Wojnarowicz was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, and later lived with his mother in New York City, where he attended the High School of Performing Arts for a brief period. From 1970 until 1973, after dropping out of school, he for a time lived on the streets of New York City prostituting himself and also worked as a farmer on the Canadian border.
Upon returning to New York City, he saw a particularly prolific period for his artwork from the late 1970s through the 1980s. During this period, he made super-8 films, such as Heroin, began a photographic series of Arthur Rimbaud, did stencil work, played in a band called 3 Teens Kill 4, and exhibited his work in well-known East Village galleries. Wojnarowicz is also connected to other prolific artists of the time, appearing in or collaborating on works with artists like Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, Luis Frangella, Kiki Smith, Richard Kern, James Romberger,Ben Neill and Phil Zwickler.
In 1985, he was included in the Whitney Biennial, the so-called Graffiti Show. In the 1990s, he fought and successfully issued an injunction against Donald Wildmon and the American Family Association on the grounds that Wojnarowicz's work had been copied and distorted in violation of the New York Artists' Authorship Rights Act. Wojnarowicz' successful lawsuit represented a notable and affirmative step towards artists rights in the United States.Wojnarowicz died of AIDS-related complications on July 22, 1992 at the age of 37.His personal papers are part of the Downtown Collection held by the Fales Library at New York University.
His works include: Untitled (One Day This Kid...); Untitled (Buffalo); Water; Birth of Language II; Untitled (Shark), Untitled (Peter Hujar); Tuna; Peter Hujar Dreaming/Yukio Mishima: St. Sebastian; Delta Towels; True Myth (Domino Sugar); Something From Sleep II; Untitled (Face in Dirt); and I Feel a Vague Nausea among others.
After his death, photographer and artist Zoe Leonard, who was a friend of Wojnarowicz, exhibited a work inspired by him, entitled "Strange Fruit (for David)".
In November 2010, the video, A Fire in the Belly, which was included in the exhibit "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" at the National Portrait Gallery (United States) was removed by SMithsonian Director Wayne Clough, after complaints from the Catholic League (U.S.) and Rep. John Boehner.