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Art Break: The Art of David Wojnarowicz on View at the Whitney, NYU and PPOW

By A. E. Colas, Contributing Writer, July 9, 2018

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember how much fear and unknowing there was at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. How the medical profession began to realize there was a new deadly disease that had a rapid and vicious timeline of destruction. How rumors and lies circulated: about people, about contracting the illness, about treating the sick, even about what a government employee would write on a death certificate. The disbelief, the anger at social and political figures, and finally, the activism, have faded from our collective memory.

But art made at that time ensures that we won’t entirely forget. The Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition of David Wojnarowicz is not a time capsule but a primer on how to be an activist artist; using anything and everything to call out people and institutions that would ignore injustice, suppress the voices raised in protest, and turn away from human suffering.

The sheer volume of the work on view in this retrospective can be overwhelming so before heading to The Whitney show, visit The Mamdouha S. Bobst Gallery at NYU and PPOW in Chelsea for two interesting takes on aspects of Wojnarowicz’s influences and lesser known works. They provide valuable insights into his methods and thinking, making The Whitney show even more powerful.


Nobuyoshi Araki: Untitled (Flower Cemetery) (2017); C-Print; 43.3 x 55.1 inches (110 x 140 cm); courtesy the artist and Anton Kern Gallery, New York.

Anton Kern Gallery: Nobuyoshi Araki: I, Photography (July 11 – August 31) displays selections from four series of the artist’s career. Besides images of nature and still lifes, the gallery will be showing the explicit and violent photographs of women that gained Araki notoriety. In this age of #MeToo these pictures, their models, and the history of their creation are due for a reassessment by the public and the art world.

Nobuyoshi Araki: Untitled (Lovers Allure) (2008); acrylic paint on silver gelatin print; 21.9 x 18 inches (55.6 x 45.6 cm); courtesy the artist and Anton Kern Gallery, New York.

Anton Kern Gallery
16 East 55th Street
Hours: Tue – Sat: 10-6
Admission: Free


Laurel Sparks: STRING FIGURE (2018); poured gesoo, acrylic, ink, crayon, paper mache, ash, glitter, jingle bells, mirrors, cut holes, collage, yarn on canvas; 54 x 54 inches, 137.2 x 137.2 centimeters; photo: Paul Takeuchi; courtesy Kate Werble Gallery / Cheim & Read.

Cheim & Read: All over the moon: Laurel Sparks, Lily Stockman, Richard Tinkler, Curated by Jack Pierson (July 12 – August 30) is a group show of abstract art featuring beautiful color choices with a wide variety of mediums. Take your time in each room to fully absorb each artist’s technique and practice, it’s worth the effort.

Richard Tinkler: PAINTING 31C (2016); oil on canvas; 40 x 30 inches, 101.6 x 76.2 centimeters; courtesy 56 HENRY / Cheim & Read.

Cheim & Read
547 West 25th Street
Hours: Tue – Sat: 10-6
Admission: Free


David Wojnarowicz: Untitled (One day this kid . . .) (1990); photostat, 30 × 40 1/8 in. (76.2 × 101.9 cm); edition of 10; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchased with funds from the Print Committee 2002.183; courtesy of The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York, NY.

The Whitney: David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night (July 13 – September 30) presents an exhilarating overview of this prolific American artist. Displaying work from nearly every genre in art, the exhibition explores and discusses Wojnarowicz’s personal history and activism in the early years of the AIDS crisis, as well as his influences from and on the New York art scene of the 80s and 90s.

David Wojnarowicz: Untitled (Green Head) (1982); acrylic on masonite; 48 × 96 in. (121.9 × 243.8 cm); collection of Hal Bromm and Doneley Meris; Image courtesy of the Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W., New York; courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
Hours: Wed – Thurs: 10:30-6, Fri – Sat: 10:30-10, Sun – Mon: 10:30-6
Admission: Adults: $25, Seniors: $18, Students with current ID: $18, Children under 18 years of age, accompanied by an adult: Free; on Fridays between 7-9:30pm, admission is pay-what-you-wish


Two smaller but fascinating shows about Wojnarowicz are opening at the same time as The Whitney’s exhibition; they are:

Installation view of David Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (Burning Boy Installation) (1985); commission at Robert and Adriana Mnuchin’s Madison Avenue Townhouse, NYC; courtesy of the Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W

PPOW: Soon All This Will Be Picturesque Ruins: The Installations of David Wojnarowicz (July 12 – August 24) takes on the difficult job of recreating the artist’s installations from the 1980s and ‘90s. This aspect of Wojnarowicz’s work is less known to the public and gives valuable insight into his evolution as an artistic force in New York and the world.

535 West 22nd Street
Hours: Mon – Fri: 10-6 (summer hours)
Admission: Free


From the David Wojnarowicz Papers, Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University.

NYU Library: The Unflinching Eye: The Symbols of David Wojnarowicz (July 12 – October 12) As intricate and puzzling as any medieval manuscript, the images and assigned meanings of Wojnarowicz’s art are fascinating for scholars and art lovers alike. Curator Hugh Ryan unpacks masses of archival material from NYU’s collection to explain some of the ideas and forces that molded this artist (including ‘The Magic Box‘; Hugh Ryan’s feature on ‘The Magic Box’). Also of note, various journals have been digitized and are publicly accessible via the finding aid for the Wojnarowicz Papers.

From the David Wojnarowicz Papers, Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University.

Fales Library (part of the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library), The Mamdouha S. Bobst Gallery
70 Washington Square South, west side of the Floor 1 Atrium
Hours: Mon – Fri: 10-4:45 (summer hours)
Admission: Free

From the David Wojnarowicz Papers, Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University.


Cover: David Wojnarowicz with Tom Warren: ‘Self-Portrait of David Wojnarowicz’ (1983–84); acrylic and collaged paper on gelatin silver print; 60 × 40 in. (152.4 × 101.6 cm); collection of Brooke Garber Neidich and Daniel Neidich; photo: Ron Amstutz; courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art.


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