Wojnarowicz's Children: Artworks Inspired by the Controversial, and Revered, Artist

Those who are not art fans might well have been baffled by the passionate outcry that followed the Smithsonian's controversial decision to remove a David Wojnarowicz video from a show at the National Portrait Gallery. Hundreds have marched in the streets, the National Portrait Gallery has been inundated with complaints, and museums and institutions like the Warhol Foundation and the Calder Foundation have condemned the action, promising to withhold funds and artworks from the D.C. institution. Meanwhile, at least two people have threatened to pull their own works from the show, "Hide/Seek," in solidarity with Wojnarowicz. All this for a politically-minded gay artist who, while controversial in his lifetime, has hardly been a household name since his death from AIDS in 1992.



Wojnarowicz's influence, however, has long been on the ascent — with his work standing out for its quiet gravitas, taking on new meanings given the continued relevance of his subject matter (often sexuality and discrimination), and benefiting from a resurgence of interest in the East Village scene in the 1980s. Art by Wojnarowicz has appeared over the last few years in — to give just a few instances — group shows on the East Village at the New Museum in 2004, in "Altered, Stitched, and Gathered" at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in 2006, and in "Street Art, Street Life" at the Bronx Museum in 2008. Shortly before the Smithsonian controversy erupted onto the national stage, ARTINFO blogger Tyler Green ran a post "David Wojnarowicz Seems Important Right Now," stating that his work took on particular significance given the recent wave of suicides by gay youth.

Back in 2004, New York gallery PPOW held a tribute to the artist called "Out of Silence: Artworks with Original Text by David Wojnarowicz," and blogger James Wagner captured the event's electric atmosphere. "For someone who had met David and who had been familiar with and in awe of his power for twenty years, the most surprising thing about the evening was the description and engagement of the overflow crowd," Wagner wrote at the time, adding that "most of the people in the room were too young to have known the man whose memory brought them together last night."



In a much-noted irony, the uproar over the Smithsonian's censorship has brought more attention than ever to Wojnarowicz, with thousands of people watching his suppressed work, "A Fire in My Belly," online and in shows at the numerous museums, galleries, and nonprofits that have screened the piece in protest of its removal from "Hide/Seek." There are many artists, however, who are far from new initiates to Wojanrowicz's work — in fact, they have been directly, and profoundly, inspired by it. For the new audience brought to this artist by the Smithsonian controversy, here, then, is a short and very partial list of artworks and artistic gestures that testify to the enduring influence and legacy of David Wojnarowicz.

Click on the slide show at the left.