David Wojnarowicz

Fear of Monkeys/Evolution

Not on view



Acrylic and opaque watercolor on cut papers

Overall: 24 1/4 × 29 5/16in. (61.6 × 74.5 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Gift of Steven Johnson and Walter Sudol

Rights and reproductions
© The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York


  • Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s

    David Wojnarowicz, Fear of Monkeys/Evolution, 1988

    David Wojnarowicz, Fear of Monkeys/Evolution, 1988


    Narrator: A human hand roughly grasps a monkey, whose limbs flail and eyes bulge in alarm. Sperm swims about, their forms cut from maps and collaged onto the composition’s surface. There’s a clock without hands, and a solitary gear with no mechanism to lock into. The manufactured, or, as the artist called it, “the pre-invented world,” is not to be trusted. 

    David Wojnarowicz called this work Fear of Monkeys/Evolution. When he made it, the AIDS crisis had already ravaged New York’s art community. He received his own diagnosis that same year. This composition responds to the crisis both with its furious intensity and with its symbolic imagery. The monkey points both to  the possible origin of the HIV virus. The motionless clock hints at mortality. The sperm shapes suggest both desire and contagion. 

    The year after making this composition, Wojnarowicz explained the impulse behind his work: “My paintings are my own written versions of history, which I don’t look at as being linear. I don’t obey the time elements of history or space and distance or whatever; I fuse them all together. For me, it gives me strength to make things, it gives me strength to offer proof of my existence in this form. I think anybody who is impoverished in any way, whether physically or psychically, tends to want to build rather than destroy.”

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