1954 - 1992 · United States
David Wojnarowicz was a painted, 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 in 1954. The product of an extremely difficult childhood brought on by an abusive family life and an emerging sense of his own homosexuality, Wojnarowicz dropped out of high school and was living on the streets by the age of sixteen. He turned to hustling in Times Square. After hitchhiking many times across the U.S. and living for several months in San Francisco and Paris, he settled in New York's East Village in 1978.
Many of Wojnarowicz' works incorporate outsider experiences drawn from his personal history and from stories he heard from the people he met in bus stations and truck stops while hitchhiking. By the late 1970s he had, in his own words, "started developing ideas of making and preserving an authentic version of history in the form of images/writings/objects that would contest state-supported forms of 'history.'" In such diverse works as Sounds in the Distance (1982), a collection of monologues from "people who lived and worked in the streets" and The Weight of the Earth, Part I & II (1988), an arrangement of black-and-white photographs taken during his travels and life in New York, Wojnarowicz continually returned to the personal voices of individuals stigmatized by society.
A member of the first wave of East Village artists, Wojnarowicz began showing his work during the early 1980s in such now-legendary spaces as Civilian Warfare, Club 57, Gracie Mansion, Fashion Moda, and the Limbo Lounge. He gained prominence through his inclusion in the 1985 Whitney Biennial, and was soon showing in numerous museum and gallery exhibitions throughout the United States, Europe and Latin America.
In the late 1980s, after he was diagnosed with AIDS, Wojnarowicz' art took on a sharply political edge, and soon he was entangled in highly public debates about medical research and funding, morality and censorship in the arts, and the legal rights of artists. Wojnarowicz challenged the nature of pubic arts funding at the National Endowment for the Arts, and initiated litigation against the American Family Association of Tupelo, Mississippi, an anti-pornography political action group that Wojnarowicz accused of misrepresenting his art and damaging his reputation. He won the lawsuit.
Wojnarowicz died of AIDS-related illness in New York City in 1992, at the age of 37. He is the author of five books. His artwork is in numerous private and public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Estate of David Wojnarowicz represented by PPOW.