Carlos Motta Kindles Wojnarowicz's Queer Rage

Carlos Motta Kindles Wojnarowicz's Queer Rage

New York-based Motta shares a booth with the late artist and rabble-rouser at ARCO Madrid.

New York-based Motta shares a booth with the late artist and rabble-rouser at ARCO Madrid.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

If a dialogue usually involves two living parties, one at this year’s ARCO art fair in Madrid, opening tomorrow, could amount to a kind of queer seance. As part of the fair’s returning “Dialogues” series, in which select galleries split their booths between two contemporary artists, New York’s PPOW will present Carlos Motta (alive) alongside David Wojnarowicz—autodidact, AIDS crisis crusader, and the only non-living artist in the series.

Wojnarowicz, despite being marginalized in society and muffled by censorious politicians in life (30 years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts, unhappy with his essay for an NEA-supported catalog, retaliated by revoking funding) is a towering, articulate figure in death; since his chronicling of lover/collaborator Peter Hujar’s untimely death, and his own eventual demise from AIDS in 1992, Wojnarowicz’s art and writing have become effigies of queer rage, particularly for descendants of the New York art-punk scene he inhabited in the '80s and early '90s.

Having come out as gay to some in his heavily Catholic hometown of Bogotá, Motta moved to New York for art school, where he says his discovery of Wojnarowicz represented a paradigm shift. “His work was a revelation to me because I saw that you could articulate a political position regarding abuse of power or the class system or, in David’s case, the AIDS crisis, while being incredibly moving, personal and bodily,” he says.

Visitors to the ARCO booth may find a resemblance in the two artists’ work. “We have some recurring motifs; [David’s] really interested in skulls and snakes and figures of death, and so am I,” Motta says. “He was [also] an avid critic of Catholicism, and that’s something that is really important to my work.” The booth also highlights their formal and cultural differences; though Inverted World, in which Italian bondage artists suspend Motta upside down for over 20 minutes, may seem a continuation of Wojnarowicz’s subverted crucifix in Untitled (Spirituality), Motta’s performance piece is in fact a reenactment of a 1600s Caravaggio drawing. Motta rose up in secular institutions like the Whitney and Bard College, alternating between academic and avant-garde methods, while Wojnarowicz had a Catholic school education. Still, Motta considers Wojnarowicz a role model: “I think our impulses and [sense of] urgency come from a really similar place."

Motta, 41, can empathize with his queer forebears’ experience of the queer community as a kind of underworld. “It’s much easier for a gay person today, with access to the internet, to find like-minded people who are expressing themselves outwardly. David didn’t have this when he was growing up, and I didn’t either,” he says. “I've had a life as a gay boy since I was about 15, but I wasn’t fully out; it was difficult to do that.”

The duo's presence in the Catholic kingdom of Spain, where the Whitney’s major retrospective “David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night” will travel in May, underlines the evolving role of protest in contemporary art. Paired with Wojnarowicz, Motta’s work promises to not only conjure a link between the living and the dead, but also reveal the ever-present need for anger. “Even though [queer] people in New York and Paris or even Bogotá and Buenos Aires can feel more comfortable in their skin,” says Motta, “they still have to deal with systems of oppression that are very much ingrained. I think that to achieve the kind of [radical] change that David was asking for, we need a really profound shaking of all institutions.”

David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Face in Dirt) (1990)

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