Cape Cod exhibition explores legacy of artist David Wojnarowicz

In Cape Cod, exhibition ‘Tidal Motion’ explores the legacy of artist David Wojnarowicz. Though the artist’s life was cut short by HIV/AIDs in 1992, his work continues to inspire a generation of contemporary artists

The painting to the left shows a red house burning on an orange background. On the far wall, the first painting shows two whole chickens placed as if they're sitting. The second painting shows one man putting a hand on the other shoulder. There is a glass table with red chairs in the corner.
Installation view featuring David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Burning House), 1982 and The Boys Go Off to War, 1983
(Image credit: TBC)

The natural beauty of Cape Cod, Massachusetts has long attracted venerable East Coast families to summer on its shores, but it is the enclave of Provincetown on the peninsula that is known for its history as a haven for artists, intellectuals and the LGBTQ+ community.

Paying homage to both sides of the island’s heritage is a captivating exhibition of works by the artist David Wojnarowicz, titled ‘Tidal Motion’. Staged in a new project space in Provincetown run by the art dealer Joe Sheftel, who curated the show together with New York’s PPOW Gallery, the first-ever solo presentation of Wojnarowicz’s paintings, collages, stencils and photographs in Provincetown symbolically marks the 40th anniversary of when the first HIV cases were reported. Wojnarowicz succumbed to the disease in 1992, aged 37.

A black & white photo of the exhibition curator Joe Sheftel standing outside of the front door. We see the whole house.

Exhibition curator Joe Sheftel outside his project space in historic Provincetown, MA

(Image credit: TBC)

Although Wojnarowicz’s work has been well-exhibited in the past, Sheftel and PPOW’s Wendy Olsoff have fostered a unique dialogue by presenting his work and alongside that of contemporary artists, such as Leilah Babirye, rafa esparza, Oscar yi Hou and Cheyenne Julien amongst others. The contemporary works will be introduced and rotated weekly, thus creating a thought-provoking cadence for the show’s duration. 

‘David Wojnarowicz is one of the artists who inspired me to become involved with art,’ shares Sheftel. ‘Seeing his work in my 20s opened up ideas to me of what was possible both visually and politically; how art can function as a vehicle for change. Wojnarowicz has such a venerated position in the art world that I became interested in exploring how his legacy continues to influence younger generations of artists. I had numerous conversations with Wendy about which younger artists are inspiring us right now, who we are looking at, and how a different generation is addressing some of the same themes of governmental indifference, the power of community, the relationship between individuals and the natural environment, and making art that reflects those concerns today.’

A painting of a man's genitalia is hung on the wall. We see a gray top table with red chairs.

(Image credit: TBC)

Many paintings of different sizes are hung on the wall, above a dark gray sofa.

Installation views of the exhibition David Wojnarowicz ’Tidal Motion’

(Image credit: TBC)

Water is a recurring feature in Wojnarowicz’s work. Throughout his life and practice, he often returned to lakes, rivers and oceans as a means of escaping his so-called ‘pre-invented existence’. In the artist’s work, the theme of water is often linked to dreams and myths of emergence, in which the protagonist ascends to metamorphosis after submergence in a deep abyss. 

Sheftel says: ‘There is an attention given to Wojnarowicz’s connection to the natural environment and the importance of water and nature as an escape from the continual pressures and regulations of existence.’ Whether representing purification, a comforting oblivion, or merging birth, death, sex, solitude, movement, heaven or hell, Wojnarowicz’s work dives into ‘the continual rippling waters, the indigo that claims it all,’ as he once put it. 

A painting of a naked woman standing in the water is hung on the wall. We see a gray top table with red chairs.

Installation view featuring Nash Glynn, Untitled, 2021

(Image credit: TBC)

The painting to the left shows a red house burning on an orange background. To the far back, we see a black & white painting of an eye.

David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Burning House), 1982, and Untitled (eye w/ ants) from the Ant series, 1988-89

(Image credit: TBC)

To the right, we see two framed colorful lithographs. The first one has a planet, a brain, and a nature shot, on the background of music notes and dollar bills. The second one has a heart, the devil, and a snowman on the background of colorful posters.

Installation view, David Wojnarowicz, From the Four Elements, 1990 A – Earth and Wind: 9-color lithograph B – Fire and Water: 10-color lithograph

(Image credit: TBC)

Closes to the camera, we see a painting in black and orange of two naked women.

David Wojnarowicz, Jean Genet Masturbating in Metteray Prison, 1983

(Image credit: TBC)


’Tital Motion’, until 31 August, Provincetown, MA.


445 Commercial St
Provincetown, MA 02657


Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.