Postcards to Paris
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Published in: July-August 2024 issue.


by David Wojnarowicz
Edited by James Hoff
Primary Information. 605 pages, $40.

IT WAS at one of my first ACT UP meetings that I learned of both the existence and the death of artist, writer, and activist David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992), a central figure of the East Village scene in the 1980s. I had moved to New York only a few weeks earlier, but even I could see that his death had hit members of ACT UP unusually hard. While I didn’t know it at the time, behind the scenes there was an unsuccessful scramble to honor his request for his corpse to be dumped on the steps of either the FDA or the White House. I joined a boisterous march in his memory but peeled off before the planned civil disobedience, for which I had not yet been trained. A few months later, however, I co-organized ACT UP’s “Ashes Action,” in which the ashes of people who died of AIDS were thrown onto the White House lawn, one of several political funerals that drew inspiration from texts by Wojnarowicz and others. Some of his ashes were used in the second Ashes Action, two years later.

            Wojnarowicz’ importance to my thinking about art, life, and death in the age of AIDS has only deepened over the years. But when I went to see “Dear Jean Pierre,” an exhibition of letters and postcards sent mostly between 1979 and ’82 to his on-again, off-again French lover Jean Pierre Delage, I confess I was looking for a different, more intimate connection. The exhibition, curated by Anneliis Beadnell and Cynthia Carr for New York’s PPOW Gallery in spring 2022, didn’t entirely dash that hope. Most of the exhibited material is now available in Dear Jean Pierre, which reproduces the correspondence in full color and scale.

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Shane Butler is a professor of Classics at Johns Hopkins University.


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