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Hujar Greer Lamkton Hujar Greer Lamkton

Greer Lankton and Peter Hujar: Being Themselves

Interpreting the Collection


It was a relationship born of mutual admiration and a shared interest in the transformation undergone within the sphere of performance.

At only 26 years old, Greer Lankton (1958–1996) had become a star-fixture of the short-lived but intensely experimental 1980s East Village art scene. An artist and muse in equal measure, Lankton exhibited widely and was a frequent subject in the work of her peers. On several occasions, she sat for her friend, the photographer Peter Hujar (1934–1987), a leading figure in the cultural scene in downtown New York in the 1970s and early ’80s, who was featured in the recent exhibition Peter Hujar: Performance and Portraiture.

Hujar, admired for his uncompromising work, had a lifelong fascination in portraying liminal states, which he frequently explored through photographs of artists and performers in their dressing rooms or at rest.

I photograph those who push themselves to any extreme. That’s what interests me, and people who cling to the freedom to be themselves.

—Peter Hujar

Rather than attempt to document a static moment in time, Hujar’s consciously sparse, candid photography channels the enigmatic ambiguity which emanated from his subjects, imbuing the images with a vitality all their own. Hujar believed that moments of transition, such as the precipice of sleep, sexual ecstasy, or the veil of death provided opportunities to glimpse this unadulterated magnetism.

At her invitation, Hujar photographed Candy Darling, an actress and one-time muse of Andy Warhol, in her hospital bed mere days before succumbing to lymphoma. In it, the emaciated Candy lies languidly on her side, glamorously fashioned with tousled blond hair and full makeup.

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Candy Darling on her Deathbed, 1973

Peter Hujar. Courtesy of the Peter Hujar Archive and Pace Gallery. © The Peter Hujar Archive / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Framed by blooming chrysanthemums and sterile hospital accoutrement, the photograph is arresting in its multitude of contradictions between life and death. The photograph was published alongside coverage of her death; that’s how it came into the hands of Greer Lankton, a 15-year-old living in Park Forest, Illinois.

Greer and I both had that photo of Candy on our bedroom walls as teens; we both tore it out of “After Dark,” a queer entertainment magazine, which, at that time, was one of the only resources to find anything out about Queer New York.

—Paul Monroe, Lankton’s former husband

Propelled by the radical art and subcultures of New York, Lankton left her native Midwest to study at Pratt Institute, graduating in 1981. She began exhibiting her work among the pioneering artist-run galleries of the burgeoning East Village and flourished in its intensely experimental scene. She adored the unabashedly queer enclave who partied in the orbit of Studio 54 and Andy Warhol, but none more so than Candy Darling and Teri Toye. Lankton idolized the stars for their glamor and rare status as openly transgender celebrities from the onset of their careers.

Peter Hujar. Courtesy of Pace Gallery, New York. © The Peter Hujar Archive / Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Lankton was fascinated by the cult of celebrity and was a gleeful reader of salacious tabloids. She created dolls portraying her celebrity icons of the ’70s and ’80s, which included Jacqueline Kennedy, Divine, and Eddie Segwick. She created elaborate storefront window displays at Einstein’s, a local boutique run by Paul Monroe, who would become her husband. Beyond mere mannequins, Lankton’s dolls enacted bawdy tableaus which saw them smoke, vacuum their apartments, expose themselves, passionately embrace, and bicker. The company of characters included drag queens, conjoined twins, circus acrobats, and Lankton’s doll persona, “Sissy.” Lankton, who had undergone gender affirmation surgery at the age of 21, had great interest in the mutability of bodies, identity, and gender.

It’s hard to miss Lankton’s sculpture Rachel when it beckons from the gallery.

Greer Lankton

Created in homage to fellow artist Rachel Rosenthal, the sculpture demonstrates Lankton’s skill as a doll-maker and her abiding interests in notions of beauty, androgyny, and celebrity. Lankton’s exquisitely crafted dolls range from miniature to above life-size and exude an intense aura of personality, equal parts glamorous and grotesque. Some are fully dressed in extravagant clothes, makeup, and hairstyles; while others are nude with articulated genitals, which the artist would frequently interchange in a process she referred to as “operations.”

Sometimes they end up looking like me, but they’re more like people I’d like to see or sometimes I’m thinking of the way I’d like to look.”

—Greer Lankton

Whether paying homage to real-life individuals or fictitious characters, Lankton aspired to animate each of her creations with a unique vitality. Complementary to Hujar’s magnetizing photographs, both artists strove to create works of art which stare back, challenging viewers to contend with their gaze.

—Sheridyn Villarreal, 2023 McMullan Arts Leadership Intern, Photography and Media

Read about the 2023 exhibition Peter Hujar: Performance and Portraiture.



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