Fever: The Art of David Wojnarowicz (New Museum Books, 2)

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9780847821440: Fever: The Art of David Wojnarowicz (New Museum Books, 2)

A central figure in New York's East Village art scene of the 1980s, Wojnarowicz was a painter, sculptor, photographer, writer, installation artist, musician, and video- and filmmaker. After being diagnosed as HIV-positive in the late 1980s, Wojnarowicz engaged in widely publicized debates over medical research and funding, censorship in the arts, and politically-sanctioned homophobia, lending his art a sharply political edge. The last few years of his life were an intense flurry of activity in a variety of mediums, fueled by rage and alienation that helped set the tone for contemporary art's exploration of social and private identities.

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Review:

Like James MacNeill Whistler, David Wojnarowicz became briefly infamous in his own lifetime by taking a cultural conservative to court. Whistler's antagonist was none other than art critic John Ruskin, who likened Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold to flung paint. Whistler won the trial, but was awarded a penny; legal costs bankrupted him. Similarly, the constantly penurious Wojnarowicz sued Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association for copying an inset photograph from the artist's Sex series for use in anti-NEA propaganda. Wojnarowicz won an injunction, but was scantly compensated, and the NEA withdrew funding for the exhibition catalog where the series was reproduced.

Whistler was an American expatriate, Wojnarowicz a stranger in his own land, living "in the shadow of the American dream," as he put it, as a hustler, lover, and multimedia artist until his untimely death from AIDS. The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, has mounted a retrospective of Wojnarowicz's work, with funding from Versace Classic, a corporate, rather than public, sponsor. Fever serves as the catalog as well as an excellent introduction to the artist's paintings, drawings, photographs, and writings. With no formal training and little support from the art establishment, Wojnarowicz managed to create a body of work that is complex, compelling, and politically engaged in a way that will remain relevant as long as critics posing as public guardians attempt to stifle art's persistent provocation. --Robert Burns Neveldine

From Library Journal:

A painter, photographer, writer, and activist, Wojnarowicz currently is being commemorated with a large-scale retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, the first since his death from AIDS at the age of 37 in 1992. The catalog to that show presents more than 70 pieces, from simple early photographs of himself posing in a Rimbaud mask to his most successful multimedia collages. Wojnarowicz was a leading light among political East Village artists of the 1980s. Yet, surprisingly, the satire and social critique in much of his work has managed to evolveAlike that of Otto DixAtaking on broader meaning rather than a dated look. Included here are a well-reasoned essay by curator Cameron reevaluating Wojnarovicz's importance, a critical essay by Mysoon Rizk (liberal studies, Milwaukee Inst. of Art & Design), as well as two moving personal portraits by friends and selections from Wojnarowicz's own writings. More accessible and better designed than the only other retrospective catalog, Tongues of Flame (LJ 8/92), this is an essential purchase for any contemporary art collection in public and academic libraries. Cameron points out that since his death, Wojnarowicz has perhaps become better known for his writings, particularly through his acclaimed essay collection Close to the Knives (LJ 5/1/91), than his art. These well-chosen diary excerptsAbeginning with an Outward Bound excursion in 1971 and concluding with the final entries from 1991Afrequently contain the same powerful language as the essays and also reveal the inspiration and context for much of his art. However, Scholder, founding editor of Artspace Books and of High Risk/Serpent's Tail, provides virtually no annotations or transitions, which limits the book's value. Larger art collections and libraries where Close to the Knives circulates will want this supplement, others should make sure they have a copy of that volume.AEric Bryant, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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