Former Village Voice arts reporter and columnist Carr (Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, A Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America, 2006, etc.) examines the life and art of provocative artist David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992), a star of the downtown New York art scene of the 1980s.
The author, who covered the arts during Wojnarowicz’s heyday and knew him personally, delivers the definitive biography of this complicated artist, from his troubled childhood to his untimely death from AIDS-related complications at the age of 37. After years of abuse as a child, he left home while still a teenager; for a time, he was homeless and prostituted himself to men in Times Square. Soon he became a Beat-influenced writer and quickly moved into visual arts, including painting, sculpture and photography, as part of an East Village–based art scene that included such notable figures as Keith Haring, performance artist Karen Finley and underground filmmaker Richard Kern. His controversial art, which portrayed such disturbing images as burning children, skeletons and disembodied heads, ambitiously addressed what he termed “the wall of illusion surrounding society and its structures.” His work took a more activist turn after the 1987 AIDS-related death of his close friend, photographer Peter Hujar, and his own AIDS diagnosis the following year. Carr conducted countless interviews with the artist’s surviving friends, family and acquaintances, and she provides a thoroughly researched picture of his life and times. While the author offers some intriguing insights about Wojnarowicz’s inner demons and his devotion to his art, the narrative is repetitive in parts—particularly when Carr relies on his journals, in which he worries constantly about loneliness and his difficulties revealing himself to others.
An ambitious bio that may seem overlong to casual readers but will appeal to Wojnarowicz’s most fervent fans.