David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night
Jul 13–Sep 30, 2018


Largely self-taught, David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992) came to prominence as an artist in New York City in the 1980s, a period marked by creative energy, financial precariousness, and profound cultural changes. Intersecting movements—including graffiti, new and no wave music, conceptual photography, performance, neo-expressionist painting—made New York a laboratory for innovation. Wojnarowicz refused a signature style, adopting a wide variety of techniques with an attitude of radical possibility. Beginning in the late 1970s, he created a body of work that spanned photography, painting, music, film, sculpture, writing, and activism. Distrustful of inherited structures—a feeling amplified by the resurgence of conservative politics—he varied his repertoire to better infiltrate the prevailing culture. 

Wojnarowicz saw the outsider as his true subject. Queer and HIV-positive, he was an impassioned advocate for people with AIDS as an inconceivable number of friends, lovers, and strangers—disproportionately gay men—died from government inaction. Wojnarowicz himself died from AIDS-related complications at the age of thirty-seven. However, Wojnarowicz’s work is too frequently treated as a footnote to a desperate period of American history: the AIDS crisis and culture wars. His true place is among the raging and haunting iconoclastic artists who have explored American myths, their perpetuation, their repercussions, and their violence.

This exhibition is co-curated by David Kiehl, Curator Emeritus, and David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection.

Major Support for David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night is provided by the Ford Foundation; The Thompson Family Foundation, Inc.; and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Significant support is provided by The Keith Haring Foundation Exhibition Fund, Brooke and Daniel Neidich, the Trellis Fund, and the Whitney’s National Committee.

Generous support is provided by Philip Aarons and Shelley Fox Aarons, Susan and John Hess, Nancy and Fred Poses, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and Fern and Lenard Tessler.

Additional support is provided by the Daniel W. Dietrich II Foundation.