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, that of 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.