David Wojnarowicz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips
  • Carlo McCormick on David Wojnarowicz’s
    Fuck You Faggot Fucker


    Carlo McCormick is a New-York based art critic and curator who has authored numerous catalogues and artist monographs. He was a friend and collaborator of David Wojnarowicz.


    The artist with the present work at his 1990 retrospective in Normal, Illinois.
    The artist with the present work at his 1990 retrospective in Normal, Illinois. 
    Image: © Anna Maria Watkin

    We leave it to the marketplace to assess the value of art, but regarding the evolution of this work by David Wojnarowicz, what it meant to be an artist in 1984, and the ways art would go forward in the increasingly contested cultural landscape that would follow, Fuck You Faggot Fucker is of immeasurable historical significance. A portrait of love and desire in a socio-political paradigm of hate and fear, here Wojnarowicz articulates his abiding artistic concerns for the survival and struggle of the socially marginalized as a narrative of liberation sung against the shackles of oppression. It is timeless as all great art can be, but that it is so timely still is a sad testimony that still rings with the artist’s clarion critique of the cultural and political conditions that allow for the dehumanization of “other.” 

    "Transition is always a relief. Destination means death to me. If I could figure out a way to remain forever in transition, in the disconnected and unfamiliar, I could remain in a state of perpetual freedom."
    —David Wojnarowicz

    Acquired directly from a solo exhibition Wojnarowicz mounted in 1984 at Civilian Warfare, the first gallery to offer the artist sustained representation, Fuck You Faggot Fucker (hereafter abbreviated to FYFF) remains a landmark in the artist’s oeuvre. It was featured in his major posthumous 2018-2019 survey History Keeps Me Awake at Night (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg City, and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid). As disquieting and incendiary today as it was 38 years ago, in no small part for its confrontational title, this major painting counterpoises the utopian networks of community forged in the abiding abandonment that characterized New York City after the fiscal crisis a decade earlier against the prevailing forces of misunderstanding and violence that directly threatened the practical and idealistic dimensions of these alternate, ad hoc and temporal societies. Full of life, it presages a sense of doom, inherent if not immanent, an embrace and tenderness cast adrift from the body politic in a psychologically isolating miasma of inky waters. It proffers the homoerotic as limned by the homophobic. 



    Taking its disturbing title from the inscription on a crude homophobic cartoon Wojnarowicz found, the unmistakable implication in this context is the constant threat that young homosexual men faced from the deranged predatory violence of fag-bashing, or what would only after a shamefully long time be properly called hate crime. Not merely adopting this abuse as a caption for this anonymous drama however, the artist actually includes the original cartoon into the collage composition of the work itself, allowing it as a found object within the fabric of his own imagistic tapestry. 


    Collage, a visual strategy of incorporation and disruption that is frequently manifest in the art of Wojnarowicz, works here in a dual function; on the one hand as a kind of evidence, or witness, that his scavenging of the disused and derelict could uncover, and on the other as a mode of inversion through appropriation whereby disenfranchised communities sought to reposition the dominant language of their oppressors into a public vernacular of pride. Positioned at a crucial moment when the coded behaviors and expressions of homosexuality briefly gave way to a new queer identity that, in many ways inspired by the provocations of Punk, emerged from closeted innuendo into an aggressive style of defiance, it is as if the old school of West Village gay hegemonies were collapsing under the rage and rebellion of an East Village secession in which Wojnarowicz would become one of its most identifiable proponents.


    Considering the wide array of different elements Wojnarowicz includes in his imagistic maelstrom— with painted passages of dreamlike expanse and erasure, photographs and varying found elements including maps—there is much in the way he structures his storytelling that remarks on the then first rising tendencies of Postmodernism. In this manner Wojnarowicz is not wholly dissimilar to many of his generation who chose to eschew the modernist imperative of radical invention, or novelty, in favor of assembling preexisting signs towards a more disjunctive and idiosyncratic reading. David however was no more interested in the critical distance and inquiries of Postmodernism than he was in the ironies and pictorial collisions of Pop Art, which his work was similarly (and wrongly) compared with at the time. He clearly understood history—philosophically as well as viscerally—to be a doubtful inheritance, a disorienting and ultimately afflictive cultural construct that undermined individuality and subjugated autonomy. The stories he chooses to tell then—and FYFF is contiguous in its explorations of the margins with the monologues that make up his seminal book The Waterfront Journals (written between 1978-1980 and published in 1996)—act as an intervention against the dominant narrative by articulating the voices and lives systematically silenced, untold, ignored or discounted by history writ large.



    Essential to FYFF, as it is to all of Wojnarowicz’s creative output as a writer, filmmaker and visual artist, is the urgent imperative of the highly personal, a way of investing his own interiority into the bigger story, to make his deftly sociological perspective explicitly personal. The artist’s hand re-imagines the world through the power of magical thinking, assaulting the factuality of maps, which he would cut-up and collage in many of his most significant works, and inserting himself in ways both anecdotal and metaphorical into his depiction of the world at large. Fascinated by maps, the itinerant wanderer perpetually dreaming of distant lands and foreign encounters, Wojnarowicz was distrusting and resentful towards them—in particular the political maps he uses here which after all ignore the topography of the land or the many lives that inhabit it in favor of demarking governmental dominion—shredding their authority and subverting their semiotics as entirely devoid of representing or understanding the unruly presence of everyday experience, humanity or individuality contained therein. So too, the two photographs he suspends around the central motif of the kissing figures (one of which is serially reproduced in three corners of the painting) emphasize the personal stakes involved for him. 



    Both of the photos included in this irrational landscape of the senses featured friends who he had collaborated with on his now legendary Rimbaud in New York series (1978-1979). One is replicated three times, picturing his old high school friend John Hall (also the subject of Wojnarowicz’s searing Genet Masturbating motif) along with Wojnarowicz himself, both nude and given to hostage-like abandon befitting the abjection of their surroundings—in this case, the abandoned Christodora settlement house on Avenue B in the East Village. The other, shot along the Hudson piers, features Brian Butterick, a former lover, longtime muse and fellow bandmate in the experimental rock group 3 Teens Kill 4, as a spear-skewered St. Sebastian. To merely note the strong personal content of these images belies the larger project of Wojnarowicz’s art, where the decaying ruins of a post-industrial city become the allegorical and physical spaces of self-exploration, and where the autobiographical and mythic are mutually enfolded in one another to relate a new anatomy within the social body where alienation and loneliness converge upon the possibilities of community. Created in the twilight of a soon vanished world where urban renewal would eradicate these lives on the edge just as AIDS (to which the artist would himself succumb in just eight years) metastasized from a worrisome anomaly into a full-fledged plague, Fuck You Faggot Fucker talks to us today as the testimony of a creative vitality and communal resistance in the face of a pathological indifference and neglect.

    • Description

      The seller of this Lot intends to donate a portion of the Lot’s Hammer Price to Visual Aids for the Arts Inc. Phillips agrees to match the seller's donation.

    • Provenance

      Civilian Warfare Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1984

    • Exhibited

      New York, Civilian Warfare Gallery, David Wojnarowicz, May 5–June 3, 1984
      Lewisburg, Center Gallery, Bucknell University; Wilkes-Barre, Sordoni Art Gallery, Wilkes College, Contemporary Perspectives 1984, October 5, 1984–January 6, 1985, n.p. (illustrated)
      Normal, University Galleries, Illinois State University; Santa Monica Museum; New York, Exit Art; Philadelphia, Temple Gallery & Tyler Gallery, David Wojnarowicz: Tongues of Flame, January 23, 1990–March 2, 1991, p. 126 (illustrated, p. 29)
      New York, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Fever: The Art of David Wojnarowicz, January 21–June 20, 1999, no. 16, pp. 16, 137 (illustrated, p. 17)
      New York, Martos Gallery, Hard Love, January 21–March 5, 2016
      New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (pl. 79, pp. 107, 149, 197, 365; illustrated, pp. 84, 196); Mudam Luxembourg - Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night, July 13, 2018–February 9, 2020; then travelled as Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (pl. 65, pp. 73, 147, 246; illustrated, pp. 146), David Wojnarowicz: La historia me quita el sueño, May 29–September 30, 2019

    • Literature

      Lucy R. Lippard, "Passenger on the Shadows," Aperture, no. 137, Fall 1994, pp. 18, 22 (illustrated, p. 19)
      Robert McRuer, The Queer Renaissance: Contemporary American Literature and the Reinvention of Lesbian and Gay Identities, New York, 1997, p. 27
      Cindy Patton and Benigno Sánchez-Eppler, eds., Queer Diasporas, Durham, 2000 (detail illustrated on the front cover)
      Giancarlo Ambrosino, ed., David Wojnarowicz: A definitive history of five or six years on the lower east side, Los Angeles, 2006, p. 165 (illustrated)
      Catalina Florina Florescu, Transacting Sites of the Liminal Bodily Spaces, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2011, pp. 125, 126
      Hua Hsu, "Exit Art, 1982-2012," The Paris Review, April 12, 2012, online (University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal, 1990–1991, installation view with the artist illustrated)
      Cynthia Carr, On Edge: Performance at the End of the Twentieth Century, Middletown, 2012, p. 251
      Cynthia Carr, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz, New York, 2014, p. 257
      Melissa Harris, ed., David Wojnarowicz: Brush Fires in the Social Landscape, New York, 2015, pp. 12-13 (illustrated)
      Margaret Morrison, "'Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid': The 'Dignity of Queer Shame'," Mosaic, vol. 48, no. 1, March 2015, p. 28
      Zachary Small, "A Torch Song for David Wojnarowicz, Who Powerfully Documented the AIDS Crisis," Hyperallergic, July 13, 2018, online (installation view illustrated)
      Maximilíano Durón, "David Wojnarowicz’s Art Continues to Resonate, But a New Documentary About Him Fails to Impress," ARTnews, November 11, 2020, online (illustrated)
      Eileen G'Sell, "A David Wojnarowicz Documentary Honors the Gritty, Glorious Chaos of His Life," Hyperallergic, November 14, 2020, online (illustrated)
      Cassie Packard, "David Wojnarowicz Brings Us Closer to his Real Persona,” Frieze, November 26, 2020, online (illustrated)
      James Kleinmann, "DOC NYC 2020 Film Review: Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker ★★★★★," The Queer Review, November 27, 2020, online (illustrated)
      Andrew Strombeck, DIY on the Lower East Side: Books, Buildings, and Art After the 1975 Fiscal Crisis, Albany, 2020, p. 51 (illustrated)
      Douglas Greenwood, "A new documentary cuts through the chaos of David Wojnarowicz," i-D Magazine, March 18, 2021, online (illustrated)
      Glenn Kenny, "'Wojnarowicz' Review: A Revolutionary Provocateur," The New York Times, March 18, 2021, online (illustrated)
      Shana Nys Dambrot, "A New David Wojnarowicz Documentary Does Not Hold Back," The Village Voice, March 25, 2021, online (illustrated)
      Noor Brara and Christine Ajudua, "Here Are 17 of the Best Americana-Themed Looks at the 2021 Met Gala Next to the Great Works of Art That (Probably) Inspired Them," Artnet News, September 14, 2021, online (illustrated)
      Emily Garside, "Art, Fashion & Activism - Dr Emily Garside on Dan Levy's Wojnarowicz-inspired 2021 Met Gala look," The Queer Review, September 15, 2021, online (illustrated)
      Chris McKim, Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker, Kino Lorber, New York, 2021 (illustrated, 37 minutes, 1 hour, 3 minutes; detail illustrated, 1 hour, 43 minutes; University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal, 1990–1991, installation view with the artist illustrated, 37 minutes)
      Oliver Lovesey, Popular Music Autobiography: The Revolution in Life-Writing by 1960s Musicians and Their Descendants, New York, 2022, pp. 152, 255

Property from the Collection of Barry Blinderman


Fuck You Faggot Fucker

signed, inscribed and dated "WOJNAROWICZ NYC 1984" on the reverse
collage, acrylic and four black-and-white photographs on Masonite
48 1/4 x 48 1/8 in. (122.6 x 122.2 cm)
Executed in 1984.

Full Cataloguing

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $937,500

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022