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

Beginning in the late 1970s, David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992) created a body of work that spanned photography, painting, music, film, sculpture, writing, and activism. Largely self-taught, he came to prominence in New York in the 1980s, a period marked by creative energy, financial precariousness, and profound cultural changes. Intersecting movements—graffiti, new and no wave music, conceptual photography, performance, and 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. 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 later diagnosed as HIV-positive, he became an impassioned advocate for people with AIDS when an inconceivable number of friends, lovers, and strangers were dying due to government inaction. Wojnarowicz’s work documents and illuminates a desperate period of American history: that of the AIDS crisis and culture wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s. But his rightful place is also among the raging and haunting iconoclastic voices, from Walt Whitman to William S. Burroughs, who explore American myths, their perpetuation, their repercussions, and their violence. Like theirs, his work deals directly with the timeless subjects of sex, spirituality, love, and loss. Wojnarowicz, who was thirty-seven when he died from AIDS-related complications, wrote: “To make the private into something public is an action that has terrific ramifications.”

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 James E. Cottrell and Joseph F. Lovett, the Daniel W. Dietrich II Foundation, and Gregory R. Miller and Michael Wiener.


RELATED EXHIBITIONS

Also open concurrently, The Unflinching Eye: The Symbols of David Wojnarowicz is on view at NYU's Mamdouha Bobst Gallery through September 30, 2018, and Soon All This Will be Picturesque Ruins: The Installations of David Wojnarowicz is on view at P.P.O.W through August 24, 2018.


Album: No Motive

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No Motive is an album recorded by 3 Teens Kill 4, a band that included David Wojnarowicz as well as Doug Bressler, Brian Butterick, Julie Hair, and Jesse Hultberg. By 1980, punk’s DIY aesthetic had permeated the East Village scene, and an increasing number of visual artists were experimenting with post-punk music. Wojnarowicz began exploring musical projects when he became a busboy at the nightclub Danceteria. The constant exposure to music—often performed by ad-hoc bands—prompted the artist and two friends to start their own group, naming it after a New York Post headline. Wojnarowicz did not play an instrument; he instead focused on captured sounds played from a handheld tape recorder. The low fi collaging of audio fragments contributed to the band’s distinctive sound. Though 3 Teens Kill 4 would continue in different configurations until 1987, Wojnarowicz left in 1983 to focus on his visual art.

3 Teens Kill 4, No Motive. Point Blank Records 1982, l'Invitation au Suicide 1984, remastered by Dark Entries Records 2017. Doug Bressler, Brian Butterick, Julie Hair, Jesse Hultberg, David Wojnarowicz



Tours

Today,
Jul 22

Join for a free, guided tour of this exhibition led by a Whitney docent.

1 pm

View more upcoming tours.


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Exhibition Catalogue

This richly illustrated book—the most definitive source on Wojnarowicz to date—is the first to comprehensively examine the artist’s life and work, pushing beyond the biographical focus that has characterized much previous scholarship. The excerpt featured here includes a selection from David Breslin’s overview essay as well as a preview of the plate section, which includes close examinations of groups of works by David Kiehl.

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Hear From Artists

"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.