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Peter Hujar

Portraits in Life and Death

November 6 - December 23, 2002
523 W 24 Street
Opening Thursday, November 7, 2002

Press Release

Matthew Marks is pleased to announce the exhibition Peter Hujar: Portraits in Life and Death at 523 West 24th Street. This is the first solo exhibition of Hujar's work in two years.

Peter Hujar (1934-1987) produced only one book during his lifetime, the landmark publication Portraits in Life and Death, published in 1976. This monograph combines 29 portraits of Hujar's friends, photographed in 1974-75 specifically for the book, with eleven photographs of catacombs Hujar shot in Palermo, Italy, in 1963. The book juxtaposes the faces of such legendary figures as John Waters, Diana Vreeland, Edwin Denby, Divine, Fran Liebowitz, and Robert Wilson with images of decomposing human forms. Only a small edition of Portraits in Life and Death was published, and Hujar, notoriously meticulous about his own printing, was never satisfied with its quality.

This exhibition marks the first occasion that a complete set of vintage prints of all 40 photographs from Portraits in Life and Death has ever been shown. Included in the exhibition are many of the original prints Hujar prepared for the publication and several additional images which he had planned to include but later edited out.

In her introduction to Portraits in Life and Death, Susan Sontag writes "Photography...converts the whole world into a cemetery. Photographers, connoisseurs of beauty, are also -– wittingly or unwittingly -– the recording-angels of death.... In...this selection of Peter Hujar's work, fleshed and moist-eyed friends and acquaintances stand, sit, slouch, mostly lie -– and are made to appear to meditate on their own mortality. Do meditate, whether they...acknowledge it or not. We no longer study the art of dying,... but all eyes, at rest, contain that knowledge. The body knows. And the camera shows, inexorably. The Palermo photographs -– which precede these portraits in time -– complete them, comment upon them. Peter Hujar knows that portraits in life are always, also, portraits in death."

Hujar died of AIDS in 1987 and was a central figure in the group of artists, musicians, writers and performers at the forefront of the cultural scene in downtown New York in the 1970s and early 1980s. He was enormously admired for his completely uncompromising attitude towards work and life. A consummate technician who produced works that are highly emotional yet stripped of excess, Hujar's photographs are always beautiful, although rarely in a conventional way.

Peter Hujar's work has been the subject of major retrospectives at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Fotomuseum in Winterthur, Switzerland, and his pictures were included in this summer's Whitney Museum exhibition, Visions of America: Photographs from the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1940-2001. A new monograph, Animals and Nudes, has just been published by Twin Palms, with an essay by Klaus Kertess.

Peter Hujar: Portraits in Life and Death will be on view at the Matthew Marks Gallery, 523 West 24th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues) through December 21st, 2002. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 to 6:00 pm.

For further information or reproductions please contact Adrian Rosenfeld at 212-243-0200.

Additional Information