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Cruising the Dead RiverDavid Wojnarowicz and New York's Ruined Waterfront$
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Fiona Anderson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226603612

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226603896.001.0001

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The Whole World and the Cemetery: The Queer Visual Culture of Ruins

The Whole World and the Cemetery: The Queer Visual Culture of Ruins

(p.46) 2 The Whole World and the Cemetery: The Queer Visual Culture of Ruins
Cruising the Dead River

Fiona Anderson

University of Chicago Press

This chapter explores how David Wojnarowicz and other New York artists, including Peter Hujar and Paul Thek, engaged with ruins visually in their artwork from the 1950s to the early 1980s. I am concerned with how and why a visual culture of ruins developed with such fervor in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and how artists manipulated the city’s dilapidation to their creative advantage. This chapter traces the development of a queer visual culture that focused on ruins as both subject matter and medium in American art in this period, and its relation to a critical aesthetic interest in contemporaneous urban processes of abandonment, ruination, and renewal. I consider this visual culture of ruins in relation to site-specific art practices and cultures of display, an interest in “crummy” spaces that had been gaining momentum in Manhattan from the time of the waterfront’s abandonment in the early 1960s. In this chapter, I am interested in how this work might appear, achronologically, different from the erotic vantage point of cruising, itself a queer way of looking in the city and a visual culture interested in ruins and in the places where the city’s heteronormative fabric falls apart.

Keywords:   ruins, urban renewal, memory, photography, Peter Hujar, Paul Thek, Robert Smithson, David Wojnarowicz, Gordon Matta-Clark, queer

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