Lisa Yuskavage, 2018. Photo by Amanda Webster. Courtesy David Zwirner.

Lisa Yuskavage on Unquestioning Love

Ahead of the New York City AIDS Memorial Auction, the masterful New York painter offers a deeply moving recollection

Lisa Yuskavage was born in Philadelphia in 1962, received her MFA from Yale in 1986, and so entered the New York art world at the very height of the AIDS crisis. These simple facts appear to have little bearing on the sumptuous, tactile, beautiful, and highly acclaimed paintings Yuskavage creates. The threat of a lethal disease never appears to disturb the peachy, fecund bodies in her pictures.

Nevertheless, Yuskavage was profoundly affected by the illness and death of her friend, fellow artist and Yale graduate, Jesse Murry. In the past Yuskavage has acknowledged the way Murry’s worldly insight helped guide her early career; earlier this year she co-curated an exhibition of Murry’s paintings at David Zwirner in New York; and next week, Yuskavage is among the artists contributing to Unquestioning Love, a high-profile sale featuring a truly incredible selection of contemporary art, at Christie’s in November 2021 to benefit the New York City AIDS Memorial. Ahead of the sale, which takes place on 9 and 12 November, at Christie’s in New York, she shares a deeply moving recollection of Murry’s final days.

LISA YUSKAVAGE – Mardi Gras Dude (2014)
LISA YUSKAVAGE – Mardi Gras Dude (2014)

"I spent several years (1989-1993) at St Luke’s Roosevelt’s AIDS ward helping my friend Jesse Murry through his illness and finally his death from pneumocystis pneumonia in January 1993. I met and befriended so many of his roommates. One man in particular stands out in my memory: Eddie Vega. He was a champion dancer of Ed McMahon’s Star Search. Jesse was so excited to be his friend as when Jesse was a student, he used to run home to watch Eddie twirl and gyrate and win the prizes year in and year out. Eddie had a large loving family and his side of the room was always bustling with love and food while our side of the curtain was just us or another friend or Jesse’s partner George.

New York City AIDS Memorial
An image from the Unquestioning Love auction site. The image behind the text is a detail from Flower, 1987, by Robert Mapplethorpe, one of the lots in this sale

"One night Jesse called me long after visiting hours and asked me to come quickly. I lived on Ludlow Street and it was cold out but I ran to the train and got there by 10pm. Jesse was alone in his room. Eddie’s bed was stripped and Jesse asked me to help him get into a wheelchair and go across the hall to the private room the nurses provided for Eddie and his family to have their final moments together with their boy. They quietly sang their traditional folk melodies and played guitar and stroked and kissed him. It was a vision of love I have never seen and will never forget. I watched with Jesse as Eddie left his body. As I got Jesse back to bed he told me that this night was his gift to me for what I had done for him all these years."

To see more of Yuskavage’s work go here; for more information on the Unquestioning Love auction go here