David Wojnarowicz 2

A Review of David Wojnarowicz’ work at the Whitney Museum of (North) American Art in 2018:

 

  History Keeps Me Awake at Night

 

 

The American artist, David Wojnarowicz, 1954-1992, died at the age of 37 of complications of the AIDS with which he had been diagnosed in 1987.

 

AIDS was first identified in 1981.  But it was not mentioned in public until 1985 by the then president of the United States, Ronald Reagan. 

He and his government had cast this disease, a death-bearing sickness, in moral terms. 

The political (electoral) calculations of this government, justified by a Christ-less ‘Christianity’, allowed people – primarily men in the United States –  who contracted AIDS to sicken and die.

 

By the end of 1985 when Ronald Reagan first mentioned the word ‘AIDS’, 3766  women and (mostly) men had died in New York of AIDS-related complications. That was just in New York.

 

David Wojnarowicz, his community, and then a growing number of others also, fought a heroic fight and were foremost among those whose efforts – work, organized care for their community, advocacy – in time reversed this death-dealing policy on the part of an elected government. 

 

At the cost of their lives. 

 

 

 

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Self-portrait of David Wojnarowicz, 1983-84; acrylic and collaged paper on gelatin silver print.  Private collection on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018

 

 

David Wojnarowicz’ ashes were scattered in 1996 on the grounds of the White House in Washington, DC. 

Premier symbolic ground of the Republic reclaimed as his.  Also his. Belonging also to all those whom the Republic had left to die.

  

 

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Detail of self-portrait of David Wojnarowicz, 1983-84; acrylic and collaged paper on gelatin silver print.  Private collection on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018

 

 

 

Despite large and positive changes in the status and rights of the gay community, it continues to be targeted for unequal treatment.

 

 

 

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Detail of Self-portrait of David Wojnarowicz, 1983-84; acrylic and collaged paper on gelatin silver print.  Private collection on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018

 

 

 

The targeting of minority populations for unequal treatment in many spheres of life to result in all kinds of grief, and pain and death continues.

 

As does the never-ending fight exemplified by the unstinting and intelligent war fought, battle after battle, by DaviWojnarowicz and his community, vulnerable and on the margins though they were always.

 

 

 

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History Keeps Me Awake At Night (For Rielo Chmielorz), 1986, acrylic, spray-paint and collaged paper on composition board.  Private loan to the Whitney Museum of Art, NY in 2018.

 

The Whitney’s description of this painting:

  ‘A dystopic vision of American life.  Presenting simulated American currency and bureaucratic emblems alongside symbols of crime, monstrosity and chaos, the painting’s threatening imagery runs counter to the apparently placid sleep of the man below.

‘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 historic ones.’

 

 

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Das Rheingold: New York Schism, 1987; acrylic and collaged paper on board.  Whitney Museum, NY

The museum notes that this is a portrayal of capitalism and violence.  The story of Das Rheingold, in which a ruler with a magical ring will gain the power to rule the world if he renounced love, took on new meaning at a time when artists were joining ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) to detail the mismanagement of and the money-making from the AIDS epidemic.

 

 

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The Death of American Spirituality, 1987; spray paint, acrylic and collage on plyboard, two panels.  Private collection on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018.

The museum notes recurring symbols of the artist’s work. Over time, destruction profilerates alongside technological advancement and geographical expansion.

 

 

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The Birth of Language II, 1986; acrylic, spray paint and collaged paper on wood.  Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum of Art, NY in 2018

 

 

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A Worker, 1986, acrylic, spray paint and collaged paper on wood.  Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum in 2018

 

 

 

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Queer Basher/Icarus Falling, 1986; spray paint and acrylic on board.  The Art Institute of Chicago on loan to the Whitney Museum in 2018

 

 

 

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Evolution, oil on board, 1987.  Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2018

 

 

 

The Four Seasons

 

 

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Wind (for Peter Hujar), 1987; acrylic and collaged paper on composition board, two panels. Private collection on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018.

The musuem notes that this was the most personal of the four tableaux which the artist dedicated to the themes of earth, wind, water and fire. A red line connects a baby (based on a photograph of his newborn nephew) to a paratrooper.  The artist’s self-portrait is behind this.  The bird’s wing in the upper left of the painting is based on a favourite of Peter Hujar: a 1512 drawing of Alberecht Durer.  The artist had a likeness carved also onto his friend’s tombstone.

Peter Hujar died two months after this painting was completed.  ‘He sees me, I know he sees me.  He’s in the wind in the air all around me,’ the artist’s journal noted.

 

 

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Water, 1987, acrylic, ink and collaged paper on composition board, two panels. Private collection on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018

 

 

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Earth, 1987, acrylic and collaged paper on wood, two panels.  MOMA, NY on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018

 

 

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Fire, 1987, acrylic and collaged paper on wood, two panels. MOMA, NY on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018

 

 

 

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Untitled, 1987 (printed 1988), gelatin silver prints.  Whitney Museum of American Art, NY

Spoken and written words of the artist to condemn the mismanagement of the AIDS epidemic and the money-making on the part of the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of those in need.

 

 

 

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Untitled (ACT-UP), 1990, screenprint in two parts.  Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.

The artist and his community were active with ACT-UP; making art, demonstrating, speaking, writing.

 

 

 

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Childhood, 1988, acrylic, watercolour and collaged paper on canvas.  Private collection on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018

 

 

 

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Bad Moon Rising, 1989, four gelatin silver prints,  acrylic, string and collage on composition board.  Private collection on loan to the Whitney Museum, NY in 2018.

This work is a response to the artist’s own diagnosis of AIDS.

 

 

 

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The artist uses flowers to allude to the fragility of the body, to illness,  to loss, and to our continuing need for beauty

 

 

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Americans Can’t Deal with Death, 1990, two gelatin silver prints, acrylic, string and screenprint on composition board.  Private collection on loan to the Whitney, NY

 

 

 

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The artist uses flowers to allude to the fragility of the body, to illness,  to loss, and to our continuing need for beauty

 

 

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We Are Born into a Preinvented Existence, 1990, two gelatin silver prints, chromogenic print, acrylic, string and screenprint on composition board.  Private collection on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018

 

 

 

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Something from Sleep IV (Dream), 1988-89; gelatin silver print, acrylic and collaged paper on composition board.  Private collecton on loan to the Whitney, NY in 2018

 

 

 

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Untitled (Face in Dirt),  gelatin silver print, 1991, printed 1993.  Private collection loaned to the Whitney, NY in 2018.

This phtograph was taken at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico when the artist was travelling with a friend in May 1991.  He had been there before and knew that he wanted this photo in this pose and the two of them so arranged it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “David Wojnarowicz 2

    1. I wish I could have posted the artist’s photographs also; but there was too much light reflection in the galleries. They also are moving!

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