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From the Beginning. Shaw, Ken Berman, and Christopher Parr. William Downs. Installation shot. Mixed media and ink wash on found folders hung in a grid of 64, 18 x 15 inch folders. Courtesy of the artist and Sandler Hudson Gallery. Courtesy of the Zuckerman Museum of Art. Photos by Mike Jensen. Katz, director of the Visual Studies Doctoral Program at the State University of New York, Buffalo, this multimedia exhibition surveys artistic responses to AIDS from the early s to the present day and features over one hundred artists.
While the show is ambitious in the sheer number of works involved and in its notable inclusion of lesser-known artists alongside more familiar figures, such as Keith Haring, Kiki Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Glenn Ligon, the opening exhibition rightfully received criticism for its lack of racial diversity. Critics decried that only 5 out of artists in the initial Tacoma show were artists of color and among them, only one, Kia Labeija, is a woman.
These dual goals are not mutually exclusive, but achieving both requires recognizing artists and activists outside the historically white and predominantly male American artistic canon as well as asking self-reflective questions regarding who gets to tell the history of AIDS.
Whose narratives dominate our cultural imaginary, and why? How do museums, archives, and other institutions show the silencing of AIDS without further silencing? This local history, which the ZMA highlights throughout its atrium, imbues the show with much-needed context beyond the museum walls. The ZMA also commissioned a short film featuring Labeija and curator Sur Rodney Sur , who discuss their experiences of racism in the arts.
Adding these elements does not undo decades of discrimination within arts institutions, but it does foster much-needed dialogue between museums and the communities they serve or should be serving. Works of art in the exhibition similarly convey the power of collective action and the persistence of community, friendship, and humor in the face of homophobia, erasure, and unthinkable loss.
The show is not overtly thematic, though there are clear semblances in thoughtfully placed pairings and groupings. The leather is shroud-like, a relic whose variegated patina is the result of residual sweat from thousands of gym goers, many of whom perished from AIDS. This summer, the most complete presentation to date of the work of artist, writer, and activist David Wojnarowicz will be on view in a full-scale retrospective organised by the Whitney Museum of American Art.
David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night is the first major re-evaluation since of one of the most fervent and essential voices of his generation. Beginning in the late s, David Wojnarowicz created a body of work that spanned photography, painting, music, film, sculpture, writing, performance, and activism.
Joining a lineage of iconoclasts, Wojnarowicz pronounced Voyna-ROW-vich saw the outsider as his true subject. His mature period began with a series of photographs and collages that honoured — and placed himself among — consummate countercultural figures like Arthur Rimbaud, William Burroughs, and Jean Genet. Even as he became well-known in the East Village art scene for his mythological paintings, Wojnarowicz remained committed to writing personal essays. Queer and HIV-positive, Wojnarowicz became an impassioned advocate for people with AIDS at a time when an inconceivable number of friends, lovers, and strangers — disproportionately gay men — were dying from the disease and from government inaction.
This retrospective will enable so many to confront for the first time, or anew, the groundbreaking multidisciplinary body of work on which his legacy actually stands. Largely self-taught, Wojnarowicz came to prominence in New York in the s, a period marked by great creative energy and profound cultural changes.
Intersecting movements — graffiti, new and no wave music, conceptual photography, performance, neo-expressionist painting — made New York a laboratory for innovation. Unlike many artists, Wojnarowicz refused a signature style, adopting a wide variety of techniques with an attitude of radical possibility. Distrustful of inherited structures, a feeling amplified by the resurgence of conservative politics, Wojnarowicz varied his repertoire to better infiltrate the culture.
Wojnarowicz was a poet before he was a visual artist. He became, in the s, a figure in the East Village art scene, showing his paintings, photographs, and installations at galleries like Civilian Warfare, Gracie Mansion, and P. During a time when AIDS was ravaging the artistic community of New York, Wojnarowicz emerged as a powerful activist and advocate for the rights of people with AIDS and the queer community, becoming deeply entangled in the culture wars.
His essay for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing curated by Nan Goldin at Artists Space in came under fire for its vitriolic attack on politicians and leaders who were preventing AIDS treatment and awareness.
The National Endowment for the Arts NEA threatened to defund the exhibition, and Wojnarowicz fought against this and for the first amendment rights of artists. Also on view will be the original Rimbaud mask the artist had his friends wear to pose for the photographs. These show him developing an iconographic language that he also used on the walls of the abandoned piers on the Hudson River and would figure in the more complex studio paintings that characterise his art later in the decade.
An important group of spray and collage paintings in focus on an image of the artist Peter Hujar, his great friend and mentor. His masterful suite of four paintings from , each named for one of the four elements, will be shown in their own gallery both to emphasise the centrality of painting and image-making during this moment and to mark the beginning of a period of mourning, rage, and action both aesthetic and activist marked by the death of Hujar and others to AIDS-related complications.
His never-completed film, Fire in My Belly, will be shown among other unfinished film work that later would become the source for much of his photographic work from the Ant Series, The Weight of the World, and Spirituality for Paul Thek. A gallery will be devoted to a recording of Wojnarowicz reading from his own writings in at The Drawing Center in Soho.
Photograph by Ron Amstutz. After hitchhiking across the U. He was included in the and Whitney Biennials, and was shown in numerous museum and gallery exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe. Wojnarowicz was the author of a number of books, including Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration Wojnarowicz, who aspired to be a writer in the s, immersed himself in the work of William S.
Burroughs and Jean Genet — two collages here feature them — but he felt a particular kinship to the iconoclastic nineteenth-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud. In the summer of , just back from a stay in Paris with his sister, the twenty-four-year-old Wojnarowicz photographed three of his friends roaming the streets of New York wearing life-size masks of Rimbaud.
Using a borrowed camera, Wojnarowicz staged the images in places important to his own story: the subway, Times Square, Coney Island, all-night diners, the Hudson River piers, and the loading docks in the Meatpacking District, just steps away from the Whitney Museum. Born one hundred years, almost to the month, before Wojnarowicz, Rimbaud rejected established categories and wanted to create new and sensuous ways to participate in the world.
W, New York. At the same time as he conceived the Rimbaud series, Wojnarowicz created homages to other personal heroes, including Jean Genet , the French novelist, poet, and political activist. Genet resonated with Wojnarowicz for his erotic vision of the universe, his embrace of the outsider, and his frank writing on gay sex. When later criticised by religious conservatives, Wojnarowicz explained that he saw drug addiction as a contemporary struggle that an empathetic Christ would identify with and forgive.
In the early s Wojnarowicz had no real income. He scavenged materials like supermarket posters and trashcan lids as well as cheap printed materials available in his Lower East Side neighborhood. Incorporating them in his art, Wojnarowicz found radical possibilities in these discarded, forgotten artefacts and in the city itself. He embraced the abandoned piers on the Hudson River, particularly Pier 34 just off Canal Street, for the freedom they offered.
He cruised for sex there, and he also wrote and made art on site. He appreciated their proximity to nature and the solitude he could find there. Wojnarowicz began using stencils out of necessity. He was a member of the band, 3 Teens Kill 4, whose album, No Motive, can be played on the website. He produced posters for their shows, and to prevent their removal started making templates to spray-paint his designs on buildings, walls, and sidewalks.
These images — the burning house, a falling man, a map outline of the continental United States, a dive-bombing aircraft, a dancing figure — became signature elements in his visual vocabulary, creating an iconography of crisis and vulnerability. For him, using found objects, working at the abandoned piers for an audience of friends and strangers, and creating a language of his own were ways to shatter the illusion of the pre-invented world and make his own reality.
David Wojnarowicz Untitled Falling man and map of the U. Gallery, New York. Image courtesy Raymond J. Learsy Photo: Brian Wilcox. Its title comes from a scrap of paper containing a homophobic slur that Wojnarowicz found and affixed below the central image of two men kissing. Made with one of his stencils, these anonymous men are archetypes, stand-ins for a multitude of personal stories.
Using photographs taken at the piers and in an abandoned building on Avenue B, Wojnarowicz also includes himself and his friends John Hall and Brian Butterick in this constellation. For his exhibition at the East Village gallery Civilian Warfare in May , Wojnarowicz created a group of cast-plaster heads that he individualised by applying torn maps and paint.
The specter of torture, disappearance, and human-rights abuses cast a shadow over all of the Americas. Wojnarowicz met Peter Hujar in They were briefly lovers, but the relationship soon transitioned and intensified into a friendship that defied categorisation. The two frequently made artworks using the other as subject.
At the time of their meeting, Wojnarowicz was still finding his way. It was Hujar who convinced him that he was an artist and, specifically, encouraged him to paint — something Wojnarowicz had never done. In this painting from , Wojnarowicz composes a meditation on male desire. His friend and mentor Peter Hujar stretches across the bottom, reclining with his eyes closed, apparently dreaming the scene above. The torso of the Christian martyr — young, statuesque, and pierced with arrows — rises above, a glowing aura linking him to the night sky and offering him up as an icon of queerness.
This photograph of Wojnarowicz with his head bowed appeared on the cover of the June 28, , edition of The Village Voice. Should I travel to have sex? Should I look for lesions before I leap? In the mids Wojnarowicz began to incorporate his disparate signs and symbols into complex paintings. A fierce critic of a society he saw degrading the environment and ostracising the outsider, Wojnarowicz made compositions that were dense with markers of industrial and colonised life.
These include railroad tracks and highways, sprawling cities and factory buildings, maps and currency, nuclear power diagrams and crumbling monuments. Interspersed among them are symbols that he connected to fragility, such as blood cells, animals and insects, and the natural world. Wojnarowicz used these depictions as metaphors for a culture that devalues the lives of those on the periphery of mainstream culture.
Axelrod Photo: Ron Cowie. If the painting is about fear, perhaps the fear of staring down AIDS, Wojnarowicz presents it as an endemic condition in which new fears are built upon historical ones. With its radically juxtaposed motifs that suggest different temporalities — from geologic landforms to emblems of the American West and the Industrial Revolution — the mythical tableau depicts destruction proliferating alongside technological advancement and geographic conquest.
Wojnarowicz filmed constantly during this period, bringing his Super 8 camera with him on his frequent travels. This footage includes fire ants climbing on objects such as clocks, currency, and a crucifix that Wojnarowicz brought with him. He began to edit the Mexican footage into a film entitled A Fire in My Belly, but it was never finished. Ravenous for the world and its offerings, Wojnarowicz used film as form of second sight, a visual notebook, and a record for us to see the world — at least in ashes — as he did.
David Wojnarowicz Unfinished Film A Fire in My Belly Super 8 film transferred to digital video, black-and-white and colour, silent; min. By linking his contemporary moment to a historical subject, he claims a lineage for his work as he suggests the particularity — and particular violence — of his time. Wojnarowicz, in his only painted self-portrait, stands behind.
David Wojnarowicz Fire Acrylic and collaged paper on wood, two panels 72 x 96 in. The transcript on the website is text from audio recordings of Wojnarowicz reading his own work in at the Drawing Center, New York, at a benefit for Needle Exchange. He asked the others who were there to leave so that he could film and photograph his friend for the last time.
He sued for copyright infringement and won. The searing essay he contributed to the catalogue for Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing, an exhibition curated by artist Nan Goldin in , triggered the NEA to withdraw its funding. Phil Zwickler b. The grant was later partially reinstated, but with the stipulation that no money was to be used to support the catalogue. Zwickler filmed Wojnarowicz while the controversy was unfolding. The nine photographs at the centre of the painting are of Peter Hujar, taken shortly after his death.
Williams Photo: Michael Tropea. Wojnarowicz often presented a series of photographs as a single composition, as he does with Spirituality For Paul Thek. This method allows the images to retain their singularity as they merge into one entity, and to serve as potent metaphors for the role — and importance — of the individual in the larger society.
He wanted to stage an image that suggested the eternal conflict between nature and man-made culture. Foundation, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc. It was so overwhelming and there was this huge backlash about sex, even within the activist community… And it essentially came out of wanting some sexy images on the wall — for me. To keep me company. To make me feel better. In the lead-up to the exhibition, he began work on the four large-scale paintings of exotic flowers.
Equating the beauty of the body with its very fragility, Wojnarowicz uses the flower as an allusion to the AIDS crisis, his own illness, and a continuum of loss. Importantly, the flower also suggests the possibility and necessity of beauty. I felt detached — my work was so subtle and abstract, so apolitical on the surface. Through compositions like these Wojnarowicz sought to create a language out of images. The will to make bodies present — the compulsion to clear a space for queer representations not commonly seen through language and image — was threaded throughout his work, exacerbated by the AIDS crisis, and crystallised in his work.
The text that surrounds him projects the child into a future scarred by abuse and homophobia. This artwork, like many by Wojnarowicz, has rightly come to embody the spirit of protest, struggle, and resistance. Wojnarowicz died on July 22, In , in response to the controversy regarding his essay for the Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing catalogue, Wojnarowicz drafted a press release that included a description of Helms as one of seven particularly bad actors in the fight against AIDS.
It read, in part:.
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