Unpacking Our Collection: Elegies

On the morning after the shooting in Charleston, SC, Martha Clippinger finds a place for Elegy, a painting by Anthony Viti, and reflects on loss.

Anthony Viti, Elegy, 1992
Anthony Viti, Elegy, 1992

June 19, 2015

Yesterday I woke up to the news of the shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. The event haunted me throughout the day, and as the day closed, I hung this painting in our dining room.

Elegies by Anthony Viti
Elegy by Anthony Viti

The work is by my good friend, Anthony Viti, and was given to me as a thank you for hosting him in Oaxaca for a week. It’s an older work of his, made in the early 90s, during the height of the AIDS crisis. At that time, Anthony, who was a committed activist in NYC, lost many close friends. Painting became a form of memorial, inspiring the series Elegies. These modestly-sized, square paintings shared the centralized symbol of the Iron Cross, a shape taken from Marsden Hartley’s 1914 painting Portrait of a German Officer, an abstract work that portrayed Hartley’s lover, the Prussian Lieutenant Karl von Freyburg, who died in the war.

There are many wonderful memories I attribute to this painting because of my connection to its maker, but artworks are complex and our relationships to them are forever changing. So while I think of Anthony and our history together, or consider his history and his motive for this work, I will also be reminded of the sadness of the day I hung this painting.

This post is dedicated to Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. De Payne Middleton-Doctor, The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singelton, Myra Thompson.