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The Editors Discuss David Wojnarowicz

Daniel/Derek,

David Wojnarowicz

I’d like to write about the Whitney’s current David Wojnarowicz exhibition.
Here’s the idea. EVERYONE is writing about it with non-objective, cloying praise.
No critic has a bad word to say about it.
When I went, I was hugely disappointed. Not in the work (which I love and wrote about) but in the show itself.
This would be a chance to say why the Whitney’s show is bereft and uninspiring. The politics and so on.
Maybe it was all the frenzied hype, or perhaps one (surprisingly compact) exhibition isn’t enough to convey all the vehemence and spirit that fueled him. It may even be the slippage of seeing so much of his work so cleanly packaged in the kind of institution he railed against for its prejudices
This would be a great way for NEA to go against the grain of what is entirely bullshit praise surrounding this show.
BUT it would have to go up on the website before print publication to be relevant. I could have it completed in a couple of weeks.
If you agree, I’ll get started. I am really thrilled to think about this. Hope you agree. Darren
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Darren, I am never adverse to helping my writers but as we withheld it because Derek thought it would go well as a lead article, I will have to ask him what he wants me to do. If we publish it online then we won’t subsequently have a good enough reason to publish it in the printed version which does not yet have as wide a following as the website. Daniel
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Daniel….. let me look at his stuff and I will tell you a little later….Al
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There should be a lot of interest in the proposed essay, because “everybody” is writing about the show. Wojnarowicz, unfortunately, isn’t that good an artist. But then, that is a significant part of why “everybody” is interested. John
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Daniel, I think this writer has an ax to grind and wants to use the exposure of NAE for his reputation. Annie
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I think Wojnarowicz is not that good an artist.
We could certainly find something more in line with NAE’s purpose. This proposal sounds like it’s steering off NAE course of standards. The proposal sounds patronising and pushy. Annie
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“I think Wojnarowicz is not that good an artist,“ that really is the problem, in a nutshell. John
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Daniel….. he will have to tell you why he is being hailed and why he is very weak….. can he do it?….Al
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Hello Darren, I am seeing Derek tomorrow. Is this artist really any good? Isn’t this all about a dead martyr they can make money from? (my questions only) Daniel
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An interesting and blunt question Daniel!!!!! Haha…almost nobody would dare say such a thing….and yet…it is a great question…almost exactly what I want to talk about in the article.
I would say that because of his openness about his life, about HIV/AIDS, his RAAAAGE at the “killing machine called America” as he put it, because his fury and desperation fueled his art and because he was a fearless warrior against politicians and health officials who denigrated people with AIDS and gays….that he is perhaps NOT a GREAT artist, but arguably, one of the most IMPORTANT artist of the last 100 years….
His contributions were NOT because he advanced the evolution of painting, or used every day images as high art, or challenged what can be considered art. all safe discourse within the art world’s gilded shell…..but because he allowed his own BRUTAL life experience to be conveyed through his art, become he used it to speak to the world outside of art, to attack and challenge in the real world…..and the exhibition at the Whitney – besides its curatorial problems, cramped, underwhelming and tripping over itself to be inclusive – shows up what rare artist that is, in comparison to today’s miserable, social media savvy, NON-risk taking sheep! Who do NOTHING or risk NOTHING that might hamper their network or opportunities…….
And there is so much need for an artist of Wojnarowicz’s courage SIGHHHHHHH
lol…..I love art!. Darren
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1, I think it will get a lot of readers and agreement, especially with the statement I highlighted below. I am not “against” commenting on this show but point out what Annie said, Darren wants to use the NAE. He does write ordinary reviews for the likes of Artforum and I would guess he knows Artforum would not publish such a negative take on something everyone loves, especially the gallery and museum systems. I think the NAE needs to be careful not to be defined primarily as a source of negativity because once that happens, well deserved negativity will be dismissed as “there they go again”.
But it does not change the fact Wojnarowicz is the profitable dead martyr you say. Myself I don’t see how one can be “one of the most important artists (sic) of the last 100 years” and not a great artist. Heck, Wojnarowicz does not remotely approach the cultural effects of Duchamp whose art was plenty OK at the beginning, but not good enough so he migrated into wit and other stuff presented as art, to finally have his say. And his say was broad, unfettered by politics, ethics, and social analysis so it escaped preachy-ness. Miklos Legrady did the gold standard analysis of that phenomenon as far as I am concerned, and in doing so, did the NAE proud. And offered admirers of Duchamp a rational path to explain why they like whatever it was he did, by liberating D from the “great artist” nonsense.
But Wojnarowicz is as preachy as they come, a diminishment of the Dada tradition, not an advancement. I have a natural affinity for Dada, maybe because I am a congenital skeptic, and I don’t like it when Dada is put in servitude to ethics, even if I agree with the ethics. In short, Wojnarowicz did propaganda “art” and yes it is passionate, like most propaganda art. The art scene does not see it a propaganda because it is the propaganda they love.
2. “underwhelming” needs first to be considered as a characteristic of the work, not the presentation. Darren obviously has eyes and I admire his honesty about what he experienced. But he appears to be allowing his preconception of “importance” overrule what he actually experienced.

True Myth (Kraft Grape Jelly) 1963

3. As far as the online version goes, I believe it reaches far more people than the printed version, and the illustrations come off with greater clarity than in the printed version: John
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I am inclined to say yes to an online version only. Darren is passionate – Daniel
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Daniel, I fear I could be insensitive to one of your major problems as editor. You are trying to bootstrap an international publication that can’t afford to pay its writers. And so keeping them interested under such circumstances is a unique and quite difficult challenge. I can’t offer a silver bullet solution for that, but want you to know the problem is also in my thoughts. Compromise is part of the process. John
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Let me throw my two cents in here.
I think John brings up the salient points of pressure on Daniel. My thoughts of this artist have to do with my view that he is not a significant teller of victimization in late American life culture….just because his skin and feelings are on the line do not automatically fill that role… I ask where is the art? And he exploits the celebrity mythos of the art world or its market acting up…? and so he wishes to hitch a ride with NAE.. I think the challenge is to parse it out… art from myth and storytelling, not unlike the daddists, and art market and as I say, get down to it. But insofar as I identify him in faddism, and our currant milieu ala Jerry Saltz, we have the problem with the enthusiasm creeping around him, largely what I would say is a receptive vacuum. If I were writing such a piece , I would elaborate on the seductiveness of this “market” to such a character— which I think is far more interesting, well at least to me. A “why” of this artist poses a much greater challenge to seeing as a “what is”…. Any way…. My two cents….Al
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“Receptive vacuum” – what a concept. The anesthetized response to art that has grown so dominate, still seeks its legitimate object, the real deal, the only object that can really fill what it misses. But it is too anemic to know that object when it sees it, and goes for the freakish and preachy instead, in the comfort of “everyone” telling it this is all that is possible. John
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So Dr. Markovich is right on …. Tell it Annie!…..Al
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The article ‘The Whitney Museum’s Summer of Wojnarowicz’ is a Winter of Discontent, is now on the website at www,newartexainer.net

Letters Volume 33.no.1 September / October 2018 pp 25-26

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