[New York Peasant by Wilfrid: December 6, 2011]
Make a note among your social engagements to trek over to Chelsea before Christmas. Peter Hujar's brief but concentrated photographic record of his life, and the lives of two friends and lovers, is worth your attention.
Hujar was a commercial and art photographer specializing in portraits. He died from an AIDS-related condition in 1987, aged 53. Some may know his photograph, "Candy Darling on her Deathbed" from the cover of Anthony & The Johnsons' I Am A Bird album.
I've written about Wojnarowicz here before, and I can hardly believe it was more than ten years ago that a retrospective at the New Museum had me marveling at his productivity, energy, versatility - and, indeed, anger.
But the story of the present exhibition should be the story of the pictures, and AIDS, however unavoidable, should not limit the profound understanding of time and mortality Hujar offers the viewer. The photographs - and there aren't many - were taken over a long period. He and Thek knew each other from college, and portraits of their youthful selves date from the late 1950s. Wojnarowicz appears later. In each case, we have portraits of the artists as very young men, as aspiring members of the art scene, as adults, and ultimately showing the strains and lines of living in Manhattan in a time of experimentation, drugs and a hard, urban bohemianism.
The light of youth, its lithe physicality, fades as we vault across the years. It's replaced not by disillusion so much as by self-knowledge, street knowledge - and, again, some anger. It's a precisely captured passage from innocence to experience. What is the price of experience, Blake asked?
These men paid a price - a heavy one. They left us their art; this haunting record.
Matthew Mark through December 23. Here's the gallery page.