With Speed of Life, the Morgan presents the first in-depth retrospective of the New York-based photographer Peter Hujar (1934–1987). Drawn from the extensive holdings of the artist’s work at the Morgan and from nine other collections, the exhibition and its catalog explore the artist’s full career, from his beginnings in the mid-1950s to his central role in the East Village art scene three decades later.
The exhibition opens at the Morgan in January 2018 after appearing at Fundacion MAPFRE, Barcelona, Spain, and the Fotomuseum The Hague, the Netherlands. The tour concludes in 2018 at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive.
Hujar’s sharp, serene, square-format photographs confer gravity on the object of his attention, granting it an eternal moment’s pause within the rush of passing time. Hujar focused on the spark of encounter between himself and his subject, be it a goose, a lover, an underground theatrical performer, the dappled surface of the Hudson River, or the placid features of his own face.
In early adulthood Hujar worked as a studio assistant to magazine professionals and spent years in Italy with two successive partners, artists Joseph Raffael and Paul Thek. His short career in fashion photography ended in 1971, when Hujar decided the hustle of magazine work “wasn’t right for me.” After moving into a loft above a theater at Twelfth Street and Second Avenue in 1973, Hujar pursued a bohemian life of poverty, taking paying jobs only when necessary and focusing on the subjects that compelled him. In his book Portraits in Life and Death (1976) Hujar combined intimate portraits of his downtown coterie (painters, performers, choreographers, and writers) with studies of mummies in the Palermo Catacombs. Briefly a lover and then a mentor to the young artist David Wojnarowicz, in his final seven years Hujar continued chronicling a creative Downtown subculture running out of time in a fast-changing city.
The catalogue features full-page reproductions of all 160 works in the exhibition, essays by curator Joel Smith, Philip Gefter, and Steve Turtell, and the first fully researched chronology, exhibition history, and bibliography to be published on Hujar.
Major funding for Peter Hujar: Speed of Life and its international tour was received from the Terra Foundation for American Art. Generous support for the exhibition in New York was also provided by the Margaret T. Morris Fund for Americana, the J. W. Kieckhefer Foundation, The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Patricia and Thruston Morton, and Nancy and Burton Staniar.