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Peter Hujar: Speed of Life

parallax image

Admired within New York’s downtown art scenes before his untimely death from AIDS, photographer Peter Hujar (1934–87) is only now receiving wider recognition as one of 20th-century America’s most incisive portraitists. Concluding its international tour at the Wex, the exhibition Peter Hujar: Speed of Life brings together some 140 photographs spanning four decades—works described by the artist as “uncomplicated, direct photographs of complicated and difficult subjects.”

Private by nature, combative in manner, well read, and widely connected, Hujar inhabited a world of avant-garde dance, music, art, and drag performance. His mature career paralleled the public unfolding of gay life between the Stonewall uprising in 1969 and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

Hujar brought to his portraits a disarming empathy, celebrating each individual as they would prefer to see themselves. That sense of curiosity extends to his inimitable portraits of domestic and working animals, with each mysteriously exerting the force of personality. Alongside portraits of such artists and performers as William Burroughs, Fran Lebowitz, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, Ethyl Eichelberger, and John Waters are a handful of distinctive self-portraits, as well as portraits of two of his lovers, the artists Paul Thek and David Wojnarowicz, the latter of whom Hujar would closely mentor throughout the 1980s. In addition to photographing people and animals in the urban worlds he inhabited, Hujar also trained his rigorous eye on rural landscapes, capturing his surroundings with a sense of poetry and uncanny attentiveness.

"Aesthetically fierce, historically informative, strangely tender."

Arranged within a single gallery with subjects interspersed together, Speed of Life reflects Hujar’s preference for exhibiting his work to suggest a conversation being conducted among adjacent photographs. The resulting exhibition has been praised by the New Yorker as “aesthetically fierce, historically informative, strangely tender.”

Please note: This exhibition contains some mature content.
Photograph of Susan Sontag in repose

Susan Sontag, 1975
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund, The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108.8.2310
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Portrait of Peter Hugar jumping with hand to forehead in a saltue

Self-Portrait Jumping (1), 1974
Gelatin silver print
15 1/4 x 15 1/4 in.
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund, The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108:1.37
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Photograph of Candy Darling in a hospital bed

Candy Darling on her Deathbed, 1973
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.
Collection of Ronay and Richard Menschel
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Black and white photograph of a horse on a mountainside

Horse in West Virginia Mountains, 1969
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.
Collection of Ronay and Richard Menschel
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

A person lounges on a pier by the water

Christopher Street Pier (2), 1976
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108:1.84.
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

A muddy dog laying on the ground

Dog, Westtown, New York, 1978
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108:1.98.
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

A boy floats on a small raft in the water

Boy on Raft, 1978
Gelatin silver print
12 x 8 in.
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108:1.97.
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

A person wearing a veil over their face

Gary Indiana Veiled, 1981
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108:1.35.
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

A group people moving as a crowd through the street

Gay Liberation Front Poster Image, 1969
Gelatin silver print
18 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108:1.76.
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

A subject dressed as a maid sits on a chair

Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid, 1981
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108:1.41.
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

A man contorts his body

Gary Schneider in Contortion (2), 1979
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108:1.79.
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

A scenic countryside road

Public Garden, Taormina, Sicily, 1959
Gelatin silver print
15 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108:1.49.
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

A subject strikes a pose with one foot off the ground

Sheryl Sutton, 1977
Gelatin silver print
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund
The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108:1.46.
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

About the Artist(s)

Peter Hujar: Speed of Life is organized by the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, and Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid.

The exhibition is curated by Joel Smith, Richard L. Menschel Curator and Department Head at the Morgan Library & Museum. The Wexner Center for the Arts’ presentation is organized by Curator at Large Bill Horrigan and Assistant Curator Lucy I. Zimmerman.

SUPPORT FOR FREE AND LOW-COST PROGRAMS AT THE WEXNER CENTER
Huntington Bank
Cardinal Health Foundation

GENERAL OPERATING SUPPORT FOR THE WEXNER CENTER
Greater Columbus Arts Council
Ohio Arts Council
The Columbus Foundation
Nationwide Foundation

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Peter Hujar: Speed of Life