The Whitney is closed in preparation for the opening of our new building downtown in spring 2015.Explore the building
Support the Whitney
Become a founding member today.Join now
The work of art I chose was Untitled (One day this kid . . .), 1990, by David Wojnarowicz. It is a black and white image of an “all-American” young boy—perhaps about six or seven years old. It is actually a snapshot of the artist, smiling, wearing a checkered button-down shirt and suspenders. His hair is neatly groomed, freckles spot his face, and he has a slight overbite. He gives off an overwhelming sense of innocence and naïveté by the way he is smiling, as if for a school portrait. The picture is surrounded by words that tell his story. The fact that it is black and white, along with the boy’s clothing and overall appearance, give the image an older feel. However, the words that surround the picture are more modern, as if they came from a news article. The words describe the treatment that the boy will face from society—his family, school, church, government, and law enforcement—and the feelings he will experience in his future as a result. The reader is left wondering why all of this will happen to the boy, until the very end, when the artist reveals that he is gay.
I chose this work of art because of the message it sends and the perspective in which it puts our society. In my interpretation, the artist is trying to reveal the prejudices and punishments faced by people with different sexual orientations. The strength of the piece is achieved through its misleadingly simple juxtaposition of the innocent child with such harsh text. Through this approach, the artist is able to attract attention and make a big impact. The fact that this boy is probably no different from any other little boy serves to convey the message of how people like you and me, for the most part, are subject to isolation and foul treatment because of something as personal as sexual orientation. Moreover, Wojnarowicz is able to further the impression that the little boy and people like him don’t deserve the torment and pain they might suffer in their future. I know that this picture had a bigger impact on me than a grown man would have, because the little boy seems to have his whole life ahead of him, a life that might only be filled with pain and grief about something he can’t change.
Reading the text line by line creates an enormous amount of suspense. The artist’s use of the future tense—“One day this kid will. . .,"—allows us to witness what will happen, while knowing it has already happened. Wojnarowicz asks us to experience the aftermath of the violence described in the text, giving us the feeling that it is too late and we cannot change it.
While reading the text, I placed the little boy in the situations the artist wrote about. I imagined him being raped, tortured, shunned, and ridiculed, as both a small boy and a young man, cast away in disgrace by his family and friends, negatively judged by people who don’t even know him. Although these thoughts were depressing enough, I came to the realization that he is basically being punished for being himself. In turn, he would probably try—and fail many times—to change himself to fit into society’s mold, and maybe even commit suicide if all the injustices don’t kill him first. I think what we must understand is that “this kid” still looks at us today, only now he represents not just the innocent boy, but gay youth who have already confronted&mdashor will one day confront—the same list of abuses. As we face this image and the future beyond it, we must decide what we are going to do. Are we going to wait, and watch, and hope things will eventually get better, or will we do something to help gays thrive in a society that doesn’t accept them?