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David Wojnarowicz Papers

Call Number



circa 1954-1992, inclusive


Wojnarowicz, David


211 Linear Feet
in 117 record cartons, 4 manuscript boxes, 103 flat boxes, 49 flat file folders, 44 box binders, 12 card boxes, 59 film cans, and 1 rolled storage tube.

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.


David Wojnarowicz was a painter, writer, photographer, filmmaker, performer, and activist. He made super-8 films, created the photographic series "Arthur Rimbaud in New York", performed in the band Three Teens Kill 4 - No Motive, and exhibited his work in well known East Village galleries. In 1985, he was included in the Whitney Biennial, the so-called "Graffiti Show". He died of AIDS on July 22, 1992. The David Wojnarowicz Papers includes journals, correspondence, manuscripts, photography, film, video and audio works, source and production materials, objects, and ephemera.

Biographical Note

David Michael Wojnarowicz was an openly gay artist, writer, and activist who chronicled a late-twentieth century New York ravaged by AIDS. His multi-media work is notable for combining elements of personal narrative with erotic, often confrontational imagery.

Wojnarowicz was born on September 14, 1954 in Red Bank, New Jersey. Following his parents' divorce, Wojnarowicz moved with his mother to New York City, where he claims he began hustling at age eleven. He attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan for a time, although he never graduated. Wojnarowicz left his mother's apartment at age sixteen to live on the streets, where for two years he was a victim of numerous assaults, before seeking shelter at a halfway house.

In the ensuing years, Wojnarowicz traveled, often by hopping trains and hitchhiking. He lived in San Francisco, as well as in France with his sister, before eventually returning to New York, where he worked as a busboy or janitor to support himself and his art. His activities at this time included performing in a band (Three Teens Kill 4 - No Motive) featuring children's instruments and tape recordings of found sounds, and documenting the Lower West Side's marginal characters through his film, writing and photography. His well-known series Arthur Rimbaud in New York, featuring images of the artist wearing a photographic mask of the symbolist poet, was created in 1978-79.

In the early 80s Wojnarowicz became known in the East Village art scene for making use of re-contextualized stencils, found maps, and grocery-store price signs to produce stark tableaux. By the mid-80s, after the death of his lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, and his own diagnosis with the disease, AIDS became a constant undercurrent in his work. The artist continued to work with images of decay, disaster and sexuality, adopting a militant stance against what he perceived as the complacency and ignorance surrounding the disease. An iconic image of the Wojnarowicz from this time appears in the film Silence = Death, where he appears with his mouth sewn shut in a reference to ACT-UP slogan.

At this controversial point in his career he was drafted in the "culture wars": the NEA rescinded and finally restored funding for an exhibition catalog in which he attacked various public figures, and he was criticized by both a member of Congress and the American Family Association. His book Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration was published in 1991. He continued to produce work until his death in 1992 at age 37.


"David Michael Wojnarowicz."The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 3: 1991-1993. Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.

"David Wojnarowicz." Contemporary Artists, 5th ed. St. James Press, 2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.

Kimmelman, Michael. "David Wojnarowicz, 37, Artist in Many Media.(Cultural Desk)(Obituary)." The New York Times (July 24, 1992): NA. New York Times and New York Post (2000-present). Gale. New York Public Library. 22 May 2009.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Written Works by David Wojnarowicz:

Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, New York: Vintage Books, 1991. David Wojnarowicz: Brush Fires in the Social Landscape, Aperture, 1994. Memories that Smell like Gasoline, San Francisco, ArtSpace Books, 1992. Seven Miles a Second, New York: DC Comics, 1996. Sounds in the Distance, London: Aloes Books, 1982. Waterfront Journals, New York: Grove Press, 1996.


1982: Milliken Gallery, NYC 1983: Hal Bromm Gallery, NYC; Civilian Warfare, NYC 1984: C.A.U.C. Buenos Aires, Argentina; Civilian Warfare, NYC; Anna Friebe Galerie, Cologne, West Germany; Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC. 1985: Messages to the Public, Times Square Spectacolor Board, NYC 1986: Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC; Anna Friebe Galerie, Cologne, West Germany; Cartier Foundation, Paris, France 1987: Ground Zero Gallery, NYC; Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC 1989: PPOW, NYC 1990: David Wojnarowicz, Tongues of Flame, University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois. PPOW, NYC 1991: Exit Art, NYC, David Wojnarowicz: Tongues of Flame.


1980: Lower Manhattan Drawing Show, Mudd Club, NYC; Erotic Show, Club 57, NYC; : Hunger, Leo Castelli's Staircase, action installations with Julie Hair, NYC 1982: Fast, Milliken Gallery, NYC; Hunger Show, Gallery 345, NYC; Beast Show-Cock-a-Bunnies, PS.1, Long Island City, NY, action installation; 3 Person Show, Civilian Warfare Gallery, NYC; Famous Show, Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC; Street Image Brawl (PADD), Franklin Furnace, NYC 1983: Sex Show, Sharpe Gallery, NYC; Underdog, East 7th Street Gallery, NYC; The Terminal Show, Brooklyn Terminal, NYC; Sofa/ Painting, Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC; Soup Kitchen Benefit, Fashion Moda, NYC; From the Streets, Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina;: Summer Show, Hal Bromm, NYC; Speed Trials, White Columns, NYC; Wardline Pier Project, organized by David Wojnarowicz & Mike Bidlo, NYC; Intoxication, Monique Knowlton Gallery, curated by Nicholas Moufarrege, NYC; 3 Part Variety, Milliken Gallery, NYC (co-curator) 1984: East Village Artists, Virginia Museum of Fine Art, curated by Margo Crutchfield, VA ; Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC (installation).; Neo York, University Art Museum, University of California, curated by Phillis Plous, Santa Barbara, CA.; Acid Show, Sensory Evolution Gallery, NYC; Indigestion, PPOW Gallery, NYC; New Galleries of the Lower East Side, Artists Space, NYC; 25,000 Sculptors from Across the USA, Civilian Warfare, NYC; Portraits, PS.1, curated by Jeffrey Deitch, Long Island City, NY 1985: Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC; Anchorage, installation, Brooklyn, NY; Indigestion, PPOW Gallery, NYC; #2 Smart Art Too, 55 Mercer St. Gallery, NYC; Graffiti and East Village Artists, Librizzi Gallery, NYC; East Village Sampler, Jones Troyer Gallery, NYC; Getting Off, Civilian Warfare, NYC; You Killed Me First Installation#8, collaboration with Richard Kern, Ground Zero, NYC; Benefit for the Kitchen, Brooke Alexander, NYC; 1986 The All-Natural Disaster Show, Bronx Council on the Arts, New York; The East Village, Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC; Heads, Mokotoff Gallery, NYC; Homage to Nicholas Moufarrege, Gabrielle Bryers Gallery, NYC 1987: Art Against Aids, Gracie Mansion Gallery, NYC; Exposed and Enveloped, Laurence Miller Gallery, NYC; Redtape Magazine Benefit, EM Donahue Gallery, NYC; Scott Hanson Gallery, NYC 1988: Vollbild- AIDS, N.G.B.K. Berlin, West Germany; Products and Promotion, Franklin Furnace, NYC; Unknown Secrets: Art and the Rosenberg Era, Traveled to: University of Colorado Art Galleries, University of Colorado, Boulder, Installation Gallery.; Still Trauma, Milford Gallery, New York; Fermate show/ installation/ films/ performance in Cologne Train Station, organized by Rilo Chmielorz. 1989: Witnesses Against Our Vanishing, Artist's Space, NYC, curated by Nan Goldin; Departures Photography 1924-89, Hirschl & Adler Modern, NYC; Art About AIDS, Freedman Gallery, Albright College, Reading, PA 1995-96: Temporarily Possessed The Semi-Permanent Collection, New Museum of Contemporary Art, NYC. 1996-97: Sex/ Industry, Guest curated by John Yau, Stefan Stux Gallery, NYC. 1997-98: Male, curated by Vince Aletti, Wessel + O'Connor Gallery, NYC.


1979: Heroin (partially destroyed), color, super-8 1983: 3 Teens Kill 4- no motive/ LP, Point Blank Records 1985: Satan Teens (made with Tommy Turner) b&w super-8, 90 minutes. (unfinished) 1987: A Fire in my Belly, filmed in Mexico City and various border towns as well as NYC, b&w and color super-8, 30 minutes.(went through 2 versions then disassembled for other projects.) 1987-88: Untitled (The Death of Peter Hujar), b&w super-8, approx.30 minutes, unedited. 1988: Beautiful People, starring Jesse Hultberg, approx. 30 minutes (soundtrack unfinished) 1989: Teaching a Frog to Dance (or: Building a Patriotic Beast) b&w super-8, 2 ; minutes, unfinished.; What's This Guy's Job in the World, 2 minutes, color video.; In This House..., 3 minutes, color video.; Howdie Doody Goes for a Drive, b&w super-8, 25 minutes,(unfinished).; Untitled, or Using My Sexual Energy As a Tool to Fight the State Is As Good a Tool As Any Other, 5 minute video & super-8 version featuring Marion Scemama (unfinished). 1990: Fear of Disclosure: The Psycho-Social Implications of HIV Revelation, 4 parts, in collaboration with Phil Zwickler. 1991: Site-less sounds/ Tellus #25. Compilation CD with various artists including David Wojnarowicz and Ben Neill performing "Vanishing act". 1992: ITSOFOMO: In the Shadow of Forward Motion /New Tone Records, CD of audio performance by David Wojnarowicz and Ben Neill.


1985: Stray Dogs, segment of Manhattan Love Suicides by Richard Kern (co-starring with Bill Rice). 1986: You Killed Me First, by Richard Kern, featuring Karen Finley, Lung Leg and David Wojnarowicz. 1990: Silence = Death, by Rosa von Praunheim and Phil Zwickler.


1983: Sounds in the Distance/ Adapted and directed by Allen Frame and Kirsten Bates, Bill Rice's Garden, NYC, Berlin and BACA Downtown, Brooklyn.


1989: Itsofomo: In the Shadow of Forward Motion, co-conceived with musician Ben Neill. Multimedia performance presented in raw version for four nights at the Kitchen, NYC. Choreography Gloria McLean, videos edited by David Wojnarowicz and Phil Zwickler. Itsofomo was subsequently performed at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Center of Contemporary Art, Seattle, San Francisco Art Institute; Hallwalls, Buffalo; and Exit Art, NYC.


Folders are arranged both alphabetically by subject/author heading and chronologically depending on the nature of the materials.

The files are grouped into 13 subject based series and further subdivided into subseries.


  1. Series I: Journals
  2. Series II: Correspondence
  3. Series III: Manuscripts
  4. Series IV: Phone Logs
  5. Series V: Art Magazines and Catalogue Contributions
  6. Series VI: Biographical
  7. Series VII: Subjects
  8. Series VIII: Audio [SEE ALSO Accretions 2001]
  9. Series IX: Photography
  10. Series X: Video and Film
  11. Series XI: Art Works
  12. Series XII: Library
  13. Series XIII: Objects and Artifacts
  14. OVERSIZE - Series I: Journals and Diaries
  15. OVERSIZE - Series V: Art Magazines and Catalogue Contributions
  16. OVERSIZE - Series VI: Biographical
  17. OVERSIZE - Series VII:Subjects
  18. OVERSIZE - Series IX: Photography
  19. OVERSIZE - Series X: Video and Film
  20. OVERSIZE - Series XI: Art Works
  21. OVERSIZE - Series XII: Library
  22. Mapcase - Series VII: Subjects
  23. Mapcase - Series XI: Art Works
  24. Accretions 2001 - Media
  25. Accretions 2001 - Series VI: Biographical

Scope and Content Note

The David Wojnarowicz Papers are comprised of journals, correspondence, manuscripts, ephemera, photography, artwork, film, video and audio works.

The film, video and audio series (Series VIII, IX and X) of the David Wojnarowicz Papers contain audio, film and video works by David Wojnarowicz, as well as an extensive collection of film, video and audio source materials produced by Wojnarowicz. The collection of source and production materials reflects his interest in documenting environments through visual and audio recording media, as well as his tendency to reuse imagery from various media. The source materials include recorded journal entries, ambient recordings and interviews with friends and colleagues. Works by other downtown NYC artists and collaborators, such as Ben Neill, Richard Kern, Charles Atlas, Phil Zwickler, and Rosa von Praunheim are included in the collection as well as commercial works representing David Wojnarowicz's personal videotape library. Also included in the collection are taped radio interviews which document the NEA and Donald Wildmon/ American Family Association controversies. The collection also includes phone message tapes from David Wojnarowicz's personal answering machine. These tapes document significant events in his life such as the death of Peter Hujar. Descriptive information for items in these series is taken from any descriptive information provided by the artist on the object or its packaging.

The photography series (Series IX) contains multiple formats of photographs taken by David Wojnarowicz, mainly during the 1980s and early 1990s. Negatives, contact sheets, prints, and slides offer different media in which to examine Wojnarowicz's camera style, subject matter, and photographic collages. Contact sheets often have Wojnarowicz's notation on them as to which frames to reprint or enlarge, allowing a glimpse into his artistic choices. In addition, the envelopes which originally housed the contact sheets and negatives are full of Wojnarowicz's descriptions of the images inside, and sometimes his thoughts about their artistic merit. Negatives of important Wojnarowicz photographic work, such as the Rimbaud series, diorama shots, and photographs of Peter Hujar's death, are included. These negatives are not open to researchers. Wojnarowicz's many trips to Paris, Berlin and Mexico are well documented; inspirations gained on these trips can be traced throughout Wojnarowicz's work. The prints, which range in size from 3 x 5 in. to 16 x 20 in., often show a variety of exposures and darkroom techniques on the same image, detailing the options from which the final choice was made. Wojnarowicz's collection of commercial pornographic images is included here, and contains images which were later incorporated into several of the Sex series works. Many prints of the Rimbaud series, as well as many copies of a source photograph of a meteor crater, are contained in this series. A numbered run of slides contains most of Wojnarowicz's completed art works and documents, along with the prints and contact sheets, of many of his installation pieces.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use materials in the collection in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; David Wojnarowicz Papers; MSS 092; box number; folder number or item identifier; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University Libraries.


The David Wojnarowicz Papers were purchased in September 1997 from the estate of David Wojnarowicz with the assistance of Tom Rauffenbart, executor of the estate. The collection was transferred from a storage unit on the West side of Manhattan to the Fales Library at New York University.

Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures

Access to audiovisual materials in this collection is available through digitized access copies. Researchers may view an item's original container, but the media themselves are not available for playback because of preservation concerns. Materials that have already been digitized are noted in the collection's finding aid and can be requested in our reading room.


Due to extreme deterioration, Stuffed alligator with rope around its front right leg (item 092.2.0540) was deaccessioned in Fall of 2008.

In May 2018, Coffin with human remains (item 092.2.0539) was deaccessioned and returned to PPOW Gallery.

Separated Materials

Series XII: Library lists the books and other printed items that were in Wojnarowicz's library when it arrived at Fales and were removed from the archive. Most titles have been cataloged and can be retrieved by searching Bobcat, the Bobst library's online catalog.

Related Material at the Fales Library and Special Collections

John Hall Papers
The Janine Vega Collection of David Wojnarowicz Letters

Collection processed by

Marvin J. Taylor

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-06-25 15:24:38 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

Collection processed and updated by Marvin Taylor, 1997; Ann Butler, 1998; Camilla Fojas 1997-1999; Tania Friedel, 1999; Phil Lauer, 1999; Jennifer Gotwals, 2000; Jenny Hillyer, Summer 2001; Thomas Beachdel, Fall 2001; Lisa Darms, Spring 2008; Luke Martin, 2008; Brent Phillips, 2008, 2012; John Sapp, 2012. Biographical note revised by Bryan O'Keefe, 2009.

In April 2016, boxes from Series XI and Oversize Series I, VI, VII, XI, XII were renumbered to numerically follow boxes in Series I. Researchers with citations to previous box numbers may contact for assistance with identifying new box numbers.

In August 2017, seven items were retrospectively accessioned into the collection. These items and 24 others were prepared to be moved to offsite art storage in September 2017.

In 2021, narrative description of both parts of the Mary Hayslip interview were edited to revise harmful language used regarding suicide and addiction.

From October 2020 through October 2021, objects in Series XIII were assessed and rehoused as part of the Kress Fellowship in Plastics Conservation.

Revisions to this Guide

March 2017: Updated by Jacqueline Rider to reflect incorporation of video preservation master and sub-master files
August 2017: Updated by Megan O'Shea to add seven items and prepare 24 others for a move to offsite art storage in September 2017
November 2017: Updated by Megan O'Shea to incorporate items treated and rehoused by Barbara Goldsmith Preservation and Conservation Department staff
December 2017: Updated by Megan O'Shea to prepare artwork being sent to offsite art storage in December 2017
June 2018: Updated by Weatherly Stephan to note deaccessions
May 2019: Updated by Kelly Haydon to incorporate new digital access copies of materials from Series VIII, Subseries C: Sound Materials
January 2020: Updated by Anna McCormick to remove obsolete links.
April 2021: Edited by Amy C. Vo to revise harmful language regarding suicide and addiction
July 2021: Updated by Anna Björnsson McCormick to note context between art objects.
October 2021: Updated by Weatherly Stephan to reflect rehousing of objects in Series XIII
May 2023: Updated by Rachel Mahre to state that video materials have been digitized and are accessible to patrons
September 2023: Updated by Olivija Liepa to state that audio, video, and film materials have been digitized and are accessible to patrons
November 2023: Updated by Olivija Liepa to state that audio, video, and film materials have been digitized and are accessible to patrons
May 2024: Updated by Olivija Liepa to state that film materials have been digitized and are accessible to patrons

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from The Wojnarowicz Finding Aid.doc


Fales Library and Special Collections
Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012