and laughing simultaneously as the gut punch of missing them is supplemented by the joy and inspiration each person contributed to our lives and culture. John Duka's brilliant writing turned the fashion world on its ear, and there he is, staring out at you from a photograph of his handsome face, the same one that was featured in his obituary in The New York Times. Tina Chow, so impossibly beautiful and fragile-looking, was unlike any other style maker out there; she had a character that was so mesmerizing and radiant she beguiled all who met her. Angelo Donghia, the elegant decorator who was to interior design what Halston was to fashion, understood that it would take more than creating gorgeous rooms to grow a successful business, so he created the scenario for future generations to brand their artistry with licensing deals. They are a few of Meyer's lost brilliants. "The research became an event itself, from ordering books and watching movies to locating old articles. I felt it was necessary to channel each individual," he explains. "This is how each portrait evolved, immersing myself in their life. It was also important that each one look as different as possible, as if they were all done by different hands."

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