News of an upcoming show of David Wojnarowicz’s work at the new downtown Whitney prison I mean showroom I mean coffin I mean mausoleum I mean museum has filled me with more disgust than anything else. When I first discovered Wojnarowicz’s work it was right after his death of AIDS in 1992—I was 19, escaping childhood and everything I was supposed to be, gasping and grasping at the possibilities of living fully in a world I knew wanted me to die or disappear. Reading Wojnarowicz I immediately felt my rage and desire in print for the first time, lust and loss as a part of everyday experience, the way it’s everything at once—you don’t get to choose unless you choose everything.
I remember the Wojnarowicz retrospective at the New Museum in 1998—I was so excited to finally see this work that meant so much to me, the actual work, not just photocopies on my walls. But walking around that show all I could think was that Wojnarowicz was dead, and the work in this rarified context was dead too. What will the new Whitney show add to the mummification of lived experience?
Surely, as an institution that literally sits on the ground where Wojnarowicz once cruised for sex and sensibility, the Whitney must be planning a few surprises. Perhaps they’ve unearthed remains of Wojnarowicz’s seminal influence in the excavated ground—come stains in the debris? Maybe, with all the technology they have available, they will be able to exhibit before-and-after pictures of David’s semen—look at this come, so happy on the wall before HIV, and then later you can see the mourning in grey streaks. Maybe in honor of the show, the Whitney will convert its main gallery into an installation of trucks once filled with rotting carcasses, in honor of the meatpacking trucks where gay men used to fuck with abandon, formerly located directly in view of where the Whitney now stands. Perhaps then we will all be able to smell the death, and imagine more.