PETER HUJAR (1934–1987)
Self-Portrait (with string around his neck), 1980
gelatin silver print
signed by Stephen Koch, Executor of the Peter Hujar Estate and numbered '895-2-12 / EPH 193-1', titled and dated in pencil, stamped Estate copyright credit and 'PRINTED BY THE ARTIST' in ink (verso); credited, titled and dated on affixed gallery label (frame backing board)
image: 1458 x 1434 in. (37.1 x 37.4 cm.)
sheet: 1934 x 1534 in. (50.1 x 40 cm.)
This work was printed by Peter Hujar and is one of only three known lifetime prints of this image.
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Lot Essay

"I want to be discussed in hushed tones. When people talk about me, I want them to be whispering."
-Peter Hujar

Peter Hujar’s intimate portraits of the artists, performers and writers active in downtown New York throughout the 1970s and 1980s secured him with the reputation as a leading figure in the city’s counterculture during this time. Embraced with technical precision, his portraits are candid and austere, sensitively printed to render exquisite tonalities and texture. The rare self-portrait on offer here as a vintage, lifetime print depicts the artist in half-length, nude but for a thin string around his neck, gazing directly and bluntly to the camera, to his viewers. This lot is one of only three known lifetime prints of the image.

At the time of this image, Hujar was broke and frustrated with his career, but creating some of his most poignant work. His portraits had matured to take on the distinct aesthetic for which his work continues to be known. The square image from his medium-format camera and the minimally adorned single room of his loft at 12th street and 2nd avenue with his commonly-employed table and chair had become iconic in Hujar’s studio portraiture by this time. Contemporaneously, outside his home studio, Hujar focused on the downtown art scene, particularly the dynamic culture of dance, drag-performance and music that percolated throughout the city at night.

Due to his uncompromising attitude towards his work and his career, Hujar wasn’t granted many opportunities to exhibit his work with galleries during his lifetime. In 1967 he took a master class with Richard Avedon and Marvin Israel which led to his landing assignments with Harper’s Bazaar among other publications and in 1969 he even made an uncharacteristically, overtly political image for the Gay Liberation Front (see below) to be produced as a poster. However, ultimately, Hujar decided against commercial work and preferred the bohemian, though challenging, lifestyle of a fine artist.

In 1987 Hujar died from AIDS-related illness, like so many others in his circle. Since his passing, his work has been the subject of exhibits at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; the Fotomuseum in Winterthur; the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; and a major retrospective of his work toured starting in 2017 at Fundación MAPFRE then to Fotomuseum The Hague, The Morgan Library & Museum, Berkeley Art Museum, and the Wexner Center for the Arts. As part of the 2024 Venice Biennale, the complete set of 41 photographs from Portraits in Life and Death, Hujar’s 1976 book of the same name, will be presented.

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