Artist in Extremis
The new biography of painter, writer, and photographer David Wojnarowicz
Fire in the Belly:
The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz
by Cynthia Carr
$35.00 List Price
If David Wojnarowicz were alive today he’d be turning fifty-eight in September. Who knows what his art would look like by now? But there is every reason to think he would have been one of the relative few to have graduated from the hit-or-miss East Village art scene of the 1980s and gone on to greater glory. His stencils, icons, symmetry, hot colors, homoerotic imagery, and street art all remain visible in the work of others now. His ghost is just about discernible around the edges of stuff by Gilbert & George, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Barry McGee, and I’m sure you can think of more. Of course, maybe if he’d lived he’d have taken several radical turns away from those tropes by now, but in either case he’d surely be getting retrospectives, awards, tributes—the treatment accorded a significant artist in the fullness of maturity. He was that vital, protean, fecund, original, and pioneering in his life and work.
But fate arranged things differently, and today David Wojnarowicz is primarily famous for being dead. Unless, that is, he’s more famous for serving as a convenient bogeyman and target for the Christian arm of the American right wing. Wojnarowicz contracted HIV in the late 1980s and died of AIDS in 1992, and in his last years he did not mince words when it came to the government’s criminal negligence, with the active complicity of most of the Christian churches, with regard to the disease. He remains as much alive to the right wing as he does to his admirers, but what ostensibly inflames his enemies are not his accusations. On December 1, 2010—World AIDS Day—the National
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