David Michael Wojnarowicz (// VOY-nə-ROH-vitch; (September 14, 1954 – July 22, 1992) was an American painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, songwriter/recording artist, and AIDS activist prominent in the East Village art scene. He incorporated personal narratives influenced by his struggle with AIDS as well as his political activism in his art until his death from the disease in 1992.
|Died||July 22, 1992 (aged 37)|
|Cause of death||AIDS|
Wojnarowicz was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, where he and his siblings survived physical abuse by their father, Ed Wojnarowicz. Ed, a Polish-American merchant marine from Detroit, had met and married Dolores McGuinness in Sydney, Australia, in 1948 when he was 26 and she was 16. After his parents' divorce, he moved to New York as a teenager with his mother, Australian-born Dolores. During his teenage years in Manhattan, Wojnarowicz worked as a street hustler around Times Square. He graduated from the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan.
After a period outside New York, Wojnarowicz returned in the late 1970s and emerged as one of the most prominent and prolific members of an avant-garde wing that used mixed media as well as graffiti and street art. His first recognition came from stencils of houses afire that appeared on the exposed sides of East Village buildings.
Wojnarowicz made super-8 films such as Heroin and Beautiful People with Jesse Hultberg; completed a 1977–1979 photographic series on Arthur Rimbaud; did stencil work; and collaborated with the band 3 Teens Kill 4, which released the independent EP No Motive in 1982. He exhibited his work in well-known East Village galleries and New York City landmarks, notably Civilian Warfare Gallery, Ground Zero Gallery NY, Public Illumination Picture Gallery, Gracie Mansion, and Hal Bromm Gallery.
Wojnarowicz was also connected to other prolific artists of the time, appearing in or collaborating on works with Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, Luis Frangella, Karen Finley, Kiki Smith, Richard Kern, James Romberger, Marguerite Van Cook, Ben Neill, Marion Scemama, and Phil Zwickler. In 1987 his longtime mentor and lover, the photographer Hujar, died of AIDS, and Wojnarowicz himself learned that he was HIV-positive. Hujar's death moved Wojnarowicz to create much more explicit activism and political content, notably about the injustices, social and legal, in the response to the AIDS epidemic.
In 1985, Wojnarowicz was included in the Whitney Biennial's so-called Graffiti Show. In the 1990s, he sued and obtained an injunction against Donald Wildmon and the American Family Association on the grounds that Wojnarowicz's work had been copied and distorted in violation of the New York Artists' Authorship Rights Act.
Wojnarowicz's works include Untitled (One Day This Kid...); Untitled (Buffalo); Water; Birth of Language II; Untitled (Shark); Untitled (Peter Hujar); Tuna; Peter Hujar Dreaming/Yukio Mishima: St. Sebastian; Delta Towels; True Myth (Domino Sugar); Something From Sleep II; Untitled (Face in Dirt); and I Feel a Vague Nausea.
Wojnarowicz also wrote several successful books, many about political and social issues relating to the AIDS epidemic. One of his bestsellers, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, is an autobiography discussing topics such as his troubled childhood, becoming a renowned artist in New York City, and his AIDS diagnosis. Knives opens with an essay about his homeless years: a boy in glasses selling his skinny body to the pedophiles and creeps who hung around Times Square. The heart of Knives is the title essay, which deals with the sickness and death of Hujar, Wojnarowicz's lover, best friend and mentor, "my brother, my father, my emotional link to the world". In the final essay, "The Suicide of a Guy Who Once Built an Elaborate Shrine Over a Mouse Hole", Wojnarowicz investigates the suicide of a friend, mixing his own reflections with interviews with members of their shared circle. In 1989, Wojnarowicz appeared in Rosa von Praunheim's widely acclaimed film Silence = Death about gay artists in New York City fighting for the rights of AIDS sufferers.
Wojnarowicz died in his Manhattan home on July 22, 1992, from what his boyfriend, Tom Rauffenbart, confirmed was AIDS. After his death, photographer and artist Zoe Leonard, a friend of Wojnarowicz, exhibited a work inspired by him, Strange Fruit (for David).
A Fire in My Belly controversyEdit
In November 2010, after consultation with National Portrait Gallery director Martin Sullivan and co-curator David C. Ward but not co-curator Jonathan David Katz, Smithsonian Institution Secretary G. Wayne Clough removed an edited version of footage used in Wojnarowicz's short silent film A Fire in My Belly from the exhibit "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" at the National Portrait Gallery in response to complaints from the Catholic League, U.S. House Minority Leader John Boehner, Representative Eric Cantor and the possibility of reduced federal funding for the Smithsonian. The video contains a scene with a crucifix covered in ants. William Donohue of the Catholic League claimed the work was "hate speech" against Catholics. Gay historian Jonathan Ned Katz wrote:
In 1989 Senator Jesse Helms demonized Robert Mapplethorpe's sexuality, and by extension, his art, and with little effort pulled a cowering art world to its knees. His weapon was threatening to disrupt the already pitiful federal support for the arts, and once again, that same weapon is being brandished, and once again we cower.
Response from Clough and SmithsonianEdit
Clough later said that although he stood by his decision, it "might have been made too quickly", and called the decision "painful." He said that because of the controversy surrounding the footage and the possibility that it might "spiral out of control", the Smithsonian might have been forced to shut down the entire "Hide/Seek" exhibition, and that was "something he didn't want to happen." The "Hide/Seek" exhibition "examined representations of homosexuality in American portraiture", and Clough said, "The funders and people who were upset by the decision—and I respect that—still have an appreciation that this exhibition is up. We were willing to take this topic on when others were not, and people appreciate that."
I think it was very important to cut off the dialogue that was headed towards, in essence, hijacking the exhibit away from us and putting it into the context of religious desecration. This continues to be a powerful exhibit about the contributions of gay and lesbian artists. It was not about religious iconography and it was not about desecration. When you look at the news cycles that take over, their [the show's critics'] megaphones are this big [making a broad gesture] and our megaphone is this big [a small gesture]. We don't control that. And when it gets out of control, you can't get it back.— G. Wayne Clough
Clough added, "But looking back, sure, I wish I had taken more time. We have a lot of friends who felt left out. We needed to spend more time letting our friends know where this was going. I regret that."
Response from the art world and the publicEdit
The curator David C. Ward defended the artwork, saying, "It is not anti-religion or sacrilegious. It is a powerful use of imagery".
In response, The Andy Warhol Foundation, which had provided a $100,000 grant to the exhibition, announced that it would not fund future Smithsonian projects, while several institutions, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Modern, scheduled showings of the removed work.
On December 2, 2010, protesters against the censorship marched from the Transformer Gallery to the National Portrait Gallery. The work was projected on the building. On December 5, activists Michael Blasenstein and Michael Dax Iacovone were detained and barred from the gallery for holding leaflets.
On December 9, National Portrait Gallery Commissioner James T. Bartlett resigned in protest. The artist AA Bronson sought to withdraw his art from the exhibit, with support from the lending institution, the National Gallery of Canada, but was unsuccessful. The curators appeared at a forum at the New York Public Library. A protest was held from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Cooper Hewitt Museum.
On December 15, a panel discussion was held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. On December 20, a panel discussion was held at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center. On January 20, 2011, the Center of Study of Political Graphics held a protest at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.
Several Smithsonian curators criticized the decision, as did critics, with Newsweek arts critic Blake Gopnik going so far as to call the complaints "gay bashing" and not a legitimate public controversy.
Notable posthumous exhibitionsEdit
In 2011, P.P.O.W. gallery showed Spirituality, an exhibition of Wojnarowicz's drawings, photographs, videos, collages, and personal notebooks; in a review in The Brooklyn Rail, Kara L. Rooney called the show "meticulously researched and commendably curated from a wide array of sources, ... a mini-retrospective, providing context and clues for Wojnarowicz's often elusive, sometimes dangerous, and always brutally honest work."
In 2018, the Whitney Museum of American Art hosted a major retrospective, David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night, which was co-curated by the Whitney's David Kiehl and art historian David Breslin. It received international praise.
In 1992, the band U2 used Wojnarowicz's tumbling buffalo photograph "Untitled (Buffaloes)" for the cover art of its single "One". The band further adapted this imagery during its Zoo TV Tour. The single and subsequent album became multi-platinum over the next few years, and the band donated a large portion of its earnings to AIDS charities. An oversized gelatin print of "Untitled (Buffaloes)" sold at auction in October 2014 for $125,000, more than four times the estimated price.
In 1988, Wojnarowicz wore a leather jacket with the pink triangle and the text: "If I die of aids - forget burial - just drop my body on the steps of the F.D.A.". In his 1991 memoir Close to the Knives, Wojnarowicz imagined "what it would be like if, each time a lover, friend or stranger died of this disease, their friends, lovers or neighbors would take the dead body and drive with it in a car a hundred miles an hour to Washington DC and blast through the gates of the White House and come to a screeching halt before the entrance and dump their lifeless form on the front steps." On October 11, 1992, activist David Robinson received wide media attention when he dumped the ashes of his partner, Warren Krause, on the grounds of the White House as a protest against President George H. W. Bush's inaction in fighting AIDS. Robinson reported that his action was inspired by this text in Close to the Knives. In 1996, Wojnarowicz's own ashes were scattered on the White House lawn.
His name appears in the lyrics of the Le Tigre song "Hot Topic." Weight of the Earth, the transcription of Wojnarowicz's audio journals, inspired Mega Bog's album Life, and Another, and gives its name to the song "Weight of the Earth, on Paper".
On September 13, 2021 at the Met Gala in New York City the Canadian actor Dan Levy wore an outfit by designer Jonathan Anderson for Loewe which prominently featured an adapted version of Wojnarowicz's artwork F--- You F----- F----- depicting two men kissing while shaped as maps, with the support of the visual artist's estate.
A list of Wojnarowicz's group exhibitions the year prior to his death.
- The Figure in the Landscape, Baumgartner Galleries, February, Washington, DC
- From Desire...A Queer Diary, curated by Nan Goldin, Richard F. Brush Art Gallery Canton, NY
- Whitney Biennial, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
- The Art of Advocacy, The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT
- Hands Off!, The New School for Social Research, New York, NY
- Tableaux Du SIDA, Foundation Deutsch, Belmont-Sur-Lausanne, France
- The Third Rail, curated by Karin Bravin, John Post Lee Gallery, New York, NY
- Compassion and Protest: Recent Social and Political Art from the Eli Broad Family Foundation Collection, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA
- American Narrative Painting and Sculpture: The 1980s, Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn, NY
- Cruciformed: Images of the Cross since 1980, curated by David Rubin, Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OH
- Social Sculpture, curated by Steven Harvey and Elyse Cheney, Vrej Baghoomian Gallery, New York, NY
- The Interrupted Life, New Museum, New York, NY
- Outrageous Desire: The Politics and Aesthetics of Representation in Recent Works by Lesbian and Gay Artists, Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts, New Brunswick, NJ
- Art of the 1980s: Selections from the Collection of Eli Broad Foundation, Duke University Museum of Art, Durham, NC
- Domenikos Theotokopoulos-A Dialogue, Philippe Briet Gallery, New York, NY
- Fuel, curated by Jay Younger, The Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia; The Australia Centre for Photography, Sydney, Australia; The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, Australia
- Sounds in the Distance. (1982). Aloes Books.
- Tongues of Flame. (Exhibition Catalog). (1990). Illinois State University.
- Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration. (1991). Vintage Books.
- Memories That Smell Like Gasoline. (1992). Artspace Books.
- Seven Miles a Second. (Collaborative graphic novel with James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook, completed posthumously). (1996). Vertigo/DC Comics.
- The Waterfront Journals. (1997). Grove/Atlantic.
- Rimbaud In New York 1978–1979. (Edited by Andrew Roth). (2004). Roth Horowitz, LLC/PPP Editions.
- In the Shadow of the American Dream: The Diaries of David Wojnarowicz. (Amy Scholder, editor). (2000). Grove/Atlantic.
- Willie World. (Illustrator; written by Maggie J. Dubris). (1998). C U Z Editions.
- Weight of the Earth: The Tape Journals of David Wojnarowicz. (Lisa Darms and David O'Neill, editors). (2018). MIT Press.
Directed by WojnarowiczEdit
- Fire in my Belly – filmed in Mexico and New York in 1986 and 1987, no soundtrack
- Beautiful People – filmed in New York City in 1987, no soundtrack
- 3 Teens Kill 4 EP No Motive 1982
- Cross Country 3 x LP Reading Group 2018
Critical studies and adaptationsEdit
- Blinderman, Barry ed. David Wojnarowicz : Tongues of Flame, 1990, ISBN 978-0-945558-15-6
- Close to the Knives. (1993) AIDS Positive Underground Theatre. John Roman Baker.
- David Wojnarowicz: Brush Fires in the Social Landscape. (1995). Aperture.
- Wojnarowicz, David, et al., ed. Amy Scholder. Fever: The Art of David Wojnarowicz. (1999). New Museum Books.
- David Wojnarowicz : A Definitive History of Five or Six Years on the Lower East Side, interviews by Sylvère Lotringer, edited by Giancarlo Ambrosino (2006).
- Carr, Cynthia Fire in the Belly The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (2012) St Martin's Press. ISBN 978-1-596-91533-6
- Laing, Olivia The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (2016) Canongate ISBN 978-1-250-11803-5
The David Wojnarowicz Papers are at the Fales Library at New York University. The Fales Library also houses the papers of John Hall, a high school friend of Wojnarowicz. The papers include a small collection of letters from Wojnarowicz to Hall.
- Joel Wachs, head of Andy Warhol Foundation, protested removal of Wojnarowicz piece
- Kimmelman, Michael (July 24, 1992). "David Wojnarowicz, 37, Artist in Many Media". The New York Times. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
- Hirsch, Faye (April 2005). "David Wojnarowicz at P.P.O.W. and Roth Horowitz". Art in America. 94 (4): 143.
- Kordic, Angie (May 17, 2018). "LGBT and Photography - The Inexhaustible Fight for Equality". Widewalls. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
- "Howl Sky". Sydney Review of Books. Retrieved December 5, 2020.
- Cotter, Holland (December 10, 2010). "As Ants Crawl Over Crucifix, Dead Artist Is Assailed Again". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 1, 2017. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
- Marion Scemama
- See Wojnarowicz v. American Family Association, 745 F.Supp 130 (1990).
- Sumners, Lucy (2008), AIDS Art: Activism on Canvas, University of Rhode Island
- Laing, Olivia (May 12, 2016). "David Wojnarowicz: still fighting prejudice 24 years after his death". The Guardian. Retrieved March 28, 2021.
- Sorkin, Jenni (March 2008), "Finding the Right Darkness", frieze (113), archived from the original on February 26, 2008, retrieved May 16, 2010
- Jacqueline Trescott (December 6, 2010). "After Smithsonian exhibit's removal, banned ant video still creeps into gallery". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 11, 2013.
- Trescott, Jacqueline (January 19, 2011). "Clough defends removal of video". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- "Smithsonian Q&A Regarding the "Hide/Seek" Exhibition" (PDF). December 7, 2010. pp. 1–2. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 14, 2011. Retrieved December 14, 2010.
- Cooter, Holland (December 10, 2010). "As Ants Crawl Over Crucifix, Dead Artist Is Assailed Again". The New York Times. Retrieved December 14, 2010.
- "Museum removes portrait of crucifix covered in ants". The Daily Telegraph. December 2, 2010.
- Gopnik, Blake (December 1, 2010). "Museums shouldn't bow to censorship of any kind". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 3, 2010.
- "Smithsonian to Remove Ant-Covered Jesus on Cross Video From Exhibit". Fox News. April 7, 2010. Archived from the original on December 3, 2010. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
- "Fire in their belly". The Economist. December 13, 2010.
- Taylor, Kate (January 18, 2011). "Smithsonian Chief Defends Withdrawal of Video". The New York Times. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- Rosenbaum, Lee (January 20, 2011). "'Hide/Seek' Interview: Smithsonian Secretary Clough 'Can Do the Math' (But Miscalculates)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- Cartier, Curtis (March 17, 2011). "David Wojnarowicz Film Is Too Hot for Smithsonian and Republicans, But Not for Tacoma Art Museum". Seattle Weekly. Archived from the original on March 21, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2013.
- Harmanci, Reyhan (December 14, 2010). "Outcry Over Smithsonian Censorship Grows". The Bay Citizen. Archived from the original on December 16, 2010. Retrieved December 14, 2010.
- Dave Itzkoff (December 2, 2010). "Pulled from National Portrait Gallery, Video Emerges Elsewhere in Washington". The New York Times.
- "Going Out Gurus – 'Hide/Seek': Go see it for yourself". The Washington Post. December 1, 2010. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
- Capps, Kriston (December 1, 2010). "Transformer Will Show Video Art That National Portrait Gallery Took Down". Washington City Paper. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
- "National Portrait Gallery censorship controversy: Artist projects film on portrait gallery, recreating '89 protest". Capital Bay. Archived from the original on July 8, 2011. Retrieved December 3, 2010.
- "Silent March Held To Protest Controversial Film's Removal From National Portrait Gallery". WUSA9.com. Archived from the original on December 3, 2010. Retrieved December 3, 2010.
- Jessica Roake (December 2, 2010). "What Else Is in the National Portrait Gallery's "Offensive" Gay Show?". The Awl. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
- "Protestors banned from Smithsonian after playing video on iPad". The Washington Post. April 13, 2010. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
- "Portrait Gallery Censorship: Can you REALLY be 'banned for life' from the Smithsonian?", TBDArts, December 6, 2010
- Green, Tyler (December 9, 2010). "NPG commissioner resigns to protest removal". Modern Art Notes. Archived from the original on March 13, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- Taylor, Kate (December 17, 2010). "Canadian Museum Backs Smithsonian Protest". The New York Times.
- Taylor, Kate, "National Portrait Gallery Rejects Artist's Request to Remove His Work", The New York Times Arts Beat blog, December 20, 2010, 2:20 pm. Retrieved 2101-12-21.
- Taylor, Kate (December 15, 2010). "Exhibit's Curators Criticize Controversial Art's Removal". The New York Times.
- Miranda, Carolina A. (December 16, 2010). "In the Wake of the Smithsonian Controversy: Hide/Seek Curators Speak at the New York Public Library". WNYC Culture. Archived from the original on April 27, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- Rosenbaum, Lee (December 21, 2010). ""Don't Ask, Don't Tell": A Useful Policy for the "Hide/Seek" Show at National Portrait Gallery". The Huffington Post.
- Wallin, Yasha (December 21, 2010). "Hide/Seek Protest in New York". Art in America. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- "Hundreds in NYC Protest Hide/Seek Censorship". Band of Thebes. December 20, 2010. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- Kennicott, Philip (December 16, 2010). "Video outcry flares anew". The Washington Post.
- "Large crowd of Houston art lovers protest Smithsonian censorship of A Fire in My Belly". CultureMap Houston. December 15, 2010. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- "Hide/Seek – An evening with David C. Ward Historian, National Portrait Gallery; Curator, Hide/Seek". The Theater J Blog. December 16, 2010. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- "PAST: Special Talk "hide/SPEAK" with David C. Ward, Curator of "Hide/Seek" exhibit at the NPG". Free in DC. November 20, 2010. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- "Hide/Seek: National Portrait Gallery Tour with NPG Curator David C. Ward". Washington DC Jewish Community Center. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- "Center for the Study of Political Graphics". Politicalgraphics.org. September 8, 2011. Archived from the original on August 18, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- "Critic's Notebook: Smithsonian chief digging a deeper hole". Los Angeles Times. January 18, 2011.
- "Protest over art censorship will greet Smithsonian chief before L.A. talk Thursday". Los Angeles Times. January 19, 2011.
- Trescott, Jacqueline (January 19, 2011). "Smithsonian Secretary Clough stands by decision to pull 'Fire in My Belly' video". The Washington Post.
- Judkis, Maura (January 20, 2011). "Portrait Gallery Censorship: Smithsonian secretary speaks". @TBD Arts. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- "Clough Gets Testy at "Hide/Seek" Conference (Call Martin Sullivan!)". Arts Journal. April 27, 2011. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- "Public Forum "Flashpoints and Fault Lines: Museum Curation and Controversy" April 26–27". Smithsonian Newsdesk. April 28, 2011. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- Zongker, Brett (April 27, 2011). "Experts debate Smithsonian's response to critics". The Washington Times. Associated Press. Retrieved April 24, 2016.
- Rooney, Kara L. (April 2011). "David Wojnarowicz: Spirituality". The Brooklyn Rail.
- "David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night". Whitney Museum of American Art. Retrieved April 24, 2016.
- Thom James (August 19, 2018) http://thequietus.com/articles/25153-david-wojnarowicz-history-keeps-me-awake-at-night-retrospective-whitney-review'.
- "U2 and buffalo photograph | The Pop History Dig". www.pophistorydig.com. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
- "THE BUFFALO JUMP". ANTIQUES FOR THE AGES. November 13, 2014. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
- "Critic's Notebook: Why the Ashes of AIDS Victims on the White House Lawn Matter". VICE News. August 29, 2016.
- "[United in Anger: A History of ACT UP], a film by Jim Hubbard". Interview with David Robinson. August 29, 2016.
- Oler, Tammy (October 31, 2019). "57 Champions of Queer Feminism, All Name-Dropped in One Impossibly Catchy Song". Slate Magazine.
- Hot Topic on LeTigreWorld's official YouTube channel (2:33-2:35)
- Moreland, Quinn (August 2, 2021). "Step Into the Inscrutable World of Mega Bog". Pitchfork. Retrieved August 10, 2021.
- "Dan Levy explains powerful meaning behind his unique Met Gala look".
- "David Wojnarowicz Exhibition History". New York University Artist Archives - David Wojnarowicz Knowedge Base. July 2018. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
- Aputheatre poster: Close to the Knives Archived February 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine;
- P.P.O.W Gallery New York, Estate of David Wojnarowicz
- NYU's Fales Library and Special Collections Guide to the David Wojnarowicz Papers
- NYU's Fales Library and Special Collections Guide to the John Hall Papers-contain letters from Wojnarowicz
- David Wojnarowicz by Dan Cameron and Dennis Szakacs
- David Wojnarowicz Reading
- David Wojnarowicz & Doug Bressler: (1984) "American Dreamtime" published at Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine
- NYU's Fales Library and Special Collections Guide to the David Wojnarowicz—Janine Pommy-Vega Letters
- Huffington Post analysis of the Smithsonian Wojnarowicz controversy*
- David Wojnarowicz Journals: Years Ago Before the Nation went Bankrupt
- David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992) ubu.com
- "Outlaw Documentary:David Wojnarowicz's Queer Cinematics, Kinerotics, Autothanatographics" by Dianne Chisholm. Canadian Review of Contemporary Literature 21.1 & 2, 1994
- David Wojnarowicz Knowledge Base