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Peter Hujar: Performance and Portraiture



While photography has long been associated with documentation and memory, Peter Hujar (American, 1934–1987) sought to produce images that construct a new reality through subtle exchanges between himself and his subjects.

He created direct yet enigmatic portraits of people and animals, pictures of performers, and sexually charged male nudes in close dialogue with the performance and movement study scene emerging in New York’s East Village in the 1970s. His subject matter was influenced by various dimensions of his experience, including a childhood spent on his grandparents’ farm, a lifelong interest in dance and theater, and his identity as a gay man.  

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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

In the early 1970s, Hujar was living in a loft in lower Manhattan as, nearby, Robert Wilson founded the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds, a performance group dedicated to exploring new approaches to theater and choreography. Byrd Hoffman is just one of the groups Hujar would go on to photograph extensively, along with the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, an absurdist project founded by Charles Ludlam, and The Cockettes, a psychedelic theater troupe based in San Francisco. Hujar photographed performances by these companies but often paid more attention to capturing the actors and dancers backstage, in moments of transition—as they put on their costumes and make-up, preparing to embody the characters they would play.

This exhibition connects both the experimentation Hujar and his subjects pursued and the new realities they each created—whether through photographs or performance. The presentation includes over 60 works by Hujar, and in keeping with the spirit of collaboration and exchange that typified the downtown New York scene, also includes artwork by some of the artists and performers in his circle, including works by Greer Lankton, Sheryl Sutton, and David Wojnarowicz.

Peter Hujar: Performance and Portraiture is curated by Grace Deveney, David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Associate Curator, Photography and Media.


Support for Peter Hujar: Performance and Portraiture is provided by the Stuart Family Fund and the David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation.


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