David Wojnarowicz



David Wojnarowicz ( September 14, 1954 – July 22, 1992) was a painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, and activist who was prominent in the New York City art world of the 1980s. Wojnarowicz was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, and later lived with his mother in New York City, where he attended the High School of Performing Arts for a brief period. From 1970 until 1973, after dropping out of school, he for a time lived on the streets of New York City prostituting himself and also worked as a farmer on the Canadian border.

Upon returning to New York City, he went through a particularly prolific period for his artwork from the late 1970s through the 1980s. During this time, 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. Wojnarowicz is also connected to other prolific artists of the time, appearing in or collaborating on works with artists like Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, Luis Frangella, Karen Finley, Kiki Smith, John Fekner, Richard Kern, James Romberger, Ben Neill and Phil Zwickler. In 1985, he was included in the Whitney Biennial, the so-called Graffiti Show. In the 1990s, he fought 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. Wojnarowicz' successful lawsuit represented a notable and affirmative step towards artists rights in the United States. Wojnarowicz died of AIDS-related complications on July 22, 1992, at the age of 37. His personal papers are part of the Downtown Collection held by the Fales Library at New York University. His 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 among others.

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)".Wojnarowicz has served as an inspiration to many artists; those that have credited him as an influence include: Zoe Leonard, Victoria Yee Howe, Matt Wolf, Emily Roysdon, Henrik Olesen, Mike Estabrook, and Carrie Mae Weems. In Spring  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.

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 (available online) 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, Rep. 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 Catholic. 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. The curator David C. Ward said: "It is not anti-religion or sacrilegious. It is a powerful use of imagery".