Critics’ Picks

David Wojnarowicz, Susan Pyzow, and Paul Marcus, The Lazaretto: An Installation About the Current State of the AIDS Crisis (detail), 1990/2018, mixed media, dimensions variable.

New York

David Wojnarowicz

535 West 22nd Street Third Floor
July 12–August 24

David Wojnarowicz’s ephemeral installations have long been the stuff of art-world legend. Take his “Cockabunnies,” elements of what the artist called an action installation. In 1982, Wojnarowicz let loose dozens of live roaches with glued-on bunny ears and tails at the opening of “Beast: Animal Imagery in Recent Painting” at the PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York (now known as MoMA PS1). The gesture was a kind of revenge for not being included in the exhibition, as well as a fantastic moment of guerilla comedy. Here, the gallery gives us objects, documentation, and re-creations of many of Wojnarowicz’s best-known but rarely seen installations: crowded and room-size works overflowing with detail that return to us the thrilling immediacy of the artist’s confrontational presence. (The show coincides with the major Wojnarowicz retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which runs until September 30, 2018).

In You Killed Me First, 1985, a large-scale photograph of a collaborative installation with the filmmaker Richard Kern, a decomposing nuclear family sits at a dinner of rotten food beneath a crucifix hanging on the dining-room wall, seemingly drenched with their own gory entrails. In the exhibition’s harrowing standout, The Lazaretto: An Installation About the Current State of the AIDS Crisis (another collaboration between Wojnarowicz and the artists Susan Pyzow and Paul Marcus), 1990/2018, the artist’s enemies of the 1990s culture wars—President Bush the first, Cardinal John O’Connor, and Senator Jesse Helms—are depicted in Klan robes, eating baby dolls. Visitors enter a maze made from black garbage bags that resemble body bags. On them are handwritten statements from a number of sources, including people living with AIDS. The maze opens onto several rooms—one features a projection of a decomposing corpse lying on a bed next to an end table piled high with pill bottles. On the wall above, in what appears to be blood, the artist has scrawled an indictment of politicians and religious leaders for their murderous inaction in the face of the AIDS epidemic. Wojnarowicz, who would himself die from the disease less than two years after the original work’s completion, created indelible art from his experiences of childhood abuse, homophobia, and illness. In keeping with his belief that exposing one’s suffering is a political act, this, Wojnarowicz’s final installation, brilliantly and persuasively recasts the private sickroom as the scene of a public crime.