AO On Site – New York: David Wojnarowicz ‘Spirituality’ opening at P.P.O.W Gallery, show runs through April 9th, 2011

March 8th, 2011

March 5th ‘Spirituality” opening and installation view at P.P.O.W. All photos by Daniel Terna of Art Observed

This Saturday, P.P.O.W held the opening reception for their most recent exhibition: Spirituality, Works by David Wojnarowicz.  The show was curated almost as a retrospective, which included video pieces and a selection of personal letters written by the artist.  Work was displayed in all media, including sculptures, collage, photographs, and two videos.

More text and images after the jump…

P.P.O.W curators were explicit about the political implications of a Wojnarowicz exhibition on the heels of the Smithsonian censorship controversy.   The work they chose to display examines the artist’s complicated relationship with religion, very apropos considering that the censorship of Fire in February was due to a controversial 11 second clip of ants crawling on a miniaturized crucifix.  A similar image was present as part of the series, Spitiuality (for Paul Thek), a nod to the Wojnarowicz’ friend and contemporary.  The two shared a lover, artist Peter Hujar, and crossed paths as part of a circle of influential openly queer artists working in New York City.

A Fire in My Belly is presented in its entirety for the exhibition, and on view are numerous materials associated with the video, including editing notes written by Wojnarowicz.  The other video on view at P.P.O.W is Silence= Death, a 1990 film directed by Phil Zwickler and Rosa von Praunheim.  The film features a portion of Fire as well as interviews with Wojnarowicz and other artists who politicized their work in the 1980s and 1990s with a call to action surrounding the transmission and treatment of HIV and AIDS.

David Wojnarowicz was raised in New Jersey in a Catholic home, and throughout his career has interrogated the relationship between religious icons, violence, power and identity.  Spirituality features an early work by Wojnarowicz, who, employing the image of the mother and child, altered the print to include a handgun in Jesus’ grasp.  This fascination with iconography was later manifested in his Rimbaud photographs, also on display in Spirituality.  For this series the artist photographed himself at age 24, in various locations around New York City, wearing a paper mask with the face of French author Arthur Rimbaud.  Known as a libertine and a romantic, Rimbaud acts as Wojnarowicz’ altar ego during a very particular time for a queer man in Post-Stonewall Manhattan.  The images remain as some of Wojnarowicz most recognizable and acclaimed works.

The support surrounding the work of Wojnarowicz and the preservation of his estate has been displayed in abundance throughout the country after his censorship at the Smithsonian.  The video has been screened at The New Museum in New York, San Francisco’s SF MoMA, and the Tate Modern in London.  The work was recently purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan and is currently on display as part of the exhibition Contemporary Art from the Collection. Though this solidarity has been encouraging, it was refreshing to see a show devoted to the career of the artist, rather than another discussion of the merits of one piece of video.  David Wojnarowicz earned his status as a prolific American artist long before the Smithsonian, and the works currently on view at P.P.O.W remind us why.

-M. Phinney

Related Links:

Censored, Censured, but Never Forgotten [Wall Street Journal]
Exhibition Page [P.P.O.W]
The Estate of David Wojnarowicz [P.P.O.W]