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Wojnarowicz’s experimentation in the darkroom extended to the technique of photomontage, or creating composite images out of multiple negatives. This can be achieved by physically cutting and pasting prints, then rephotographing to create a new negative, or by printing multiple negative on a single sheet.

His most significant and technically complex series of photomontages are those that comprise the Sex Series. In these eight photomontages, Wojnarowicz lays circular insets of found porn, clipped articles, and other images onto urban, industrial, and natural landscapes. In one of the simpler works, an image of a house and water tower is interrupted by a circular inset of two men engaging in oral sex. The images have an eerie quality to them, like slightly off negative images, which was achieved via a specific process (outlined below). Wojnarowicz has written that he was inspired after he had been rejected from an exhibition in Paris about sexuality when the curator told him it was not a show about AIDS; he felt “effectively silenced.”[1] Further, the combination of images extended his ability to “write” with images; he wrote that the images in the Sex Series “came out of writing and worked their way into photography.”[2] Lucy Lippard has written about the connection between the circular format and images of surveillance or observations under a microscope.[3] Finally, he explained to Cynthia Carr that the series “came out of loss. I mean every time I opened a magazine there was a face of somebody else who died…And it essentially came out of wanting some sexy images on the wall—for me. To keep me company.” [4]

The works were exhibited with the subtitle “(for Marion Scemama).” Wojnarowicz has written that this was partly a joke, partly in recognition of the creative support she offered at the time he made the series; Scemama was visiting from Paris regularly and assisting him in the studio. <Carr, 412.</ref>

The series became embroiled in Wojnarowicz’s legal battles when four prints were included in the Artists’ Space show Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing [hyperlink], and when they were included in the exhibition and catalogue for Tongues of Flame at Illinois State University. The NEA, who funded the Illinois exhibition, and had initially funded the Artists Space exhibition, asked Artists Space to relinquish the grant after viewing art in the show. In the press that followed the controversy, the Sex Series was conflated with Wojnarowicz’s essay contribution suggesting he illustrated text about a corrupt Catholic Cardinal with “homosexual acts”.[5] Cropped images of sex acts from the Sex Series were also included in Reverend Wildmon’s 1990 letter to Congress with the title “Your Tax Dollars Paid for This” expressing outrage over the Illinois exhibition. [6]

Media and techniques

The Sex Series are among Wojnarowicz’s most technically complex work, and show his skill and commitment to work in the darkroom. Marguerite van Cook had told Wojnarowicz about an effect she had discovered enlarging color slides on black-and-white paper: the result looked like a negative but a bit off. She also told him about burning a circular image into the paper by removing the negative holder from a circular enlarger.[7] He used both for the Sex Series. Beyond these non-traditional techniques, Wojnarowicz would have also had to cut a series of precisely measured masks: in order to print a single circular inset image on the same paper as the background image he would have needed a mask for the background, a mask for the circular inset, and one for the border. [8]

Once Wojnarowicz had one set of unique prints, he brought the series to Gary Schneider to make enlargements.[9]

Conservation and display

The Sex Series was framed by Stefen Petrik in custom red frames. These are designated artist’s frames.

Selected works


  1. Wojnarowicz, “Sex Series,” Wojnarwicz Papers, Series III, Box 4, Folder 103.
  2. Quoted in Lucy Lippard, “Passenger on the Shadows,” in Brush Fires in a Social Landscape, 2nd ed. (New York: Aperture, 2015): 25.
  3. Lucy Lippard, “Out of the Safety Zone.” Art in America (December 1990): PAGE
  4. Cynthia Carr, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (New York, Bloomsbury, 2012): 410.
  5. Carr, 454.
  6. Carr, 479.
  7. Carr, 408-409
  8. Gary Schneider discusses the difficulty of this process in his interview on this site.
  9. Ibid.