EXHIBITION FEATURING WORKS OF FRANGELLA AND WOJNAROWICZ,
GAY ARTISTS AND LEADING FIGURES IN THE 1980s EAST VILLAGE ART SCENE,
TO OPEN WEDNESDAY, 5 SEPTEMBER AT HAL BROMM GALLERY TRIBECA
Luis Frangella and David Wojnarowicz, two artists with long histories at Hal Bromm Gallery, will be the subjects of a joint exhibition, DESDE NEW YORK: LUIS FRANGELLA / DAVID WOJNAROWICZ. The exhibition explains how the synergy of these two artists and their circle of friends influenced the 1980s contemporary art world. As artistic collaborators and close friends, Fragella and Wojnarowicz shared a unique relationship as mentor and protege. Both artists died tragically of AIDS in the early nineties, but left rich bodies of work as a testament to their lives. Today the dialogue between their works transcends geographical, political and cultural boundaries and allows us to revisit the creative forces whose lives were extinguished by the still-ongoing AIDS crisis.
DESDE NEW YORK: LUIS FRANGELLA / DAVID WOJNAROWICZ is presented in collaboration with HIV Arts Network, a NYC-based non-profit providing free support services to individuals living with and affected by HIV/AIDS in the arts community. During the exhibition, HIV Arts Network will host a series of panel discussions about the intersections of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the 1980s contemporary art scene and the gay political landscape. Featured in September will be Russell Sharon and Judy Glantzman, two artists who worked alongside Luis Frangella and David Wojnarowicz.
Luis Frangella’s initial September 1983 exhibition at Hal Bromm featured fourteen-foot tall figures painted directly on the gallery walls, forming a direct connection to Frangella’s work at Pier 34 on the Hudson River. Wojnarowicz’ solo exhibition at the gallery followed two months later in November.
A collaborative work painted on a horseshoe crab shell brought Frangella and Wojnarowicz together with Mike Bidlo, a close friend of both. At his invitation, Kiki Smith also collaborated with Wojnarowicz, creating blood paintings on bedsheets that were hung in the gallery.
As gay artists whose works were unapologetically queer, Frangella and Wojnarowicz were seminal figures in the East Village art scene that developed in the early 1980s. Individually and together they ignored the boundaries of traditional mediums, venturing well beyond the limits of canvas or paper in studio. Clubs, stage sets, construction sites and abandoned piers were their metier. With Mike Bidlo they were instrumental in leading other artists (Russell Sharon, Judy Glantzman, Rick Prol and Stephen Lack among many others) to work in the abandoned Hudson River Pier #34. Many of those gifted artists were featured in Hal Bromm’s 1984 Climbing exhibition, introducing them and the growing East Village art scene to a larger audience.
Luis Frangella and David Wojnarowicz transversed hemispheres in the 1980s, collaborating both in New York City and Buenos Aires. Though they were great companions, Wojnarowicz and Frangella came from entirely different backgrounds. Luis Frangella was a highly educated member of Argentina’s upper class; David Wojnarowicz, victimized by childhood abuse, dropped out of school at age fourteen and fled to New York City to save himself. A natural artist fascinated by bugs and nature, he was self-taught. Frangella, with the artistic education that Wojnarowicz lacked, easily filled the role of mentor by introducing David to new techniques and materials. Luis was also eleven years older, providing a surrogate for the father figure David never had. Wojnarowicz respected Frangella, learned from him, and collaborated with him both artistically and curatorially. Frangella had great admiration for Wojnarowicz’s raw talent and was inspired by his awkward talent and tough independence. Featured in this exhibition is one of several paintings the two artists created together.
Luis Frangella (1944-1990) was a figurative, postmodern painter and sculptor. He earned a masters in architecture at the University of Buenos Aires in 1972 and then attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973. In 1976 he moved to New York City where he painted huge “street” murals on construction site wall, abandoned Hudson River piers and in the nightclubs of the East Village and Tribeca. Situated in these nontraditional spaces, he began working with subversive artists like Wojnarowicz. Older than David, Luis was a sort of father figure to many younger artists, becoming an influential member of the East Village art scene. Known as a good cook, he fostered a sense of community and caring, often serving improptu meals in his loft after the late-night club scene wound down.
Writing in Art Forum (1985), John Howell proclaimed, “Luis Frangella is a classic junk artist. That is, he grafts the essence of classic art themes and techniques onto an anthology of urban debris used as support materials, thereby updating the past and historicizing the present.”
David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) was an independent prodigy. As a run-away street hustler at a young age, Wojnarowicz developed an uncanny ability to find beauty in the gritty street life around him. His stencil work was eventually recognized by many New York galleries, elevating avant garde street art into the Downtown Milieu. Wojnarowicz refused to reduce his creativity into a single medium. Instead, he expanded his techniques, producing collages, films, photographs, poems and sculptures. Today his writing, always incisive, is viewed as an important parallel to his visual art.
Cynthia Carr in Interview Magazine (2012) noted that “Wojnarowicz famously raged and recorded at the inception of the early-’80s East Village art-world scene, a hardcore, down-and-out, truly liberating alternative to the money markets of the SoHo and uptown galleries. His works address annihilation, disenfranchisement, depersonalization, and dread, but as much as they invoke the big ideas of a world gone wrong, they also record the artist’s own fears, memories, and demons.”
In 1984 Frangella invited Wojnarowicz to his home country of Argentina, the same year the country transitioned from a tyrannical dictatorship back to a Democracy. Wojnarowicz found a tangible emotional difference between exhibiting in New York and Buenos Aires. In an interview when speaking of an exhibition in Argentina, Wojnarowicz stated, “I mean, I had people weeping in front of things I made in Argentina. I think the threat of death in daily life, the cycle of death with the ‘disappeared’ people, the threat of death with expression is the same thing I experienced growing up—fearing I would be killed or shocked.” In Buenos Aires, Wojnarowicz created new works from trash, billboards and raw materials. Featured in the exhibition are works on paper, constructions, paintings and sculptures. Pieces specifically created by Luis and David for an exhibition they curated in Buenos Aires, Desde New York: 37 East Village Painters, include plastic, ready-made toy dolls. Wojnarowicz re-imagined their surfaces with collaged maps, gauze, paint and coins.
Equally at ease with painting and sculpture, Luis Frangella alternated between refined delicacy and robust muscularity. David Wojnarowicz focused on scavenged and overlooked materials, maps, billboard posters and trash from the streets. The juxtaposition of their work was charged and invigorating, a distillation of what the East Village aesthetic came to mean.
At the height of the AIDS epidemic both artists were diagnosed with the disease and played an integral role in the ACT UP movement. Ostracized by their sexuality and state of health, Wojnarowicz and Frangella embraced the marginalization they faced, applying it to their art and activism. Seriously incapacitated by his illness, Frangella was unable to remain involved for long, dying in 1990 at the age of 46. Wojnarowicz, able to carry on, raised hell with his anguished calls for attention to the AIDS crisis. Famously protesting actively until shortly before his death in 1992 at 37, David Wojnarowicz was a champion of all who suffered and died from AIDS, and today remains an inspiration to new generations.
For further information, photographs or details on the exhibition, please visit halbromm.com or contact the gallery via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212 732 6196.
For information about the “HIV/AIDS and Arts Collaborative” contact
Doneley Meris at HIV ARTS NETWORK: 212-385-4945 or email@example.com.