Frank Green (July 28, 1957–January 23, 2013)
In art and in life, Frank Green made it his mission to push boundaries and make people uncomfortable. In the early nineties he butted heads with Thomas Mulready, director of the Cleveland Performance Art Festival, over the length of his performances. Frank wasn’t interested in editing his work to fit anyone’s schedule. While this made for a tense relationship between two doyennes of the city’s performance art scene, Mulready respected his artistic integrity; in recent years the men had a congenial relationship.
When the news that Frank died on January 23 hit Facebook, posts from those who knew him were abundant. As is often the case in these moments, most people extolled his creative talents, his intelligent art criticism (he wrote for The Free Times, P-Form: Performance Art News, and Art in America), and lauded his kind nature. Artist Terry Durst, however, kept it real: “[Frank] was always rebellious… He was feisty and contradictory…The Frank I knew before he got sick would not care to be remembered as a sweet, kind, loving individual. I’m pretty sure he would be happier to be remembered as a rebellious pain in the ass.” Clearly, Frank was a nuanced person—he was a competitive rebel, who was also kind and generous.
Frank’s career of radicalism began in 1975 at Kent State University, where he studied English and film. He moved to New York City in 1981 and experimented with numerous art genres—including poetry and punk rock—before settling on performance as his art of choice. In New York he mingled with contemporaries such as renowned performance artist Karen Finley and published a performance poem, “A-RAIN-MENT,” in Performance Project’s spring 1987 publication of The Act. His work garnered the attention of the Museum of Modern Art and they acquired ephemera from his 1993 performance of “The Scarlet Letters,” which was performed at Cleveland Public Theatre and Brooklyn, New York’s Franklin Furnace.
For Frank, the personal was political, so he not only spoke publicly about his drug use and experimentation, but he also confronted the discourse on AIDS, a topic he knew too well, as he was diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s. In the late nineties he performed “Anonymous Test Site” at the Cleveland State University Art Gallery. The work placed participants in the role of potential HIV-AIDS patients; performers wore medical uniforms and face masks, took nail clippings, and dourly interviewed participants, asking mundane, even irrelevant questions about their health and habits. The gallery was transformed into a cold medical facility, leaving participants feeling vulnerable and uncertain of their well-being. The real world anxiety around HIV-AIDS was palatable in “Anonymous Test Site,” and that made the performance brilliantly successful.
Frank spent most of his adult life navigating HIV-AIDS. Despite his diagnosis, he was an active presence in the art community until 2003 when he became seriously ill and began treatment for a disease that he critically examined for more than 15 years. While the physical illness was kept at bay, he experienced significant short-term memory loss, which left him unable to hold on to the concepts put forth in the books he loved to read, and unable to write or make art. Over the last 10 years he remained a fixture at art openings, always with his long-time friend Cynthia Penter and her family. Frank was softer in many ways—side effects from the disease added weight to his once svelte frame, and his manner was affable, even buoyant. He was, nonetheless, a different kind of rebel—one who fought to stay engaged with his friends and with the art community that he had influenced for more than 30 years.