Installation--Multimedia Installations

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David Wojnarowicz, America: Heads of Family, Heads of State, 1989-1889 (installation view, The Decades Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s, New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990). Mixed media installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W, New York

Throughout his career, Wojnarowicz’s participation in exhibitions regularly took the form of site-specific multimedia installations, from his earliest solo exhibitions to later contributions to group shows. In his installation work, Wojnarowicz was able to realize theatrical, immersive settings where existing work could come into dialogue with other works, set into specific landscapes created using sound, lighting, and painted backdrops.

Media and techniques

In his multimedia installation work, Wojnarowicz combined all of the media and techniques in his practice: painting, sculpture and found materials, film and video, works on paper, and text. These techniques included the use of found items such as human skeletons or detritus sourced from abandoned lots, as well as unstable materials and provisional structures. Wojnarowicz eagerly used whatever available material would best communicate an idea for the purpose of a temporary installation, creating giant works out of papier-mâché (as in America: Heads of Family/Heads of State, below), or using a commercial photo-mural adhesive to line the walls and serve as a support for paintings, as he did at his first solo exhibition at Civilian Warfare As with his other installation work, he frequently collaborated with friends to source, plan, and realize his ambitious settings.

Conservation and display

Most of Wojnarowicz's installations were temporary and site-specific, and thus have not been conserved.

The Mnuchin Installation) was recreated by PPOW Gallery at Frieze Art Fair, New York, in May 2016. The recreation included the original backdrop painting, a Burning Child sculpture, and a tree sculpture hung with painted animal heads and anchored with cinder blocks. Documentary photographs were shown alongside the recreated installation to indicate the items that were missing. The 8-panel painting, animal heads, and lights were all original: Mnuchin had kept them in storage through the 2000s. This is the only example of recreating an early installation. According to Wendy Olsoff, “It doesn’t really look like the original, because the original was in a basement on the Upper East Side. So we showed a photograph with it, of what it looked like. But I think, in terms of owning it for a museum, it would be a great thing, because it’s as close as people are going to get to having a complete installation of David’s.” [1]

Selected works

Installation as part of 411, Public Illumination Gallery, 1982

The Totem Room, Hal Bromm Gallery, November 19, 1983 – December 23, 1983

Burning Child installation, Gracie Mansion Gallery, November 1, 1984 – November 25, 1984

Commissioned installation for Robert and Adriana Mnuchin, basement of Madison Avenue townhouse, New York, November 1985

Installation #5, Anchorage of the Brooklyn Bridge, 1985

You Killed Me First Installation 8, Ground Zero, December 1985

The Missing Children Show, Louisville, KY, December 1985

America: Heads of Family/Heads of State, in 'T'he Decades Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, May-August 1990

The Lazaretto, collaborative installation with Paul Marcus and Susan Pyzow, P.P.O.W. Gallery, 1990