David Wojnarowicz on PBS, 1990

NPR Fresh Air host Terry Gross interviewed David Wojnarowicz on June 26, 1990.

Portrait of David

Portrait of David Wojnarowicz by Dirk Rowntree

The National Endowment for the Arts had recently suspended funding for the Artists Space exhibition “Witnesses Against our Vanishing” because of David’s controversial catalog essay “Post Cards from America: X-Rays from Hell” which called out political and religious leaders indifferent to the AIDS crisis.

Soon afterward, conservative Reverend Donald Wildmon singled out David’s work to challenge the reauthorization of the NEA.

Seven weeks after the closing of his retrospective, “Tongues of Flame,” at the University Galleries of Illinois State University in Normal, Ill, Wildmon sent a mass mailing  excerpting parts of David’s multi-media work  in order to depict it as purely pornographic and to challenge the retrospective’s NEA funding. David sued Wildmon and later won a symbolic $1 judgment.

In a letter to The New York Times years later, David’s attorney, David Cole summarized the importance of the case:

“The court found that Mr. Wildmon had misrepresented Wojnarowicz’s work, enjoined him from further distributing the pamphlets and ordered him to send a correction to all 6,000 of the initial recipients. It marked the first judicial decision to enforce New York’s Artists’ Authorship Rights Act.”

Listen to excerpts of Terry Gross’ interview “Art, ‘Obscenity,’ and Federal Funds,” below.

This content appears courtesy Fresh Air, National Public Radio. Click here to listen to the entire interview.