Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Neglected Important Artists, No. 38
David Wojnarowicz (September 14, 1954 - July 22, 1992) was an American painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, and AIDS activist prominent in the New York City art world.
Wojnarowicz was born in Red Bank, New Jersey , U.S.A. but later lived with his mother in New York City, where he attended the High School of Performing Arts for a brief period. A victim of childhood abuse, he lived for a time during his teenage years as a street hustler; he graduated from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan.
After a period outside of New York, he returned in the late 1970s, where he quickly emerged as one of the most prominent and prolific of an avant-garde wing that mixed media, made and used graffiti and street art; his first recognition came from stencils of houses afire that appeared on the exposed sides of buildings in the East Village. He made super-8 films, such as Heroin, began a photographic series of Arthur Rimbaud, did stencil work, played in a band called 3 Teens Kill 4, and exhibited his work in well-known East Village galleries, notably Civilian Warfare, Ground Zero Gallery NY, Public Illumination Picture Gallery, Gracie Mansion and Hal Bromm.
David Wojnarowicz in a Chair
Wojnarowicz was also connected to other prolific artists of the time, appearing in or collaborating on works with artists like Peter Hujar..For many years until Hujar's death from AIDS in 1987, he and Hujar were lovers. Hujar's death moved Wojnarowicz's work into much more explicit activism and political content, notably around the injustices, social and legal, inherent in the response to the AIDS epidemic.
In 1985, he was included in the Whitney Biennial, the so-called Graffiti Show. In the 1990s, he sued and successfully issued 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.
David Wojnarowicz's works include: Untitled (One Day This Kid...); Water; Birth of Language II; 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.
He was also the author of several successful books, often about political and social issues of the 1980s that related back to the AIDS epidemic. One of his bestsellers, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, is an autobiography made up of creative writings discussing topics from his troublesome childhood to becoming one of the most renowned artists in New York City of his time, to being diagnosed with AIDS himself. While his artwork was his main source of expression, he was able to use many other methods such as books like this one to speak to the public about important controversies of the time.
Wojnarowicz died in his Manhattan home on the night of July 22, 1992, from what his companion Tom Rauffenbart confirmed was AIDS. After his death, photographer and artist Zoe Leonard, who was a friend of Wojnarowicz, exhibited a work inspired by him, entitled Strange Fruit (for David).
In November, 2010, after consultation with Gallery director Martin Sullivan and co-curator David C. Ward but not with co-curator Jonathan David Katz,. G. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 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 after complaints from the Catholic League, Minority Leader John Boehner, Congressman 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.
Photos by David Wojnarowicz of Peter Hujar
Other Works by David Wojnarowicz