David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night

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"In no uncertain terms, David Wojnarowicz was the first artist that made me think that I could also be an artist."
—Emily Roysdon

Hear from artists, curators, and scholars about selected works from the exhibition. Read the condensed and edited interview with Nan Goldin about her friendship with David Wojnarowicz and the exhibition she curated at Artists Space in 1989.

550—David Wojnarowicz with Tom Warren, Self-Portrait of David Wojnarowicz, 1983–84

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Portrait of a man with paint and collage.

Narrator: Welcome to David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night. The exhibition begins with a self-portrait by the artist.

David Breslin: Half his face is made up of maps, there is this tattoo of a globe on his arm, clocks streaming up his forearm, this running man that he used in some of his early stencils. 

Narrator: David Breslin is the DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection, and one of the curators of this exhibition. 

David Breslin: We thought this would be a great way to begin the show because this is both an exhibition that explores how he made art, but also how he performed himself through the art.

Narrator: When you’re ready, take a look around the first gallery of the exhibition. 

David Wojnarowicz: I never really see myself as a photographer, I don't see myself as a filmmaker, I don't see myself as an artist, yet I know I'm an artist. 

Narrator: The artist, speaking in 1988. 

David Wojnarowicz: I know that I'm compelled to make things. It's a compulsion to make things and make sense of my life. It makes me feel relieved about the experience of living, of the experience of the world, of the experience of all this pre-invented shit. 

Narrator: Wojnarowicz was born in 1954. His early home life was unstable. He escaped to New York, living on the streets and supporting himself briefly as a sex worker. A short stint in an arts high school made a big impact on him. But his art flowed from many sources. He was influenced by books and travel, and by intense friendships with East Village artists. He had a radical queer outlook on the world, and a powerful sense of right and wrong. By the end of the 1980s, like many others in New York’s gay community, Wojnarowicz was living with HIV. He became a vocal AIDS activist, channeling his furious mix of ethics and aesthetics into one of the most difficult crises of our time. 


Details

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, Photograph by Ron Amstutz.