Mnuchin Installation

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Commissioned installation for Robert and Adriana Mnuchin
Basement of Madison Avenue townhouse, New York
November 1985

About

In 1985, Gracie Mansion facilitated a commission for a site-specific installation in the home of collectors and art patrons Robert and Adriana Mnuchin. The resulting installation depicted an apocalyptic landscape. The backdrop of the installation was a large painting of a burning New York City skyline as if seen from across a river (Wojnarowicz described it as seen from the Brooklyn shore, while Cynthia Carr argues it is the vantage point of Jersey City shore). The foreground of the painting depicts a child-size skeleton in front of a burning fire, “a symbol of primitive or early energy.” [1] Debris that Wojnarowicz had collected with Steve Brown, Steve Doughton, and Amy Turner, he collected debris and detritus from abandoned lots around the city—including items like a rusted car door, television set shell, tires, window shards, bricks, and barbed wire--formed the ground of the scene, arranged to form and hide a series of caves that referred again to a primordial landscape. Wojnarowicz installed the Burning Child sculpture so that it appeared to be running toward a tree hung with animal skulls, a reference to a Mayan creation myth [2] The installation incorporated blue strobe lights, which Wojnarowicz had read was connected with healing energy [3], and an audiotape soundtrack he had created with Doug Bressler with sounds including marching, children’s shouting, and mortar attacks. [4] The dense references, which also include Hopi imagery, kachina dolls, animal symbols, and other architectural details, are explained in a four-page document he provided to the Mnuchins, a copy of which is in the Wojnarowicz Artist File at the Frances Mulhall Achilles Library, Whitney Museum of American Art.

Installation Views at the Mnuchin mansion 1985

Instllation View at Frieze New York 2016

People

Steve Brown
Brownwas an artist and filmmaker who assisted Wojnarowicz with various film projects and installations.


Steve Doughton
Doughton was a friend and collaborator with Wojnarowicz, who contributed to the Ward Line Pier Project.

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References

  1. Wojnarowicz, unpublished statement regarding Mnuchin installation, page 2, Wojnarowicz Artists File, Frances Mulhall Achilles Library, Whitney Museum of American Art.
  2. Unpublished statement, 2.
  3. Unpublished statement, 2.
  4. Cynthia Carr, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (New York, Bloomsbury, 2012): 316.