David Wojnarowicz Fire in My Belly

David Wojnarowicz Fire in My Belly

Project Coordinators  Glenn Wharton, Museum Studies, New York University / Marvin Taylor, Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University

Project Description  Over the course of two years (2015 – 2017), faculty, staff, and graduate students at NYU will undertake a pilot project to develop a model for creating digital archives relating to exhibiting and conserving contemporary art. The pilot project will focus on the technical, logistical, and ethical concerns associated with the work of David Wojnarowicz. His archive in the Fales Library Downtown Collection will serve as a principal resource for the research, in conjunction with questions raised by curators at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The current attention his work receives and the controversies surrounding the posthumous assemblage of his moving image and audio fragments into artworks make this research timely and critical to scholars and professionals in the art world.  The activities described in this proposal will lay the groundwork for a second project phase. In this externally funded phase, collaborators will continue the research on Wojnarowicz, archive the project findings on a web-accessible platform housed at the Fales Library and Special Collections, and launch research on a second artist. It will expand the network to include additional collaborators, such as artists, archivists, conservators, curators, art historians, and media technicians who are familiar with the artist’s work.

The project is expected to stimulate research on topics that underlie logistical questions pertaining to curating and exhibiting conceptual and time-based art. Expanded research will engage literature on topics such as artwork biographies, network theory, authorship, intentionality, and authenticity.  Legal questions will lead to research on copyright, intellectual property, and ownership. These and other concerns will be addressed in the Museum Studies seminar.

Project Significance  The project responds to a growing need to document the work and concerns of contemporary artists who employ ephemeral media on which their work is conceptually dependent. Many artists who create media installations and performance art transfer interpretive authority to those who acquire their work. Future interpretation, along with conservation interventions, will rely on the documentation provided by artist studios, archivists, conservators, art historians, curators and others involved with the work during the lifetime of the artist. Other models for artist archives are already emerging, and this project will build on these efforts in the design of an archive suited to exhibiting and conserving the art of our times. Among these efforts art the INCCA Artist Archives Database and the Guggenheim Panza Collection Initiative. Artist foundations such as the Donald Judd Foundation and the Calder Foundation conduct similar research and provide exhibition and conservation information on their websites.

The results of the research will be made accessible through academic publications, symposia and a web-accessible resource managed by NYU Libraries and the Fales Library & Special Collections. We anticipate that this knowledge base will be used by curators, conservators, and researchers in the future to resolve questions about exhibiting and conserving the work of Wojnarowicz and other artists.