Two years before he died of an AIDS-related illness at age 37, David Wojnarowicz created a poignant collage condemning America’s violent treatment of gay men. In his 1990–1991 work “Untitled (One Day This Kid),” Wojnarowicz smiles at the viewer through a photograph of himself as a school boy. Surrounding the photo — a classic Americana image of boyhood — a foreboding text warns of what the subject will experience throughout his life because of his sexual orientation.
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Wojnarowicz’s death on July 22, 1992, a website called “One Day This Kid” allows people to upload their own portraits in place of the artist’s, offering a chilling reflection on the hatred and violence that queer people still face in 2022. The site was launched by PPOW Gallery — which began exhibiting Wojnarowicz’s work in the 1980s and now represents his estate — as the first project of the newly established David Wojnarowicz Foundation.
Wojnarowicz was diagnosed with AIDS two years before he created “Untitled (One Day This Kid).” His diagnosis came shortly after his close friend Peter Hujar passed away from the same disease in 1987, launching an overtly political period in Wojnarowicz’s career. In the iconic piece, Wojnarowicz details the consequences of being gay in a homophobic world: Politicians will “enact legislation against this kid,” “priests and rabbis” will “call for his death,” and men will attempt to silence him though “prison, suffocation, rape, intimidation, drugging, ropes, guns, laws …” (the list continues). The artist also goes on to write that the government will revoke the boy’s constitutional right to privacy, doctors will deem him “curable as if his brain were a virus,” and ultimately, he will “be subject to loss of home, civil rights, jobs, and all conceivable freedoms.”
“All this will begin to happen in one or two years when he discovers his desire to place his naked body on the body of another boy,” Wojnarowicz wrote in the text’s conclusion.
In a press release about the new project, PPOW Gallery cited “the recent and continued malicious legislative attacks policing LGBTQIA+ bodies,” inviting participants to join in “a visual chorus of solidarity and protest” on the anniversary of Wojnarowicz’s passing. Hate crimes and violence against the LGBTQ+ community have been rising, and over the last few years, the United States has witnessed an onslaught of anti-gay and anti-trans legislative bills. More recently, the ongoing monkeypox epidemic threatens to fuel hatred toward gay men while simultaneously preventing people from seeking treatment.
Over 200 people uploaded their portraits, and on July 22, the One Day This Kid website was turned into a video stream of users’ submitted images.
The new David Wojnarowicz Foundation will establish a website, a catalogue raisonné, and “a structure to support artists and scholars who can carry on David’s legacy in the decades to come,” PPOW co-founder Wendy Olsoff said.
“This is so important right now — so this generation can hand a solid framework to the next generation — and is without a doubt a huge responsibility considering the importance of Wojnarowicz’s work and activist spirit,” Olsoff added.
This article, part of a series focused on LGBTQ+ artists and art movements, is supported by Swann Auction Galleries.
Swann’s upcoming sale “LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History,” featuring works and material by Tom of Finland, Peter Hujar, Robert Mapplethorpe, Oscar Wilde, Andy Warhol, and many more will take place on August 18, 2022.
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