Displaying almost 160 photos, mostly on loan from the Morgan Library in New York, the Fundación MAPFRE in Barcelona is showcasing the work of the American photographer Peter Hujar to the European public with an impressive exposition held at the Casa Garriga i Nogues (a wonderful Modernista building in the neighbourhood of the Eixample).
Peter Hujar was born in 1934 and died prematurely in 1987, but his shots are things meant to remain in the history of photography; the intimate and outstanding portraits he took of the subcultural world of his time depicts figures like Susan Sontag, William Burroughs, Fran Lebowitz, among many others well notable characters straight out of the hazy days of New York City during the ’70s and ’80s.
The show is curated by Joel Smith from New York’s Morgan Library, where the exhibition will be held in one year’s time. It is very likely one of the largest retrospectives ever put together to honour this artist, who was aiming to capture images conveying idea of closeness between the photographer and the subject chosen, with total absence of shame. His nudes all have a psychological quality and a strong sense of “singularity” (Hujar was interested in the people he was taking portraits for being original and unique in themselves).
His images are presented as a living body of work still open to artistic interpretation and in no particular chronological order. Hujar, who worked in fashion photography as well (Irving Penn and Richard Avedon inspired him), had spent two extended periods of time in Italy studying filmmaking in Rome. These experiences were extremely formative for him since they enhanced his ability to look for a story and his observer’s attitude, so that the portraits he shot would look like an outtake from a story, with a clear narrative hidden below the surface.
Hujar also circled somewhat in the orbit of “Andy Warhol World” and had a lot of East Village artists living around his studio. But he always tended to avoid figures of conventional fame and fortune, rather preferring those who, at the time, experienced alternative forms of success, before a smaller but more significant crowd.
Text and photographs by Diana Di Nuzzo