Cynthia Carr has accomplished the near impossible: she has captured the essence of the brilliance of genius that was David Wojnarowicz while keeping him in context of the brutally sad life he led. Carr met Wojnarowicz in 1982 in the office of the art magazine Artforum just before Wojnarowicz became a leading figure in the burgeoning East Village 1980s art scene and, soon after, a pioneering AIDS activist. He had been living in New York for at least 15 years, ever since his alcoholic father had moved him and his siblings from their home in suburban New Jersey to their mother's apartment in Manhattan. The parents had divorced years earlier, after a long stretch of domestic violence and abuse that sometimes involved the children. As Carr states `He was not supposed to be there.' A friend, from whom he was hoping to borrow money, had let him in. But he was also out of place in a cultural sense: a young street artist trespassing in the halls of elite culture. `He was a force, she recalls. They became acquaintances.
And it is just kind of relationship that Carr preserves as she takes us on the exceedingly well document biography of this seminal artist who with Keith Haring, Nan Goldin, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Wojnarowicz helped redefine art for the times. She describes the changes occurring in the New York art scene along with the wild life styles of the times - and the aftermath of living the life of a male prostitute, a junkie, homeless, a man of the filth of the streets. His art performances and exhibitions are legendary and Carr paints them well. As uptown art collectors looked downtown for the next big thing, this community of cultural outsiders was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. The ensuing culture war, the neighborhood's gentrification, and the AIDS crisis then devastated the East Village scene. Wojnarowicz died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of thirty-seven. Carr's brilliant biography traces the untold story of a controversial and seminal figure at a pivotal moment in American culture.
This book not only is as comprehensive an academic document as the finest in literature, it also captures that strange period in time and art that forever changed the world. To quote from the book PR, `Despite her friendship with Wojnarowicz in the last months of his life, Carr is willing to paint the artist in clear-eyed prose, balancing unflattering stories of drug use and success-induced paranoia with those of his trenchant and harrowing AIDS activism and defense of freedom of expression. (The intricate details of his battle with right-wing critics will, one hopes, provide fodder for today's protestors.) When Artforum finally devoted an issue to the East Village scene in 1999, Wojnarowicz was on the cover, Carr notes. But the artist's story is ultimately about more than triumphs: It asks what makes an artist create. How does one overcome massive personal pain and make art? Early in the book, Carr speaks with one of Wojnarowicz's first roommates and confidants in the city. "My big question was, do we have to destroy ourselves to be creative," the woman tells the author. "I felt like he was kind of hell-bent on it. He wanted that. He wanted the dark part." Grady Harp, July 12