David Wojnarowicz, Rimbaud mask, ca. 1978, photocopy mounted on card stock, rubber bands, 11 5/8 × 8 7/8". © The Estate of David Wojnarowicz. Photo: Fales Library and Special Collections, NYU.

DAVID WOJNAROWICZ first became widely known during the brief vogue of the East Village art scene in the 1980s, but he distinguished himself from his contemporaries with the seriousness of his literary interests and the depth of his rage. In a passage from his book Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, he describes his writing as a way of overcoming alienation:

I had almost died three times at the hands of people I’d sold my body to in those days and after coming off the street and adapting to familiar routines of working and living under a roof, I could barely speak when in the company of other people. There was never a point in conversations at work, parties or gatherings where I could reveal what I’d seen. That weight of image and sensation wouldn’t come out until I picked up a pencil and started putting it down on paper.

David Wojnarowicz, Arthur Rimbaud in New York, 1978–79, gelatin silver print, 10 × 8". From the series “Arthur Rimbaud in New York,” 1978–79. © The Estate of David Wojnarowicz.

Wojnarowicz stood out as a poor, ethnic

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