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On Peter Hujar in Venice

Portraits in Life and Death

Museum Exhibitions

The Peter Hujar Foundation announces a major exhibition of Peter Hujar’s complete works from the series Portraits in Life and Death, during the 60th Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Venice, 2024.

Venice—The Peter Hujar Foundation, New York, presents the first exhibition in Europe of Peter Hujar’s legendary Portraits in Life and Death. Comprising the complete set of 41 photographs reproduced in the 1976 book, Portraits in Life and Death—the only publication Hujar produced during his lifetime, for which his friend, the critic Susan Sontag, penned the introduction—the exhibition will be curated by Grace Deveney, David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Associate Curator of Photography and Media at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Hujar is renowned for photographing his subjects with penetrating sensitivity and psychological depth. Deeply embedded within the avant-garde milieu of artists, musicians, writers, and performers in downtown New York during the 1970s and early ‘80s, Hujar’s unflinching portraits captured his subjects with astonishing intimacy and vulnerability. Often compared to contemporaries Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe, Hujar's work is distinguished by its poetic sensibility and profoundly empathetic gaze.

Hujar remained a largely underground figure during his lifetime, but since his death from AIDS-related complications in 1987 at the age of fifty-three, his complex body of work has received widespread acclaim. In 2017, he was the focus of a major retrospective at The Morgan Library in New York, which travelled to Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid, and the Jeu de Paume, Paris, in 2019.


Peter Hujar: Portraits in Life and Death comprises two distinct types of images which are featured together in the 1976 monograph. The first consists of portraits of famous cultural figures on the New York scene, which Hujar photographed between 1974 and 1975 specifically for the book. These include the critic Susan Sontag, the dramaturg Robert Wilson, the writer Fran Lebowitz, the filmmaker John Waters, and the artist Paul Thek, among others. These images are juxtaposed with an earlier body of work, consisting of photographs of the mummified bodies found inside the Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Palermo, Italy, which were taken by Hujar during a trip there with Paul Thek in 1963.

In her introduction to Portraits in Life and Death, 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.”

The Estate of Peter Hujar is jointly represented by Pace Gallery in New York and Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, together with Mai 36 Galerie in Zürich and Maureen Paley in London.

  • Museum Exhibitions — On Peter Hujar in Venice: Portraits in Life and Death, Jan 1, 2024