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Guide to the David Wojnarowicz Papers MSS.092

Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Marvin J. Taylor

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on October 13, 2021
Description is in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Updated by Jacqueline Rider to reflect incorporation of video preservation master and sub-master files Updated by Megan O'Shea to add seven items and prepare 24 others for a move to offsite art storage in September 2017 Updated by Megan O'Shea to incorporate items treated and rehoused by Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department staff Updated by Megan O'Shea to prepare artwork being sent to offsite art storage in December 2017 Updated by Weatherly Stephan to note deaccessions Updated by Kelly Haydon to incorporate new digital access copies of materials from Series VIII, Subseries C: Sound Materials Updated by Anna McCormick to remove obsolete links.  Edited by Amy C. Vo to revise harmful language regarding suicide and addiction Updated by Anna Björnsson McCormick to note context between art objects.  Updated by Weatherly Stephan to reflect rehousing of objects in Series XIII  , March 2017 , August 2017 , November 2017 , December 2017 , June 2018 , May 2019 , January 2020 , April 2021 , July 2021 , October 2021

Biographical Note

David Michael Wojnarowicz was an openly gay artist, writer, and activist who chronicled a late-twentieth century New York ravaged by AIDS. His multi-media work is notable for combining elements of personal narrative with erotic, often confrontational imagery.

Wojnarowicz was born on September 14, 1954 in Red Bank, New Jersey. Following his parents' divorce, Wojnarowicz moved with his mother to New York City, where he claims he began hustling at age eleven. He attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan for a time, although he never graduated. Wojnarowicz left his mother's apartment at age sixteen to live on the streets, where for two years he was a victim of numerous assaults, before seeking shelter at a halfway house.

In the ensuing years, Wojnarowicz traveled, often by hopping trains and hitchhiking. He lived in San Francisco, as well as in France with his sister, before eventually returning to New York, where he worked as a busboy or janitor to support himself and his art. His activities at this time included performing in a band (Three Teens Kill 4 - No Motive) featuring children's instruments and tape recordings of found sounds, and documenting the Lower West Side's marginal characters through his film, writing and photography. His well-known series Arthur Rimbaud in New York, featuring images of the artist wearing a photographic mask of the symbolist poet, was created in 1978-79.

In the early 80s Wojnarowicz became known in the East Village art scene for making use of re-contextualized stencils, found maps, and grocery-store price signs to produce stark tableaux. By the mid-80s, after the death of his lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, and his own diagnosis with the disease, AIDS became a constant undercurrent in his work. The artist continued to work with images of decay, disaster and sexuality, adopting a militant stance against what he perceived as the complacency and ignorance surrounding the disease. An iconic image of the Wojnarowicz from this time appears in the film Silence = Death, where he appears with his mouth sewn shut in a reference to ACT-UP slogan.

At this controversial point in his career he was drafted in the "culture wars": the NEA rescinded and finally restored funding for an exhibition catalog in which he attacked various public figures, and he was criticized by both a member of Congress and the American Family Association. His book Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration was published in 1991. He continued to produce work until his death in 1992 at age 37.


"David Michael Wojnarowicz."The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 3: 1991-1993. Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.

"David Wojnarowicz." Contemporary Artists, 5th ed. St. James Press, 2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.

Kimmelman, Michael. "David Wojnarowicz, 37, Artist in Many Media.(Cultural Desk)(Obituary)." The New York Times (July 24, 1992): NA. New York Times and New York Post (2000-present). Gale. New York Public Library. 22 May 2009.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Written Works by David Wojnarowicz:

  • Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, New York: Vintage Books, 1991.
  • David Wojnarowicz: Brush Fires in the Social Landscape, Aperture, 1994.
  • Memories that Smell like Gasoline, San Francisco, ArtSpace Books, 1992.
  • Seven Miles a Second, New York: DC Comics, 1996.
  • Sounds in the Distance, London: Aloes Books, 1982.
  • Waterfront Journals, New York: Grove Press, 1996.


  • 1982: Milliken Gallery, NYC
  • 1983: Hal Bromm Gallery, NYC; Civilian Warfare, NYC
  • 1984: C.A.U.C. Buenos Aires, Argentina; Civilian Warfare, NYC; Anna Friebe Galerie, Cologne, West Germany; Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC.
  • 1985: Messages to the Public, Times Square Spectacolor Board, NYC
  • 1986: Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC; Anna Friebe Galerie, Cologne, West Germany; Cartier Foundation, Paris, France
  • 1987: Ground Zero Gallery, NYC; Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC
  • 1989: PPOW, NYC
  • 1990: David Wojnarowicz, Tongues of Flame, University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois. PPOW, NYC
  • 1991: Exit Art, NYC, David Wojnarowicz: Tongues of Flame.


  • 1980: Lower Manhattan Drawing Show, Mudd Club, NYC; Erotic Show, Club 57, NYC; : Hunger, Leo Castelli's Staircase, action installations with Julie Hair, NYC
  • 1982: Fast, Milliken Gallery, NYC; Hunger Show, Gallery 345, NYC; Beast Show-Cock-a-Bunnies, PS.1, Long Island City, NY, action installation; 3 Person Show, Civilian Warfare Gallery, NYC; Famous Show, Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC; Street Image Brawl (PADD), Franklin Furnace, NYC
  • 1983: Sex Show, Sharpe Gallery, NYC; Underdog, East 7th Street Gallery, NYC; The Terminal Show, Brooklyn Terminal, NYC; Sofa/ Painting, Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC; Soup Kitchen Benefit, Fashion Moda, NYC; From the Streets, Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina;: Summer Show, Hal Bromm, NYC; Speed Trials, White Columns, NYC; Wardline Pier Project, organized by David Wojnarowicz & Mike Bidlo, NYC; Intoxication, Monique Knowlton Gallery, curated by Nicholas Moufarrege, NYC; 3 Part Variety, Milliken Gallery, NYC (co-curator)
  • 1984: East Village Artists, Virginia Museum of Fine Art, curated by Margo Crutchfield, VA ; Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC (installation).; Neo York, University Art Museum, University of California, curated by Phillis Plous, Santa Barbara, CA.; Acid Show, Sensory Evolution Gallery, NYC; Indigestion, PPOW Gallery, NYC; New Galleries of the Lower East Side, Artists Space, NYC; 25,000 Sculptors from Across the USA, Civilian Warfare, NYC; Portraits, PS.1, curated by Jeffrey Deitch, Long Island City, NY
  • 1985: Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC; Anchorage, installation, Brooklyn, NY; Indigestion, PPOW Gallery, NYC; #2 Smart Art Too, 55 Mercer St. Gallery, NYC; Graffiti and East Village Artists, Librizzi Gallery, NYC; East Village Sampler, Jones Troyer Gallery, NYC; Getting Off, Civilian Warfare, NYC; You Killed Me First Installation#8, collaboration with Richard Kern, Ground Zero, NYC; Benefit for the Kitchen, Brooke Alexander, NYC; 1986 The All-Natural Disaster Show, Bronx Council on the Arts, New York; The East Village, Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC; Heads, Mokotoff Gallery, NYC; Homage to Nicholas Moufarrege, Gabrielle Bryers Gallery, NYC
  • 1987: Art Against Aids, Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC; Exposed and Enveloped, Laurence Miller Gallery, NYC; Redtape Magazine Benefit, EM Donahue Gallery, NYC; Scott Hanson Gallery, NYC
  • 1988: Vollbild- AIDS, N.G.B.K. Berlin, West Germany; Products and Promotion, Franklin Furnace, NYC; Unknown Secrets: Art and the Rosenberg Era, Traveled to: University of Colorado Art Galleries, University of Colorado, Boulder, Installation Gallery.; Still Trauma, Milford Gallery, New York; Fermate show/ installation/ films/ performance in Cologne Train Station, organized by Rilo Chmielorz.
  • 1989: Witnesses Against Our Vanishing, Artist's Space, NYC, curated by Nan Goldin; Departures Photography 1924-89, Hirschl & Adler Modern, NYC; Art About AIDS, Freedman Gallery, Albright College, Reading, PA
  • 1995-96: Temporarily Possessed The Semi-Permanent Collection, New Museum of Contemporary Art, NYC.
  • 1996-97: Sex/ Industry, Guest curated by John Yau, Stefan Stux Gallery, NYC.
  • 1997-98: Male, curated by Vince Aletti, Wessel + O'Connor Gallery, NYC.


  • 1979: Heroin (partially destroyed), color, super-8
  • 1983: 3 Teens Kill 4- no motive/ LP, Point Blank Records
  • 1985: Satan Teens (made with Tommy Turner) b&w super-8, 90 minutes. (unfinished)
  • 1987: A Fire in my Belly, filmed in Mexico City and various border towns as well as NYC, b&w and color super-8, 30 minutes.(went through 2 versions then disassembled for other projects.)
  • 1987-88: Untitled (The Death of Peter Hujar), b&w super-8, approx.30 minutes, unedited.
  • 1988: Beautiful People, starring Jesse Hultberg, approx. 30 minutes (soundtrack unfinished)
  • 1989: Teaching a Frog to Dance (or: Building a Patriotic Beast) b&w super-8, 2 ; minutes, unfinished.; What's This Guy's Job in the World, 2 minutes, color video.; In This House..., 3 minutes, color video.; Howdie Doody Goes for a Drive, b&w super-8, 25 minutes,(unfinished).; Untitled, or Using My Sexual Energy As a Tool to Fight the State Is As Good a Tool As Any Other, 5 minute video & super-8 version featuring Marion Scemama (unfinished).
  • 1990: Fear of Disclosure: The Psycho-Social Implications of HIV Revelation, 4 parts, in collaboration with Phil Zwickler.
  • 1991: Site-less sounds/ Tellus #25. Compilation CD with various artists including David Wojnarowicz and Ben Neill performing "Vanishing act".
  • 1992: ITSOFOMO: In the Shadow of Forward Motion /New Tone Records, CD of audio performance by David Wojnarowicz and Ben Neill.


  • 1985: Stray Dogs, segment of Manhattan Love Suicides by Richard Kern (co-starring with Bill Rice).
  • 1986: You Killed Me First, by Richard Kern, featuring Karen Finley, Lung Leg and David Wojnarowicz.
  • 1990: Silence = Death, by Rosa von Praunheim and Phil Zwickler.


  • 1983: Sounds in the Distance/ Adapted and directed by Allen Frame and Kirsten Bates, Bill Rice's Garden, NYC, Berlin and BACA Downtown, Brooklyn.


  • 1989: Itsofomo: In the Shadow of Forward Motion, co-conceived with musician Ben Neill. Multimedia performance presented in raw version for four nights at the Kitchen, NYC. Choreography Gloria McLean, videos edited by David Wojnarowicz and Phil Zwickler. Itsofomo was subsequently performed at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Center of Contemporary Art, Seattle, San Francisco Art Institute; Hallwalls, Buffalo; and Exit Art, NYC.