David Wojnarowicz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Wednesday, May 15, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Collection of Richard Hambleton
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1984

  • Catalogue Essay

    An impassioned writer, profound thinker, and accomplished mixed-media artist, David Wojnarowicz was one of the most articulate voices of the 1980s New York art scene to confront the corporate greed and political corruption that contributed to the AIDS crisis. In Untitled, 1983, Wojnarowicz engages social activism, critical theory, and art history with a sense of timeliness and timelessness that demonstrates his deep understanding of the cultural distribution of power. Wojnarowicz’s 2018 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art proved the artist’s diverse oeuvre to be as poignant and impactful today as it was during his lifetime.

    Moving to the East Village in 1979, Wojnarowicz quickly embedded himself as a queer artist within the budding energy and expression of the downtown art scene and became fascinated with the derelict Hudson River piers, which became an unofficial gay men’s playground. A prodigious writer, Wojnarowicz shifted his poeticism to art, operating outside of and often in opposition to the traditional art world context. Collaborating with friends on a band called 3 Teens Kill 4, Wojnarowicz’s self-appointed task was to design, produce, and distribute posters for their gigs. When the posters were inevitably torn down, he created templates that could be used to spray-paint his designs directly on SoHo walls and West Side piers. These stenciled symbols would become the groundwork of his burgeoning visual lexicon. Under the mentorship of Peter Hujar, a photographer whom he met in 1981, Wojnarowicz quickly adapted his street sensibility to the studio. Believing that his queerness made him uniquely attuned to the mechanisms of cultural exclusion, Wojnarowicz expanded the scope of his art to confront the pervasiveness of what he termed the “pre-invented world” of cultural and linguistic structures that construct and regulate fabricated borders and hierarchies. He realized that he could use his outsider status to create his own symbolic vocabulary to disrupt the veneer of the oppressive social and political systems that sought to exclude and silence both him and the communities for which he stood.

    Created the same year as his first solo show at Civilian Warfare, New York, Untitled plays host to the graphic symbols of Wojnarowicz’s early graffiti stencils, while representing a pivotal moment of artistic development towards more technically and visually sophisticated compositions. His vibrant, trademark motifs – the target, wolf head, cross, phallus, hand – invite the viewer to float within this dizzying collage of Wojnarowicz’s personal symbolic order. He explained, “Ever since my teenage years, I’ve experienced the sensation of seeing myself from miles above the earth, as if from the clouds…This clockwork of civilization – this huge ticking mass on it…all looks like something out of everyone’s control. Or rather, in the control of only a few: those that made up the gears and springs of the preinvented machine” (David Wojnarowicz, quoted in “Found Materials”, David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2018, p. 153). Untitled places the viewer within Wojnarowicz’s perspective, hovering over and out of reach of the restrictive systems of the “pre-invented world".

    Wojnarowicz weaponized his outsider citizenship to unabashedly turn the private into something public. During a time when little was known about HIV and AIDS, he shared the narrative of fear and alienation that gripped the LGBTQ community. In 1981, just two years before Wojnarowicz created Untitled, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that they had discovered a new “gay cancer”. The first AIDS antibody test became available in 1985, and two years later, Peter Hujar became one amongst many of Wojnarowicz’s dear friends to die from AIDS. Wojnarowicz, too, became a victim of this harrowing epidemic and passed away in 1992 at the age of 37. Years later, the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2018 retrospective presented a reevaluation of Wojnarowicz’s enduring legacy as one of America’s most outspoken artistic voices from the second half of the 20th century, whose unrelenting commitment to creating provocative and challenging artwork still resonates today.



signed, inscribed and dated "WOJNAROWICZ 1983 NYC" lower left; further signed, inscribed and dated "© Wojnarowicz '83 NYC" on the reverse
spray paint, marker and acrylic on paper
37 7/8 x 49 3/4 in. (96.2 x 126.4 cm.)
Executed in 1983.

$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $150,000

Contact Specialist
Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York
+ 1 212 940 1250

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 15 May | On View at 450 Park Avenue