Posts Tagged ‘William S. Burroughs

02
Oct
22

Exhibition: ‘PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs’ at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th June – 2nd October, 2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Eight photo booth self-portraits)' Nd

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Eight photo booth self-portraits)
Nd
Gelatin silver prints on whiteboard
Sheet: 8 × 9 1/2 in. (20.32 × 24.13 cm)
Courtesy of the Ray Johnson Estate

 

 

Ray Johnson was an American artist “known primarily as a collagist and correspondence artist, he was a seminal figure in the history of Neo-Dada and early Pop art…” He absorbed from his teachers Josef Albers, Alvin Lustig, and Robert Motherwell and “entered into Zen kinship with two teachers, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and into romantic partnership with another, the sculptor Richard Lippold.” And then he burnt all the early paintings in his possession and took the path less trodden. He developed his own artistic language “through the creation of slight, irregular-shaped, frame-resistant (but mailable) collages he called “moticos”.” (The name was an anagram of the word “osmotic”)

After moving from New York to Locust Valley, Long Island in 1968, Johnson continued to make art but only had two more solo exhibitions, the last one in 1991. “Johnson was forever constructing miniature sets for his own delirious theatre of the absurd: puzzles within puzzles. The sensibility is not unlike Joseph Cornell’s [whose work was a major influence], minus the romance and period nostalgia. Johnson worked in another sort of outsider vernacular – at once banal, vulgar, campy, and deeply sophisticated.”1 The curator Joel Smith refers to “the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation” behind all of the artist’s work.

Towards the end of his life Johnson took up photography and became a master of the throwaway camera, using the machine to create intimate, staged actions “which served the artist as a form of citation: as a way to “reference,” rather than “represent,” his subjects. The hands-off nature of the medium gave Johnson a way to bring topics up yet keep his viewer (his recipient, his reader) focused on something he cared about more: the messaging process itself.”

Each person, each artist has a different reason to communicate. But what are they communicating? In Johnson’s case I think he was expressing his inner alternate reality, a different point of view of the world communicated through a new and fantastical visual language. Inhabited by bunnies and pop stars, Johnson’s work was a collage of the unclassifiable, bizarre, wired, wonderful, pop, performance, licked, action, nothings, dreams, concept, sexual, stamped, eccentric and enigmatic moticos… osmotic and fluidly subversive observational images, staged interventions, obsessive, witty and weird constructions. As Loring Knoblauch observes, “these pictures find new pathways of physical intervention, creating staged installations that combine Johnson’s restless collage combinations and the quirks of photographic vision into something cleverly unexpected.”2

Revelling in his insider-outsider status, Johnson was a naive draftsman / Navy draftsman (he loved a good play on words). There is a “distinctive wit – and the evident delight of discovery – that runs through these photographs.” But it is a dark witticism, as dark one of my favourite movies, Donnie Darko (full of bunnies). His is art as performance… of nothings, of everything, moving everything, setting everything in motion. We follow his in/actions whether it be documenting a flopped stranger wearing a bunny cutout, six Movie Stars in the back of a car, or his prescient undated Eight photo booth self-portraits (above) in which he acts out and obscures different personas.

In his last performance this creative man of nothing (real life) “was seen jumping from a bridge in Sag Harbor… [and] appeared to be doing a backstroke toward the open Atlantic.” He could not swim. As he said of one of his early performances, it (he) “went off into the void in some marvellous fashion…”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Vince Aletti. “A Trove of Snapshots from a Sly Master of Collage,” on The New Yorker website July 22, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022
  2. Loring Knoblauch. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs @Morgan Library,” on the Collector Daily website September 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

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Many thankx to the Morgan Library & Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Johnson, however, was a prankster. Like the bunny head he adopted as his trademark – a cartoonish line drawing that appeared in much of his work, often bearing the name of a key figure in 20th-century art – he hopped lightly, merrily across this playing field. Revelling in puns and irreverence (an untitled 1973 collage known as “Jackson Pollock Fillets” includes cut-out recipes for Pollock Fillets Amandine and Barbecued Pollock Burgers), conducting his life as a nonstop performance, he revived the Dada tradition embodied by his hero Marcel Duchamp. In contrast to the grandiosity of Minimal art, land art, Pop Art and other macho midcentury movements, he offered something much humbler: collages or drawings of portable size and wry wit. … Johnson created some of the earliest works of Pop Art and was an early influence on conceptual art. …

The contents of Johnson’s pictures fall into several categories. At times, he chopped up the photos and used them to form a collage. Usually, though, and more interestingly, he found or created a collage-like pattern within the photographic frame. He made corrugated cardboard pieces that he called movie stars, and carried them to places where he could photograph them. Sometimes they incorporated images of celebrities: Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kerouac, Johns. Often they were renditions of his signature creation, a bunny with long, erect ears and a pendulous nose that, like a “Kilroy was here” graffiti drawing from World War II, feels both childlike and sexualized. He would inscribe a bunny with a name, thereby transforming it into a standardized personal portrait. And then he would drive his movie stars to a picturesque setting and shoot them with his camera.

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Arthur Lubow. “An Elusive Artist’s Trove of Never-Before-Seen Images,” on The New York Times website March 23, 2021 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

As a body of work, these photographs by Johnson absolutely feel unfinished, in an open-ended and unwieldy way, as though he was grasping for new ways to communicate. Seen together, there is both dogged teach-yourself inventiveness and a hint of loneliness on display, with a nostalgia for stars of the past and his own younger face percolating through his iterative reworkings. At their best, these pictures find new pathways of physical intervention, creating staged installations that combine Johnson’s restless collage combinations and the quirks of photographic vision into something cleverly unexpected. At the end of his life, Johnson was actually becoming an interesting photographer, and these unearthed leavings provide tantalizing glimpses of what might have been.

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Loring Knoblauch. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs @Morgan Library,” on the Collector Daily website September 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

 

Overview

Dubbed “New York’s most famous unknown artist” by the New York Times, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) was a widely connected downtown figure, Pop art innovator, and pioneer of collage and mail art. After moving from Manhattan to suburban Long Island in 1968, Johnson selectively distanced himself from the mainstream art world, holding only two exhibitions after 1978. Yet even after his last show, in 1991, he remained a prolific and unpredictable artist.

Johnson used photographs in his work for decades, but it was only with his purchase of a single-use, point-and-shoot camera in January 1992 that he embarked on his own “career as a photographer.” By the end of December 1994 he had used 137 disposable cameras. His most frequent subjects were what he called his Movie Stars: meter-high collages on cardboard, often featuring the bunny head that served as his artistic signature. They became ensemble players in the curious tableaux he staged in everyday locales near his Locust Valley home.

At his death by suicide in January 1995, Johnson left a vast archive of art in boxes stacked throughout his house, including over five thousand colour photographs, still in the envelopes from the developer’s shop. This body of work, virtually unseen until now, comprised his final major art project, the last act in a romance with photography that had begun some forty years earlier.

 

 

 

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs

A widely connected pioneer of Pop and mail art, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) was described as “New York’s most famous unknown artist.” Best known for his multimedia collages, he stopped exhibiting in 1991, but his output did not diminish. In 1992-1994, he used 137 disposable cameras to create a large body of work that is coming to light only now. Staging his collages in settings near his home in Locust Valley, Long Island – parking lots, sidewalks, beaches, cemeteries – he made photographs that pull the world of everyday “real life” into his art. In his “new career as a photographer,” Johnson began making collages in a new, larger format that made them more effective players in his camera tableaux. The vast archive he left behind at his death included over three thousand of the late photographs. Now, his final project makes its debut alongside earlier photo-based collages and works of mail art: fruits of a romance with the camera that spans the four decades of the artist’s career.

 

Hazel Larsen Archer (American, 1921-2001) 'Ray Johnson at Black Mountain College' 1948

 

Hazel Larsen Archer (American, 1921-2001)
Ray Johnson at Black Mountain College
1948
Gelatin silver print
13 3/4 × 9 7/8 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Purchased as the gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer

 

 

As a student at North Carolina’s Black Mountain College from 1945 to 1948, Johnson thrived under the rigorous tutelage of his foundation-course teacher Josef Albers (1888-1976). Johnson also modelled for Archer, a fellow student who would go on to teach photography at the school. This portrait – lush, faceless, and sexually ambiguous – foreshadows the complexity of Johnson’s use of photography throughout his career. Though attracted by the camera’s peerless ability to bestow glamour, he often tried to undercut its role as a transparent conveyor of facts.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ silhouette and wood, Stehli Beach' Autumn 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ silhouette and wood, Stehli Beach
Autumn 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

As an artist, Johnson was a master hunter-recycler, constantly revisiting and reinterpreting images from his past. On a visit to the beach at nearby Oyster Bay in 1992, he brought along a camera and a cardboard cutout of his head. Propping the board against a piece of driftwood log, he created a visual pun: the log’s central rings evoke the swirl of hair that Hazel Archer had once photographed on his (now long-bald) head.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Moticos with KAFKAYLLA)' c. 1953-1954

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Moticos with KAFKAYLLA)
c. 1953-1954
Collage on illustration board
13 × 5 in. (33.02 × 12.7cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson applied one all-purpose noun, “moticos” (both singular and plural), to his short writings, his collages, and the glyph-like shapes he drew. He and his friend Norman Solomon coined the term by reshuffling the word “osmotic,” chosen out of the dictionary. On this moticos made from a flattened box, Johnson paired a photograph of a pigeon with its strange twin: a sort of photo-bird, composed of cookie cutters and a checkerboard. Johnson proposes a second unlikely duo by combining the names of the author Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and the photographer Ylla (Camilla Koffler, 1911-1955), known for her images of animals.

 

Moticos

In the autumn of 1955, artist Ray Johnson walked through the streets of New York City with a slip of paper, asking strangers if they could define the word he’d written on it: “motico.” People gamely racked their brains: “‘Gee, I wish to hell I knew,’ said one. A nun asked, ‘Isn’t it a kind of colour?'” Johnson recalled these encounters in a story that ran that year in the very first issue of The Village Voice, when he was 27 years old and living in Manhattan, and working primarily in painting and collage.

The word was one Johnson had invented. An anagram of osmotic (a word allegedly chosen at random from a book), “moticos” could refer to several different things. Johnson called the small collage panels he made “moticos” but he also used the word to refer to textual representations too. Johnson would paint and transform the cardboard pieces that came with his laundry into parts of his collages, transforming them into silhouettes and then glyphs, new moticos.

Rebecca Bengal. “Photo Dump: Digging into the 5,000 Photographs Ray Johnson Left Behind,” on the Elephant Art website 20 Jul 2022 [Online] Cited 25/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (James Dean in the Rain)' c. 1953-1959

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (James Dean in the Rain)
c. 1953-1959
Collage on illustration board
15 1/2 × 11 3/4 in. (39.37 × 29.85cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

From the early 1950s, Johnson embraced photocollage as a way to inject Hollywood glamour into the cloistered world of avant-garde art. He was appropriating mass-media imagery years before Andy Warhol began populating monumental canvases with celebrity portraits. Here Johnson worked directly upon Dennis Stock’s iconic Life magazine photograph of James Dean walking alone through Times Square, which was published a few months before Dean died in a 1955 car crash. Whether Johnson made this work before or after Dean’s death is unknown. In the 1990s, he would again incorporate the actor’s silhouette in collages and photographs.

 

Elisabeth Novick. 'Untitled (Moticos on floor)' c. 1955

 

Elisabeth Novick
Untitled (Moticos on floor)
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 × 13 1/4 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
Elisabeth Loewenstein / ArenaPAL
© Elisabeth Loewenstein

 

 

For a short feature in the first issue of the Village Voice (26 October 1955), a reporter walked with Johnson as he approached strangers in Grand Central Terminal and asked them whether they knew what a “moticos” was. As seen here, Johnson also literally took moticos to the streets, staging crowds of them for the camera in disused spaces in downtown Manhattan. Few early moticos have survived intact: over the next several decades, in a practice he called Chop art, Johnson continually disassembled his work and used the fragments to create new pieces.

 

Elisabeth Novick. 'Untitled (Ray Johnson and Suzi Gablik)' 1955

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) '1955 moticos photographs from ladder' January 1992

 

Elisabeth Novick
Untitled (Ray Johnson and Suzi Gablik)
1955
Gelatin silver print
11 × 14 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
Elisabeth Loewenstein / ArenaPAL
© Elisabeth Loewenstein

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
1955 moticos photographs from ladder
January 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 inches
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In 1955 Johnson asked his friend Elisabeth Loewenstein (later Novick) to bring a camera along on a walk with their mutual friend Suzi Gablik (1934-2022). Novick’s photographs record the impromptu performance that ensued, in which Johnson draped moticos on Gablik’s face and body. A fellow Black Mountain College alum, Gablik would become an influential critic; in her 1969 book on Pop art, she described improvised actions such as this one as the first “informal happenings” – ephemeral events conceived as works of art – in the postwar era.

Johnson preserved the photographs Novick made that day. Nearly forty years later, in one of his earliest experiments with a “throwaway camera,” he laid out the prints in a grid on his driveway and photographed them from atop a ladder.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Correspondence to Frances X. Profumo' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Correspondence to Frances X. Profumo
Undated
Typewritten text on paper, newspaper clippings
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In the mid-1950s, Johnson simultaneously shifted from oil painting to small-scale collage and from gallery exhibitions to the mail as a way of putting his art before an individual viewer. An envelope from Johnson often contained enigmatic clippings from books and magazines, including photographic illustrations drawn from the same stockpile that fuelled his collages. These are items Johnson sent in the 1950s to Frances X. Profumo, whom he befriended when he was a student and she an employee at Black Mountain College. The many visual and textual Xs invoke both Profumo’s distinctive middle initial and the convention of signing a fond letter “with kisses” (XXX).

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Nothing with Brancusi)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Mapplethorpe with moticos)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (book page with umbrella as splint)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Nothing with Brancusi)
Undated
Ink on book page
9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (24.13 × 19.05cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Mapplethorpe with moticos)
Undated
Ink on magazine page
Image: 7 × 7 in. (17.78 × 17.78cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
The Morgan Library & Museum. Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (book page with umbrella as splint)
Undated
Ink on paper
Image: 9 1/2 × 7 in. (24.13 × 17.78cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Over the years, Johnson inducted hundreds or thousands of recipients into what he called the New York Correspondence School by mailing them oblique yet personalised messages. These altered book and magazine pages were among the unmailed works found in his house after his death.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Offset printing plate (Ara Ignatius portrait)' c. 1964

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with a photograph of lips)' Undated

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with bunnyheads)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Offset printing plate (Ara Ignatius portrait)
c. 1964
Metal
Image: 15 1/2 × 10 in. (39.37 × 25.4cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with a photograph of lips)
Undated
Cut paper on paper
Image: 11 × 8 1/2 in. (27.94 × 21.59cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ara Ignatius portrait with bunnyheads)
Undated
Ink on paper
Image: 11 × 8 1/2 in. (27.94 × 21.59cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson favoured likenesses that masked as much about him as they revealed. He repeatedly used a headshot that his friend Ara Ignatius made around 1963. It is an unnerving image, lacking the conceit of intimacy that characterises most formal portraits; instead it “stands for” Johnson, in the artless manner of a government-issued ID.

Many pieces of mail art that look like photocopies are in fact products of offset printing – a means of transferring photographs and other images to the page from reusable metal plates. The medium allowed Johnson to return to an image repeatedly, imposing variations that reflected his ever-changing purposes.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled ("I shot an arrow into the air..." with Shirley Temple and Vikki Dougan)' c. 1970-1972

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (“I shot an arrow into the air…” with Shirley Temple and Vikki Dougan)
c. 1970-1972
Ink, wash, collage, vintage photograph on illustration board
18 × 15 in. (45.72 × 38.1cm)
The Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In this photocollage, two movie actors meet: Vikki Dougan (b. 1929), who became a sex symbol in the 1950s by publicly appearing in backless dresses, and the quintessentially innocent child star Shirley Temple (1928-2014). Temple’s rendering as a blacked-out, moticos-like figure may allude to her adult married name, Shirley Temple Black. Across the bottom of the image, a line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1845 poem “The Arrow and the Song” is altered to refer to Johnson’s forerunner in collage and assemblage art, Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), who lived in Flushing, Queens.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'David Hockney's Mother's Potato Masher' 1972-80-88-94

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
David Hockney’s Mother’s Potato Masher
1972-80-88-94
Collage on cardboard panel
20 3/8 × 15 1/4 in. (51.75 × 38.74cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The title of each collage in the Potato Masher series begins with a notable artist’s or celebrity’s name. The titles then take an abrupt turn away from stardom by alluding first to the famed figure’s mother, and then to her potato masher. Here, Johnson included his own likeness in the form of a headshot, made around 1963 by the photographer Ara Ignatius. His face is covered by black moticos and cut-up fragments of his earlier artworks. Johnson created his collages over a span of weeks, months, or even years, dating each element in pencil as it joined the composition.

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum presents PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs, opening June 17 and running through October 2, 2022. This exhibition explores the previously unknown camera work of the widely connected downtown New York figure, Pop art innovator, and pioneer of collage and mail art. At his death on 13 January 1995, Ray Johnson (1927-1995) left behind a vast archive of art in his house, including over five thousand colour photographs made in his last three years. Small prints, neatly stored in their envelopes from the developer’s shop, the photographs remained virtually unexamined for three decades. Now they can be seen as the last act in a romance with photography that had begun in Johnson’s art some forty years earlier. After retracing the story of Johnson’s use of photography throughout his career, PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE offers an in-depth look at the late work the artist called “my career in photography.”

After moving from Manhattan to suburban Long Island in 1968, Johnson selectively distanced himself from the mainstream art world, holding only two exhibitions after 1978. Yet even after his last show, in 1991, he remained a prolific and unpredictable artist. With his purchase of a single-use, point-and-shoot camera in January 1992, he embarked on an entirely fresh creative enterprise. By the end of December 1994, he had used 137 disposable cameras. His most frequent subjects were what he referred to as his Movie Stars: meter-high collages on cardboard, often featuring the bunny head that served as his artistic signature. They became ensemble players in the curious tableaux he staged in everyday locales near his Locust Valley home.

As an artist, Johnson was a master hunter-recycler, constantly revisiting and reinterpreting images from his past. He appears to have first used a disposable camera for a practical purpose: documenting his enormous backlog of unused collage fragments. He performed that work in his driveway and on the back steps of his house, but soon he was carrying a pocket-size camera on daily outings to nearby beaches, parks, and cemeteries. Johnson’s photographs exhibit a collagist’s instinct for insertion, layering, and surprise: most of them are centred on objects that he placed between himself and a scene as he found it. In his photographs as in his pun-filled writing and his densely worked collages, Johnson used juxtaposition to suggest that everything finds correspondence in something else. The point-and-shoot habit gave him a way to create an image almost as quickly as he could think of it. As curator Joel Smith writes in the book that accompanies the exhibition, “Nowhere in Johnson’s art does he look more intensely engaged by the present tense, more thrilled to be immersed in real life, than in the inventions of his throwaway camera.”

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE offers a rare chance to examine photographs taken by Ray Johnson, an artist known primarily for his brilliant work in collage,” said Colin B. Bailey, Director of the Morgan Library & Museum. “The images, most of which have gone unexplored until now, are truly innovative and ahead of their time. The exhibition also celebrates a significant gift of Johnson’s work, generously made by Ray Johnson estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.”

“These photographs show that in his last years, Ray Johnson remained irrepressibly, explosively creative,” said Smith, the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography at the Morgan. “It’s his last great body of work, and its very casualness is prophetic: ten years later, smart phones and social media turned daily life into a constant exchange of personal photographs and commentary. Johnson was still making collages right up to the end – but now he made them in a camera, and the ‘real life’ all around him was his medium.”

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs is accompanied by a book with the same title published by Mack Books, which includes an essay by the exhibition’s curator, Joel Smith.

Press release from the Morgan Library & Museum

 

 Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Photo Booth Collage)' 1972

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Photo Booth Collage)
1972
Collage on illustration board
12 7/8 × 19 in. (32.7 × 48.26cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Here, Johnson (visible at top left) employs a booth as an affordable studio for documenting works from his Potato Masher series. Sitting in the photo booth, he simply held up one collage after another for the automatic camera. The resulting sequence of vertical photo strips combines the qualities of a crude performance document and an art gallery’s inventory sheet. David Hockney’s Mother’s Potato Masher appears, not yet finished, fourth from the left in the bottom row.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Tab Hunter William Burroughs)' c. 1976-1981

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'William S. Burroughs silhouette and kingfisher' Winter 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
William S. Burroughs silhouette and kingfisher
Winter 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gifts of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Tab Hunter William Burroughs)
c. 1976-1981
Collage on cardboard panel
12 × 12 1/2 in. (30.48 × 31.75cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of Frances Beatty, Allen Adler, Alexander Adler, and the Ray Johnson Estate
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In 1976 Johnson began asking friends, art-world figures, and celebrities to sit and have their silhouettes traced onto paper. He thus built a library of nearly three hundred profile templates he could use and reuse. As a portrait form, the silhouette reduces its subject to a graphic shape, identifiable but resistant to psychological interpretation. In this example, Johnson overlapped the profiles of 1950s movie heartthrob Tab Hunter (1931-2018) and avant-garde writer William S. Burroughs (1914-1997).

In the 1990s Johnson photographed one of his stock props, a stuffed kingfisher, in combination with Burroughs’s silhouette. The beak of the bird extends the author’s prominent nose: a bill replacing the bill of a Bill.

 

Even when Johnson avoided direct self-portraiture, his quirky fixations were always evident. (In an essay for the exhibition catalogue, the curator Joel Smith refers to “the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation” behind all of the artist’s work.) In one of the collages on display, William Burroughs’s profile nearly eclipses that of the nineteen-fifties movie star turned gay icon Tab Hunter, and both are all but obscured by a swarm of pebble-like fragments and bits of collage. Johnson was forever constructing miniature sets for his own delirious theatre of the absurd: puzzles within puzzles. The sensibility is not unlike Joseph Cornell’s, minus the romance and period nostalgia. Johnson worked in another sort of outsider vernacular – at once banal, vulgar, campy, and deeply sophisticated. Like John Baldessari, he favored artless lettering and crisp graphic design. The cardboard slats, especially, might be mistaken for portable Baldessaris.

Vince Aletti. “A Trove of Snapshots from a Sly Master of Collage,” on The New Yorker website July 22, 2022 [Online] Cited 26/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Elvis with Bunny Ears)' 1987

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Elvis with Bunny Ears)
1987
Collage with acrylic and ink on canvasboard
16 × 8 in. (40.64 × 20.32cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty.
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Beginning in the 1950s, Johnson made artistic use of photographs of the twentieth-century cultural icon Elvis Presley (1935-1977). Johnson’s most emblematic motif, a stylised bunny face, first appeared beside the artist’s name in 1964. Bunny ears would serve both as a kind of trademark and as a way of turning anyone – Elvis, in this case – into a Ray Johnson character. The enlarged halftone dots that compose Elvis’s image confirm its status as a mass-market photographic reproduction.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Rubble and photo credit' Summer 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Andy Warhol life dates on flowers' July 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Shadow and manhole' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Rubble and photo credit
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Andy Warhol life dates on flowers
July 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Shadow and manhole
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson appears to have first used a disposable camera for a practical purpose: documenting his backlog of unused collage fragments. But in January 1992, he told curator Clive Phillpot, “I’m pursuing my career as a photographer,” and in March he added, “I’m having fun with my throw-away camera.” Always faithful to the rapidity of his own thinking, Johnson found in the “throwaway” Fuji Quicksnap a way to give graphic form to ideas as they occurred to him.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Path of headshots and back steps' Spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Joseph Cornell silhouette and payphone' Spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bills, Stehli Beach' Summer 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Path of headshots and back steps
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Joseph Cornell silhouette and payphone
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bills, Stehli Beach
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6
The Morgan Library & Museum. Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty; 2022.2:11
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson’s first photography studios were the driveway and back steps of his house, but soon he was carrying a pocket-size camera on his daily outings to nearby beaches, parks, and cemeteries. In spring 1992, he threaded a cutout silhouette of Joseph Cornell over the cord of a payphone, then photographed it with one hand while holding the receiver with the other – acting as operator of a hotline to the collage-art pioneer.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'One-legged figure beside back steps' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
One-legged figure beside back steps
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Mondrian's grave and playing card, Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Queens' spring 1992

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Billboard' Summer 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Mondrian’s grave and playing card, Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Queens
spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Billboard
Summer 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Even in his photography, Johnson exhibits a collagist’s instinct for insertion and layering. Most of his photographs are centred on objects that he placed between himself and a scene as he found it. On occasion, though, he used the camera in a conventional way, simply collecting views of sights that drew his interest, such as a billboard advertising nothing or the word HELP on the underside of a boat. Photographs such as these are the field notes of a minutely attentive observer.

 

 

PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE

Joel Smith

In January 1992, a few weeks after his last lifetime exhibition closed at Moore College in Philadelphia, the artist Ray Johnson began photographing in and around his house in Locust Valley, Long Island, using what he called “my throwaway camera”: a single-use point-and-shoot, preloaded with daylight color film. Thirty-five months and 137 throwaways later, he photographed views through the storefront window of an even-more-final exhibition called Ray Johnson: Nothing. It was up during the Christmas week lull of 1994 in a gallery on the main street of Sea Cliff, a few minutes’ drive from Johnson’s house, and around the corner from that of his friend and frequent mail-art partner, Sheila Sporer. Then, one Friday a couple of weeks into 1995, a man was seen jumping from a bridge in Sag Harbor, an hour and a half’s drive east. Witnesses reported that Johnson – the body, when recovered, proved to be his – appeared to be doing a backstroke toward the open Atlantic. (He could not swim.) Johnson’s presumed suicide is often described as the final work of a career in which art and life had long been inseparable.

In his last three years Johnson made and mailed art incessantly, went out for a drive most days, and ran through about one camera a week. When he finished a twenty-four-frame roll, he would drop off the camera – he used a couple of Kodaks at first and then, consistently, Fujicolor Quicksnaps – at Living Color, a shop in Glen Cove, for developing and printing. After turning sixty-five in October 1992, he often took advantage of a senior discount and ordered duplicate prints. For some forty years his art practice had consisted mainly of collage, relief assemblages, and correspondence art. Though photographs had figured in all three channels of work, they were not photographs made by Johnson himself, but portraits of him by others, or images he cut out of books or magazines. Now, in what he called his new “career as a photographer,” Johnson incorporated a few of his own photographs in modest little collages. He also mailed his photographs to correspondents, usually in the form of photocopies. But in the season after his death, among the dozens of boxes of art and effects Johnson left packed up in every room of his house, over five thousand of the color photos were found, still filed with their negatives and receipts in Living Color envelopes. To say the photographs were found needs qualifying: their existence was recorded, but years would pass before photography registered as a central creative pursuit of his final years.

It is not surprising that this work evaded scrutiny. Physically, these are plain, consumer-grade four-by-six-inch color snapshots, indistinguishable from those anyone would take home from the processor’s – whereas Johnson’s art more often took the form of distinctly, peculiarly altered public imagery. After the rise and canonization of Pop art in the 1960s, his work of a few years earlier, notably his addition of dripping red tears to a fan-magazine photo of Elvis Presley (1956-1957), looked prescient. Johnson, like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, took mass-market imagery for his muse – but, instead of enlarging it to grandiose scale, his instinct was to bestow the status of an artistic “original” upon ordinary, available-to-everyone printed matter itself. His collages, in that sense, define an antipode to Pop painting’s monumentalised appropriations. His prototype, you could say, was the sardonic teenager he had been not long before, scribbling mustaches onto Marilyns in magazines.

Spend time with the color photographs, and Johnson’s playful, punky persona becomes evident – not in anything he did to the pictures, but in their contents. The straight-men in these images are the streets, beachfronts, and parking lots of bucolic, smalltown northern Long Island: Locust Valley, Sea Cliff, Roslyn, Lattingtown, Glen Cove, Bayville. The scribbled mustaches are the dramatis personae Johnson introduces to those spaces. Within a few months of starting his photo-work, he began making, and photographing, collages on what were, for him, large (thirty-two-by-eight-inch) pieces of corrugated cardboard (62). (The cardboard often bears Fuji brand info; it, too, comes from the camera shop, or out of its dumpster.) In a letter to art critic David Bourdon in summer 1993, Johnson introduces ninety-three of these collages by name (Bobby Short, Greta Garbo …) and calls them his Movie Stars (or Move Stars). Indeed, despite their rectilinear format, they read as figures: paper-doll play-actors for his photo-tableaux. They have faces – most frequently Johnson’s signature pop-eyed, schlong-nosed bunny, inscribed with a name or phrase. (Many of those are rendered in mirror letters, correctly sequenced but laterally FLOPPED, as if in a misbegotten effort to address a reader on the other side of a steamy window.) As he did with his collages generally, Johnson would glue new elements onto these figures over time, dating each newly added bit in pencil. As the weeks of photo-shoots roll by, you can watch as a figure that starts as mostly naked cardboard fills up with information. I picture Johnson exiting his little grey house (he described its color as “grey with an e,” but named it The Pink House) with a freshly worked batch of Movie Stars under his arm, loading them into the back of his Volkswagen Golf, and taking them out on a drive, camera in pocket.

About a decade after these photographs were made, smart phones came into use, and everyone began having a camera on their person all the time. In 1992, making a photograph still required deciding and preparing to do so, and not simply asking oneself (or not even asking), “Why don’t I?” Buying the camera, noting how close to frame zero it was getting, dropping it off, returning to pick up the prints: making these pictures called for effort, on a par with the effort of crafting the Movie Stars. The whole enterprise reflects the low-key but constant thrum of odd motivation that drives all of Johnson’s work. The art he made was irreducibly personal, if gnomic, and he went to lengths to maintain control over how his collages, punning defacements, paradoxes, and near-nothings would make their way into the world. Johnson’s New York Correspondence School – the vast network he invented for circulating mail art – existed mainly in his head, but this, from his angle, made it no less real than the art world.

In the art-historical fairy tale of postwar New York City, young Ray Johnson must have looked, for a few years, like an avant-garde heir apparent. Born in 1927, the only child of loving working-class parents, he grew up in Detroit and, from 1945 to 1948, attended North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, crucible of every far-seeing artistic impulse of that moment. He was shy and hard-working and he devoured all he could from instructors who included Josef Albers, Alvin Lustig, and Robert Motherwell. He left BMC having entered into Zen kinship with two teachers, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and into romantic partnership with another, the sculptor Richard Lippold. The four of them took up residence in a building in the deep reaches of downtown Manhattan. Johnson earned money working in Ad Reinhardt’s studio and at the Orientalia bookstore. He showed his Albers-sized, minutely rendered geometric paintings as a member of the American Abstract Artists group. In short, he seemed destined for middling highbrow success.

Instead, he became Ray Johnson. Between 1954 and 1956, he ditched his qualifications by burning all the early paintings still in his possession and redirecting his creative effort onto the slight, irregular-shaped, frame-resistant (but mailable) collages he called “moticos.” His move to print-media-based figural collage came at an historical moment far too late to boast a Dada-Surrealist pedigree and too early to get swept neatly up into Pop. The concerted wrongness of this switch makes it, in retrospect, quietly brilliant, and it points to the singularity that doomed Johnson’s crown-prince prospects. (Two of his successors and friends at BMC, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, picked up those prospects and put them to good use.)

Johnson hung onto a number of photographs that documented his fateful conversion. At age sixty-four he arranged twenty of them in a grid on the drive behind his house, then scaled a ladder to re-photograph them (26). In most of these old photographs, moticos in profusion can be seen arrayed in two real-world sites, a pallet on a sidewalk and a large industrial interior. In others – which were made in the street by a friend of Ray’s, the future fashion photographer Elisabeth Novick (then Loewenstein) – you can see Johnson draping moticos all over another friend (and fellow BMC alum), Suzi Gablik. These are, in effect, performance records; Gablik even came to describe Johnson’s moticos-stagings as perhaps the first Happenings in art—a notion that arguably proceeds from their having been photographed. Interviewed in 2015, Novick emphasized how casually this came about. Not long before, she had been given her first camera, and one day, Ray simply asked her to bring it along on a walk. “Suzi just sat there,” Novick said, “and he just threw the things on top of her.” She explains: “He was a very lighthearted sort of whimsical person. […] He wasn’t intense. It was the opposite of intense. If I could look up the opposite word of intense, I would say that was him.”

The “opposite-of-intense” mode of hardly-work Johnson was auditioning that day led him to an art based on play, exchange, and movement; on remaining light-footed enough to follow any association that came to mind, be it ever so slight, silly, or hermetic. Perhaps for just that reason, Johnson’s art found its ideal helpmate in the camera, with its knack for lending graphic form to the ephemeral. In any event, the 1955 documents turn up repeatedly in his color photographs of forty years later (44, 102).

Even more prevalent in these images is the infinitely malleable bunny head (64) that Johnson described as “a sort of self-portrait.” Its partner, equally ever-present, is a headshot of Johnson made by Ara Ignatius around 1963. (Johnson kept on hand an offset plate of this image, from which he could order new printings by the hundreds whenever he needed them.) In one early-1992 photograph, nineteen headshots are laid down in a path leading to Johnson’s backdoor stairs, where he would be staging many more photographs (20). In the summer of 1993, four headshots stare in through the windshield of his car, like a posse of avid fans (126). The headshot rides shotgun with Elvis (108) and, reduced to a pair of eyes, lends consciousness to a mob of moticos on camelback (98).

Johnson’s longtime collector, advocate, and chief interpreter, William Wilson, observed that photographs served the artist as a form of citation: as a way to “reference,” rather than “represent,” his subjects. The hands-off nature of the medium gave Johnson a way to bring topics up yet keep his viewer (his recipient, his reader) focused on something he cared about more: the messaging process itself. Using another photography adjacent tool, the silhouette, Johnson could convert the people he knew into references-to-themselves. Starting in 1976, he used pencil and paper to trace the profile shadows of some 284 sitters. He filed these in two big template binders, ready for use in the studio. Most of his profile subjects were writers, artists, and actors, whose shared characteristic is their publicly traded names.

Some of the silhouettes appear in the colour photographs, as do various celebrity portraits – but many more people show up as bunny faces inscribed with their names. Johnson wrote to Bourdon that seventy-two of his Movie Stars were going to appear in a “RAY JOHNSON OUTDOOR MOVIE SHOW” (see 110, 122, and 124 for variant stagings) that would stand “45 feet in length if ever actually placed next to each other and the wind didn’t blow them down.” In the meantime, he posed individual Movie Stars in the company of obliging strangers (54) or leaned them against the occasional dog (222).

The photographs include some one-offs, such as the shadow cast by Johnson’s mailbox (2) and a tar seam in a parking lot (176). Many of the subjects, though, are ones he revisited dozens of times, such as local beaches, cemeteries, and storefronts, a bathtub he found in a field (106, 107), and himself as a shadow, encountering a manhole cover (4).

Most of the photographs work in a collage-like way: they record Johnson’s alteration of a real-world setting through the addition of some flat thing he has made or chosen, such as one of his grimly cartoony black-on-white graphic characters, hiding amid spiky succulents (18), or an ace of clubs, leaning against Piet Mondrian’s grave marker (42).

At other times he works like a conventional photographer, observing but not intervening, as when he captures the horizon across Long Island Sound (230), a faceless billboard (41), the snapped arrow of a rooftop weathervane (16), or a palm frond splayed on beach sand (92).

Still other images define a mode between these two options, as Johnson finds some noteworthy thing to photograph (dragon’s teeth icicles [6], a mortuary angel [8]), then props up beside it a sign that emblazons the view like a maker’s logo or a graffitist’s tag: “PHOTO BY RAY JOHNSON”; “RAY JOHNSON THE PARIS CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOL.”

Here are a few of the subjects that kept Johnson and his 137 cameras coming back most often:

Inside. When Johnson photographed inside his house, the daylight-exposure film in his pre-loaded cameras restricted his work area to patches of direct sunlight. In late afternoon, the window in his front door cast a scalloped picture frame, or spotlight, around whatever he photographed on the floor (132, 168). The window’s shape in turn became a player, alone or in tandem with its mirror image (45).

Telephones. Johnson was as tireless a phone-caller as he was a mailer. Once, while at home, he held the phone for a bunny labeled EAR MUFS, posing between a 1955 photo and a clutch of moticos glyphs (28). Out driving around, he staged momentary installations in payphone boxes (65, 232). He unhooked one phone’s receiver and threaded over its cord a cardboard cutout silhouette of the artist Joseph Cornell, whom he used to visit in Flushing, Queens (12). The cutout void of Cornell’s head frames the telephone’s number-pad, turning Johnson into the operator of a Cornell-box hotline: camera in one hand, receiver in the other, plugged into the head of the master collagist.

Doubles. In Johnson’s universe, doubleness – correspondence – is the norm. No surprise, then, that he should photograph twins, replicas (48, 50), and those spellbinding autocopies, twin-initialed celebrities (Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse [160]). He gives dualism a distinctly photographic turn by pairing things with their reflections or shadows. When photographed, these light-borne modes of doubling assume a concrete presence: they make reality look Johnsonian. A reflection echoes its original, but the two are non-identical. The reflection – being laterally flopped, like Johnson’s mirror letters – is the original’s opposite (52, 172). As for the shadow, it is a flat, graphic version of its original (70), an incorporeal counterpart to reality (136).

Recycling. A collagist traffics in the reincarnation of materials and images. The beginnings of Johnson’s photographs look like an effort to document his vast inventory of “chop art” – his term for the densely-reworked chunks of assemblage he had been building up and cutting apart again for decades (30-33). He abandoned this cataloguing, but his photographs remain as full of junk (130, 131) as his house (228); “WHAT A DUMP.” His movie-reel memory encompassed everything from Bette Davis films to a porn video made famous in the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas [150]). He created a deadpan cardboard memorial to his old associate, arch-recycler Andy Warhol, and laid it atop a raked pile of cemetery flowers (142), and, two years later, atop a scattering of donated clothes (144).

Bills. Scavenged out of those clothing drops, most likely, were the many baseball cap visors Johnson photographed. He held them up before the camera, always in C formation, with deep spaces behind them: the sky, or receding railway tracks (34, 78). He arrayed them on Stehli Beach like a school of migrating horseshoe crabs (94). He cut the bill’s crescent-moon shape out of his headshot (33). If they stand for a name, “Bill,” perhaps he is William Wilson. Or the writer William S. Burroughs, who sat for his silhouette in 1976. Johnson laid a cutout of Burroughs down on cardboard, then extended Bill’s prominent nose with the bill of a kingfisher (96).

Photographers. The photographs feature many images drawn from photography’s historical canon, making Johnson-collaborators of, among others, Walker Evans (via Sherrie Levine) (136), Dennis Stock (158), and Félix González-Torres (186). Some Movie Star bunnies are given the names of photographers, including Horst, Duane Michals (154, 170), and Lord Snowdon (snowed-in / snowed-N [236]). The crane in Bill Brandt’s famous photograph of Kew Gardens provides the top half of an awkward composite figure (159, 174). Johnson perched Michals’s book of portraits on the front bumper of his car, making a third headlight of its cyclopean eye (138). He turned Richard Avedon’s An Autobiography face-down to reveal its author photo and dressed the portraitist in a hat (163) that channels Marianne Moore, who is portrayed in that book wearing her signature tricorn (a moticos-like garment that fascinated Johnson). Late one dusk, Johnson photographed the legs of his shadow spanning a copy of Lee Friedlander’s book Like a One-Eyed Cat, laid down open to its frontispiece, one of Friedlander’s many self-portraits in shadow (80).

Please Send. Between July and December 1994, over twenty wrapped packages appear in Johnson’s photographs. They are addressed to or from his mail-art correspondents, most frequently his local friend Sheila Sporer (158, 242). (The ones Sheila opened – those not marked “DO NOT OPEN” – turned out to be stuffed with plain craft paper.) Often the packages are pictured in the midst of what look like obscure rituals. One stands in Johnson’s driveway, tethered to a helium bunny balloon, ready to begin its physically impossible ascent (206). Others he positioned inside the gallery show-window of his late December 1994 un-show, Ray Johnson: Nothing, and then photographed them from out on the sidewalk (169). (He never ventured inside.) A few days later, he posed two packages, tourist-like, at the end of a pier at sunset (214); distressingly, one of them is next seen drifting in the water below (216).

In late December 1994, Johnson photographed himself in a shop window mirror, holding up a bunny inscribed PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE (246). (On the collage, this bunny bears the date December 21; below it, on December 30, Johnson added ONLY YOU [244].) REAL LIFE refers, at one level, to the New York-based art magazine REALLIFE (1979-1994): since late November, Johnson had been urging Sporer to pitch its editor, Thomas Lawson, an article about their three years of collaborative correspondence art.

But the message can mean something else, too – something like: “Here, Life, take this thing I’ve made; I’m going to the other place.” For decades death had been a resolute presence in Johnson’s work, taking such forms as Nothing, pitch-black humor, and a fixation on life dates. Is death palpably present in the photographs of his last three years? It would be silly to deny that it is. And yet it would be trivial to hunt through this large, complex, often comical, always personal body of work for nothing more than a rebus suicide note. Ray Johnson never made himself that easily readable. And nowhere in his art does he look more intensely engaged by the present tense, more thrilled to be immersed in Real Life, than in the inventions of his throwaway camera.

Joel Smith. “PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE,” in PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE: Ray Johnson Photographs. Mack Books, 2022, pp. 188-195

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show on RJ's car' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show in RJ's backyard' 1 June 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show on RJ’s car
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show in RJ’s backyard
1 June 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The photographs Johnson made between January 1992 and December 1994 feature several dozen collages in a large, vertical format he had never used before. He referred to these works as Movie Stars (or Move Stars), writing that “if the wind didn’t knock them down,” he planned to cast them in a “Ray Johnson Outdoor Movie Show,” lined up like dancers in a musical revue. In the end, still photography was the nearest he came to filmmaking.

 

 

In the same way that Johnson burned his early paintings, renouncing the most reliable route to a successful art career in mid-20th-century New York, he exited the fray of Manhattan. In 1968 he moved to Locust Valley, Long Island, and after 1978 he had only two solo exhibitions – the last one in 1991. He continued to make art, though, and looked to artists like Joseph Cornell, famous for his box assemblages, who lived on Utopia Parkway in Queens. Many of Johnson’s works take Cornell’s idea of the display box filled with quirky objects and expands it to tableaus staged for the camera, using the suburban environment, the woods or the seashore as found theatrical sets. …

Johnson’s presence in many of the photos could be called self-portraiture – but the photos also feel very much like ancestors to the ubiquitous cellphone selfie. The photo “RJ with Please Send to Real Life and camera in mirror” (1994) is an obvious selfie precursor. It includes a number of conceptual twists, however: Johnson appears in a mirror, holding a disposable camera and one of his cardboard signs with an alter-ego bunny and the words “Please Send to Real Life” partially printed in reverse – a reminder of how the camera doesn’t merely document reality, but shapes and potentially distorts it. (This photo might also be a reference to his mail-art practice or the New York art magazine Real Life, published from 1979 to 1994.) …

What is art? What is real? Does the image document reality or create it? “Please Send to Real Life” raises some of these questions and shows how Johnson predicted the growing fuzziness between the realms of photography and IRL (in real life) – from snapshots to social media – suggesting that the relationship between them is porous but also ripe for creative intervention.

Anonymous. “Ray Johnson’s Camera Was Disposable. The Photos Are Unforgettable,” on The New York Times website 24th August 2022 [Online] Cited 28/08/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (yellow DUANE MICHALS bunny)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (JOSEF ALBERS with cat)' 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (six blue Rays in Rolls)' Undated

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (yellow DUANE MICHALS bunny)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
13 3/4 × 4 1/2 in. (34.93 × 11.43cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (JOSEF ALBERS with cat)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
17 3/8 × 7 1/2 in. (44.13 × 19.05cm)
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (six blue Rays in Rolls)
Undated
Collage on corrugated cardboard
21 × 8 1/2 in. (53.34 × 21.59cm)
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Movie Stars

Overhead are some of the several dozen collages that appear in photographs Johnson made between January 1992 and December 1994. He referred to these large, vertical pieces as Movie Stars (or Move Stars), writing that “if the wind didn’t knock them down,” he planned to cast them in a “Ray Johnson Outdoor Movie Show,” lined up like dancers in a musical revue. In the end, still photography was the nearest he came to filmmaking. Were the Movie Stars made to be photographed? Or are the photographs mere documents of the Movie Stars? Perhaps the two bodies of work are best understood as complementary parts of a continuous creative cycle. Many of the Movie Stars are made on cardboard that bears photographic product information, suggesting that it was scavenged from the dumpster of the shop where Johnson bought his cameras and turned them in for developing.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Cage and Satie with Orpheus and Eurydice, Planting Fields Arboretum' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Jasper John' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'WIGART grave and Movie Star of RJ between David Bs' April 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Cage and Satie with Orpheus and Eurydice, Planting Fields Arboretum
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Jasper John
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
WIGART grave and Movie Star of RJ between David Bs
April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The Movie Stars feature a roll call of celebrity faces and names that is, in composite, unique to Johnson’s imagination. By photographing the collages, Johnson animated his personal pantheon in the familiar settings of his daily life. Composers Erik Satie and John Cage rest in the arms of a statue of Orpheus, the prophetic music-maker of Greek myth. Artist Jasper Johns punningly marks the door of an outhouse-like wooden structure. Johnson himself rides shotgun in his Volkswagen Golf while Elvis takes the wheel. And art critic David Bourdon and rock star David Bowie (embodiments, in different ways, of Pop’s legacy) join Johnson at the grave of “Wig art.” Once Johnson even photographed the Movie Stars in their staging area at home, ready to be loaded into the car and taken out for a day’s work.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Headshot and Elvises in RJ's car' February 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Outdoor Movie Show on dumpster' 18 May 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Four Movie Stars, Locust Valley Cemetery' 31 March 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Headshot and Elvises in RJ’s car
February 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Outdoor Movie Show on dumpster
18 May 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Four Movie Stars, Locust Valley Cemetery
31 March 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Silhouette version of RJ portrait by Joan Harrison, Lattingtown Beach' Autumn 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Silhouette version of RJ portrait by Joan Harrison, Lattingtown Beach
Autumn 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

To create this picture-within-a-picture, Johnson returned to the site of a much-reproduced portrait of him that photographer Joan Harrison made in the early 1980s. In the spot where he once sat, knees raised and arms outstretched, Johnson leaned a card that features a black silhouette of his symmetrical pose. As so often occurs in his photographs, Johnson here strikes an unsettling balance between absence and presence, erasure and memorialisation.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Bill and Railroad Tracks)' Spring 1992)

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bill and Long Island Sound' Winter 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Bill and Railroad Tracks)
Spring 1992)
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bill and Long Island Sound
Winter 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Johnson held up the sky-blue bill of a baseball cap over a railroad crossing and photographed it. When he holds it over the ocean in another image, it resembles a crescent moon. With his “throwaway” camera he photographed arrangements of photographs and photobooks by Walker Evans, Lord Snowden, Richard Avedon, Bill Brandt, and Lee Friedlander. Friedlander-like, Johnson photographed his own shadow, interacting with the places of his solitary visits.

He photographed his own works in infinite arrangements and continuous correspondence: two bunnyheads sitting up conversationally in tall chairs. He photographed his headshot, affixed to the passenger seat of a car, next to a double photo of Elvis, in the driver’s seat. He photographed a blank billboard in a field; he photographed a pier; he photographed the ocean. He photographed a picture of himself in his shadow cast across a mailbox, a bunny head peeking out. The unearthed photographs become the last note sent.

Rrebecca Bengal. “Photo Dump: Digging into the 5,000 Photographs Ray Johnson Left Behind,” on the Elephant Art website 20 Jul 2022 [Online] Cited 25/09/2022

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ reflected in ice truck and split Duane Michals Movie Star' 11 May 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Back steps and moticos' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ reflected in ice truck and split Duane Michals Movie Star
11 May 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Back steps and moticos
Spring 1992
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Twins

In his writing and visual art, Johnson used juxtapositions and puns to suggest that nothing stands alone: everything finds correspondence in something else. Photography’s optical literalness gave him new ways to explore reality’s doubleness. Twins – and photocopied photographs – are nearly alike yet insistently distinct. Mirrors give back a faithful, yet laterally reversed, image of nature. The shadow of a thing echoes its original, but (like a moticos) it is flat and empty of internal detail.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bunny drawn on Felix Gonzalez-Torres's "Untitled"' 2 January 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Long Dong Silver, Lattingtown Beach' 16 November 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Six Movie Stars in RJ's car' April 1993

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bunny drawn on Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled”
2 January 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Long Dong Silver, Lattingtown Beach
16 November 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Six Movie Stars in RJ’s car
April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Bunnies

A round-eyed, long-nosed bunny head functioned as Johnson’s signature and, as he said, “a kind of self-portrait.” Despite the bunny’s blank expression, context can render it comical, hapless, sinister, or obscene. Johnson altered Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s photograph of a rumpled empty bed – an iconic image of gay mourning during the AIDS crisis – by resting a lone bunny’s head on one of the two pillows. Johnson cut a face-sized hole out of one bunny, then photographed the view outside his front window through the gap. He gave the same bunny to passersby to wear and, once, laid it suggestively atop his toilet bowl. When a large old tree next door was being chainsawed apart, Johnson found in its branching form a gaunt, eyeless bunny’s face.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Harpo Marx bunny, headshot, and payphone' February 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Bunny tree in backyard' 17 April 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (red bunny NOTHING)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Untitled (Ad Rein Hardt Bunny)' 1993

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Flopped stranger wearing cutout bunny' Spring 1992

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Harpo Marx bunny, headshot, and payphone
February 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Bunny tree in backyard
17 April 1993
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (red bunny NOTHING)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
12 1/2 × 7 1/2 in. (31.75 × 19.05cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Untitled (Ad Rein Hardt Bunny)
1993
Collage on corrugated cardboard
12 1/2 × 7 5/8 in. (31.75 × 19.37cm)
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Flopped stranger wearing cutout bunny
Spring 1992
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

What did Johnson intend to do with the thousands of photographs he made between 1992 and 1994? There are few solid indications. He mailed some to correspondents, either in the form of original prints or as photocopies. He also incorporated a handful of his photographs into collages that differ markedly in scale and sensibility from the larger, contemporaneous Movie Stars. In one collage, a photograph of five Movie Stars – arranged like sequential ads beside a road – is punningly combined with a bunny head bearing the name of abstract painter Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967), a friend and employer of Johnson’s in his early New York years.

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'Shadow of RJ's mailbox' March 1994

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995) 'RJ with PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE and camera in mirror' 23 December 1994

 

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
Shadow of RJ’s mailbox
March 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ray Johnson (American, 1927-1995)
RJ with PLEASE SEND TO REAL LIFE and camera in mirror
23 December 1994
Commercially processed chromogenic print
4 × 6 in.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Gift of the Ray Johnson Estate, courtesy of Frances Beatty
© Ray Johnson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

This self-portrait appears on a roll of film Johnson turned in for developing about three weeks before his suicide by drowning on 13 January 1995. The flopped lettering on the Movie Star in his hand undergoes a further reversal in the mirror. On a literal level, the words “REAL LIFE” refer to the New York-based art magazine REALLIFE (1979-1994), which Johnson hoped would soon publish an article about his years-long collaboration with a friend, Sheila Sporer. But the message unmistakably announces, too, that the artist was soon to venture beyond the reach of “real life.”

 

 

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27
Dec
19

Exhibition: ‘Peter Hujar: Speed of Life’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 15th October 2019 – 19th January 2020

Curators: Joel Smith and Quentin Bajac

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Installation view of the exhibition Peter Hujar: Speed of Life at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

 

“I photograph those who push themselves to any extreme, and people who cling to the freedom to be themselves.”

.
Peter Hujar

 

 

Free your mind

A huge posting to finish what has been a bumper year on Art Blart: two book chapters published, a photographic research trip to Europe in which I saw some incredible exhibitions and took over 7000 photographs for my art work, lots of postings and writing and, sadly, the loss of two friends – my mother in Australia, the bohemian photographer and poet Joyce Evans and vision impaired photographer Andrew Follows.

I couldn’t think of a better posting to finish the year than with a photographer who put it all on the line: Peter Hujar. Not for him the world of Apollonian perfection, wishing for fortune and fame, relying on some big time backer to promote him. Hujar stuck to his craft, carving images, performances if you like, from dystopian contexts and Dionysian revellers. “Hujar was the instigator of the performances captured in his portraits, as much as a director as a photographer.”

Paraphrasing Mark Durant, we might say that Hujar was a poet of the urban nocturne, a photographer of subjective desire known for his gritty, erotic, sentimental yet (im)personal images. Philip Gefter observes that, “A hallmark of Hujar’s portraiture is the invisibility of technique – a kind of visual innocence – as if the camera were not present and the subject had been happened upon.” Richard Woodward says that Hujar, “observed his companions in this outlaw life with what might be called warm objectivity.” Photographer Duane Michals says that, “Hujar was a pioneer, years ahead of Mapplethorpe in his sexual candor, as well as an artist whose photographs are less swank and less affected.”

Ah! what a time it was to be an artist and to be gay in New York, with the likes of Hujar, Warhol, Mapplethorpe, Wojnarowicz, Haring, Arthur Tress, and Duane Michals, to name but a few. A time of sexual liberation, followed by a period of disease and death. Hujar pictures this “scene” – the flowering of gay life and then the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. He pictures the constellations as they swirl around him. He allows the viewer to enter his world without judgement, just showing it how it was – a world of avant-garde dance, music, art, and drag performance; “glowing skyscrapers, assorted rubble, discarded rugs, boys in drag, and girls passed out in his doorway.” This is it he is saying, this is how I live, this is who surrounds me, suck it up and breathe it in. He allows the viewer to enter his world of ideas and possible metaphors. No judgement is offered nor accepted.

As my appreciation of his photographs grows, I reflect on the skill that it takes to make these photographs look effortless. Hujar, “a student of Lisette Model, admirer of August Sander, and friend of Diane Arbus, made his photographs distinctly his own: a perfect and unmistakable mirror of his own body and milieu.” A mirror of strength and determination / of friendship / of love – his pictures gather, together, a feeling for – the freedom of people, and places, to be themselves. Do places have feelings? yes they do! (I remember visiting the Coliseum in Rome and having to leave after 20 minutes the energy of the place was so bad; and then visiting the Loretta Sanctuary in Prague and feeling, such calm and peace in that place, that I have rarely felt before).

Hujar’s photographs are memorable. Nan Goldin and Vince Aletti said that his work, “like that of so few photographers, can’t be forgotten and becomes even deeper and more compelling over time.” His work is so compelling it’s like you can’t take tear your eyes away from the photographs. They demand repeat viewing. They seem possessed of an awareness of their own making. That is Hujar’s music, his signature.

Like any great artist, his images reveal themselves over time, expounding his love of life and his intimate and free engagement with the world. Hujar was, is, and always will be… a watcher, a dreamer, a cosmic spirit.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Jeu de Paume for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Many thankx to David for the iPhone installation images. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The life and art of Peter Hujar (1934-1987) were rooted in downtown New York. Private by nature, combative in manner, well-read, and widely connected, Hujar inhabited a world of avant-garde dance, music, art, and drag performance. His mature career paralleled the public unfolding of gay life between the Stonewall uprising in 1969 and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

In his loft studio in the East Village, Hujar focused on those who followed their creative instincts and shunned mainstream success. He made, in his words, “uncomplicated, direct photographs of complicated and difficult subjects,” immortalising moments, individuals, and subcultures passing at the speed of life.

 

 

What was Hujar’s truth, his photographic truth? Hujar understood and utilized photography’s tension between document and theatricality. In the act of photographing there is a performance, not only on the part of the subject, but for the photographer as well. For Hujar, to photograph was a balancing act between fierce observation and manifesting his devotion. As Jennifer Quick observes in her essay for the catalogue, This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, “While Arbus and Mapplethorpe are known for their detached postures, Hujar’s silent, tacit presence pervades his work. Like Avedon, Hujar was the instigator of the performances captured in his portraits, as much as a director as a photographer.” That Hujar is considered in the same company of Avedon, Arbus, and Mapplethorpe, reminds us that the retrospective Speed of Life is long overdue.

Hujar’s restlessness led him to wander beyond the confines of the studio. Like Brassai, Hujar was a poet of the urban nocturne, prowling the streets with his camera as the day unraveled. Brassai’s Paris is gritty, erotic, sentimental, yet impersonal. Hujar’s photographs of New York’s streets at night embrace emptiness and furtive gestures, glowing skyscrapers, assorted rubble, discarded rugs, boys in drag, and girls passed out in his doorway. His nighttime images of the Hudson river are disquieting, suggesting powerful currents not fully understood by the dappled surfaces. The thrill and danger of an anonymous sexual encounter is manifested in the 1981 image, Man Leaning Against Tree. It is the moment for Hujar to surveille and assess, when the object of desire is seen but has not yet turned his head to return the gaze. There is a little bit of softness in the image, due, perhaps, to the dim light or the camera moving while the shutter remained open. This image is as much a document of Hujar’s habits of looking as it is about the man leaning against the tree. Despite claims of photography’s objectivity or passive observation, the photographer, consciously or not, visually manifests subjective desire, and Hujar was masterful in this regard. …

While all photographs are tethered to mortality, there is something exemplary in Hujar’s cool acceptance of our temporality. He was fully engaged with his moment yet unsentimental in his attachment. Whether he was photographing a lover or an abandoned dog as elegant as it is scruffy, we can sense that Hujar’s interest was intellectual and physical in equal measure. He may not have been comfortable with the world as it was, but he embraced and even loved what was in front of his camera. “My work comes out of my life, the people I photograph are not freaks or curiosities to me,” he said. “I like people who dare.”

Mark Alice Durant. “Peter Hujar’s Photographic Truth,” on the Saint Lucy website [Online] Cited 01/11/2019

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Public Garden, Taormina, Sicily' 1959

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Public Garden, Taormina, Sicily
1959
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Sheep, Pennsylvania' 1969

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Sheep, Pennsylvania
1969
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Gay Liberation Front Poster Image' 1970

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Gay Liberation Front Poster Image
1970
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Gay Liberation Front poster image

Hujar put his art to political use in 1969. In late June, a police raid inspired fierce resistance from the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, in the West Village. Hujar’s boyfriend at the time, Jim Fouratt, arrived on the scene to organise for the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), the first political group to cite homosexuality in its name. Hujar agreed to make a photograph for a GLF poster. Early one Sunday morning that fall, members of the group assembled and ran back and forth past the photographer on Nineteenth Street, west of Broadway. The poster, bearing the slogan COME OUT!!, appeared in late spring 1970 in advance of the gay liberation march that marked the first anniversary of Stonewall.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Gay Liberation Front Poster Image (installation view)
1970
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Candy Darling on her Deathbed' 1973

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Candy Darling on her Deathbed
1973
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Candy Darling

In September 1973, transgender Warhol Superstar Candy Darling (born James Lawrence Slattery) was hospitalised for lymphoma. She asked Hujar to make a portrait of her “as a farewell to my fans.” Out of several dozen exposures, Hujar chose to print this languorous pose. As rendered in the print, Candy’s banal, fluorescent-lit hospital room looks as elegant as the studio props in a Hollywood starlet’s portrait. Hujar later wrote that his style cues came from Candy, who was “playing every death scene from every movie.” The image, first seen in print in the New York Post after Candy’s death six months later, became the most widely reproduced of Hujar’s works during his lifetime.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Candy Darling on her Deathbed (installation view)
1973
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Fran Lebowitz at Home in Morristown, New Jersey' 1974

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Fran Lebowitz at Home in Morristown, New Jersey
1974
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Self-Portrait Jumping (1)' 1974

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Self-Portrait Jumping (1)
1974
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Self-Portrait Jumping (1) (installation view)
1974
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Susan Sontag' 1975

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Susan Sontag
1975
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Susan Sontag (installation view)
1975
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Christopher Street Pier (2) (installation view)
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Christopher Street Pier (2)' 1976

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Christopher Street Pier (2)
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Jeu de Paume presents a selection of 150 photographs of this singular artist from October 15th, 2019 to January 19th, 2020. The exhibition follows Hujar’s work from the beginnings mid 1950 until the 1980s, shaping a portrait of the underground New York City.

The life and art of Peter Hujar (1934-1987) were rooted in downtown New York. Private by nature, combative in manner, well-read, and widely connected, Hujar inhabited a world of avant-garde dance, music, art, and drag performance. His mature career paralleled the public unfolding of gay life between the Stonewall uprising* in 1969 and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

After graduating from high school in 1953, Hujar worked as an assistant to commercial photographers until 1968. Five years of contributing features to mass-market magazines convinced him that a fashion career “wasn’t right for me” and in 1973 he opted for an autonomous, near-penniless life as an artist. In his loft studio above a theater in the East Village, Hujar focused on those who obeyed their creative instincts and shunned mainstream success.

At age forty-two, he published his only monograph, Portraits in Life and Death, and opened his first solo gallery show. The searching intimacy he achieved as a portraitist carried over into unsentimental photographs of animals and plants, landscapes, buildings, and the unique features of nude bodies.

Hujar’s brief affair in 1981 with the young artist David Wojnarowicz evolved into a mentoring bond that changed both their lives. On their excursions to blighted areas around New York, Hujar crafted the portrait of a city in free fall, complementing Wojnarowicz’s dark vision of Reagan-era America.

Peter Hujar died of AIDS-related pneumonia in November 1987.

Press release from Jeu de Paume

 

Early years

In 1953, Peter Hujar finished high school in Manhattan, where he had studied photography. He then worked for some fifteen years as an assistant to commercial photographers. Punctuating those years were two long periods in Italy, buoyed by scholarships – a first one that was obtained by a boyfriend (1958-1959) and then his own (1962-1963). From 1968 to 1972, he tried to make it as a freelancer in the mass-market world of fashion, music, and advertising photography. The hustle “wasn’t right for me,” and he turned his back on the commercial mainstream. From this time on he lived on almost nothing, squeaking by on small jobs, taking paying jobs only when necessary and focusing on the subjects he found compelling. In 1973, he moved to the crumbling East Village, into a loft that would become the setting for his mature studio work, most notably the vast majority of his portraits.

 

Portraits

Portraiture was central to Hujar’s practice. The subjects of his art, Hujar wrote, were “those who push themselves to any extreme” and those who “cling to the freedom to be themselves.” “In a sense, I am still a fashion photographer. These people are chic but in a dark kind of way. Most of them are unknown or maybe known to just a few, but they have all been creative adventurers and possess a certain spirit.”

Most of his portraits were posed, but Hujar often expected his models to perform in front of the camera, which made many of the shoots truly collaborative ventures. Disguises and props were often incorporated, and his subjects were sometimes veiled, simultaneously revealing and masking themselves.

The reclining portrait is a photographic genre Hujar made his own. The pose features extensively in his 1976 monograph Portraits in Life and Death, and he continued to rely on it as a means of capturing something unique in his sitter: to face a camera lens from a reclining position is an unfamiliar and provoking experience.

 

New York

“The happiest times with Peter, when he wasn’t photographing, were walking around Manhattan, looking at the crowns of buildings, and the fantasies about ‘living there,'” remembers Gary Schneider, one of his close friends.

Born in New Jersey, Hujar spent all his life in New York, and more specifically in Manhattan, whose buildings, streets, and piers he started photographing more extensively in the second half of the 1970s. Divided between Downtown’s derelict areas and Midtown’s skyscrapers, Hujar’s New York is often a nocturnal city: a place of abandoned structures, night-time cruising, and early-dawn vistas. A few journeys outside New York, during the summer months, to the beaches of Fire Island in the Hamptons, and, in the early 1980s, to the countryside around Germantown, forty miles north of New York, along the Hudson River, offer other glimpses of Peter Hujar’s personal geography, testifying to the variety of subjects that he found worth photographing.

 

Bodies

Portraiture of bodies was another focal point of Hujar’s last decade of work. In 1978, some of his works were included in The Male Nude: A photographic Survey at the Marcuse Pfeifer Gallery in New York.

Bodies, he suggested, could be read as freely as faces for character, emotion, or life story.

He photographed bodies in the extremes of youth and old age, bodies displaying unique features, and bodies in transient states, notably pregnancy and arousal.

Whether photographing faces or bodies, Hujar was attentive to the characteristics conferred by time and experience, such as Manny Vasquez’s spinal tap scar and the imprint left by socks on Randy Gilberti’s ankles. “I want people to feel the picture and smell it,” he said of his nudes, which he contrasted to the idealised bodies in Robert Mapplethorpe’s work.

 

Gracie Mansion Gallery, 1986

When exhibiting his work, Hujar employed two distinct methods. He displayed prints either in isolation (notably in his loft, where just one photograph at a time was on view) or in large groupings, two images high, as on this wall. For the last exhibition during his lifetime, in January 1986 in New York, Hujar covered the walls of the Gracie Mansion Gallery with a frieze of seventy photographs in no apparent order. He fine-tuned the layout for days until no one type of image (portrait, nude, animal, still life, landscape, cityscape) appeared twice consecutively. Each of his subjects thus preserved its own identity and singularity rather than serving as a variation on an imposed theme.

The arrangement highlighted his inventive range, created echoes among seemingly unrelated images, and drew attention to preoccupations that had recurred throughout his career. The display in this room centres on images taken in the 1980s and is freely inspired by that 1986 exhibition.

 

Andy Warhol

In 1964 Peter Hujar was a regular visitor to The Factory, Andy Warhol’s studio at 231 East 47th Street in New York. He posed four times for Screen Tests, brief portraits filmed by Warhol and screened in slow motion. Together with his friend Paul Thek, Hujar was chosen as one of the “Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys”, whose film portraits were regularly shown at the Factory and at parties and events elsewhere. Among the other personalities figuring in the Screen Tests in 1964-1965 were the actor-directors Dennis Hopper and Jack Smith, together with writer-critic Susan Sontag and poet John Ashbery – both of whom would later pose for Hujar.

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'From Rockefeller Center: The Equitable Building' 1976

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
From Rockefeller Center: The Equitable Building
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Reclining Nude on Couch' 1978

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Reclining Nude on Couch
1978
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Boy on Raft' 1978

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Boy on Raft
1978
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Surf (2)' Nd

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Surf (2)
Nd
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Boys in Car, Halloween' 1978

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Boys in Car, Halloween
1978
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Dana Reitz's Legs, Walking' 1979

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Dana Reitz’s Legs, Walking
1979
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Dana Reitz’s Legs, Walking (installation view)
1979
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Gary in Contortion (2)' 1979

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Gary in Contortion (2)
1979
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'David Wojnarowicz Reclining (2)' 1981

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
David Wojnarowicz Reclining (2)
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
David Wojnarowicz Reclining (2) (installation view)
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

A hallmark of Hujar’s portraiture is the invisibility of technique – a kind of visual innocence – as if the camera were not present and the subject had been happened upon, discovered there, as Ludlam appears to be, in medias res.

Philip Gefter. “Peter Hujar’s Downtown,” on the NYR Daily website [Online] Cited 01/11/2019

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'David Wojnarowicz' 1981

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
David Wojnarowicz
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
David Wojnarowicz (installation view)
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

“Hermetic appeal and an identification with psychic damage came together in Hujar’s last important relationship, with the meteoric younger artist David Wojnarowicz, who was a ravaged hustler when they met at a bar in late 1980 and who died from AIDS in 1992. They were lovers briefly, then buddies and soul mates. Wojnarowicz said that Hujar “was like the parent I never had, like the brother I never had.” In return, he inspired fresh energies in Hujar’s life and late work. In a breathtakingly intimate portrait of Wojnarowicz with a cigarette and tired eyes, from 1981, the young man’s gaze meets that of the camera, with slightly wary – but willing and plainly reciprocated – devotion: love, in a way. Their story could make for a good novel or movie – as it well may, in sketched outline in your mind, while you navigate this aesthetically fierce, historically informative, strangely tender show.”

Peter Schjeldahl. “The Bohemian Rhapsody of Peer Hujar: Photographs at the crossroads of high art and low life,” on The New Yorker website January 29, 2018 [Online] Cited 01/11/2019

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid' 1981

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Greer Lankton' 1983

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Greer Lankton
1983
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Hujar observed his companions in this outlaw life with what might be called warm objectivity. Whatever the portrait subject – doll maker and transgender pioneer Greer Lankton, model Bruce St. Croix sitting naked on a chair and handling his huge erection, Warhol superstar Candy Darling on her death bed, or a pair of cows in a muddy field – he photographed them directly with his 2 1/4, often at close range, without props or gauzy lighting.

Richard B. Woodward. “Peter Hujar: Speed of Life @Morgan Library,” on the Collector Daily website February 21, 2018 [Online] Cited 01/11/2019

 

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Gary Indiana Veiled
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Some iPhone installation photographs and others

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Woman and Girl in Window Italy
c. 1963
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Woman and Girl in Window Italy' c. 1963 

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Woman and Girl in Window Italy
c. 1963
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Young Man and Boy, Italy (installation view)
1958
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

He began as a street photographer, on the prowl for unrehearsed gestures, as can be seen in a 1958 picture in Italy of a well-dressed young man touching his thick coif of dark hair and standing next to a pudgy boy in a cap who has his hands in his pockets.

Richard B. Woodward. “Peter Hujar: Speed of Life @Morgan Library,” on the Collector Daily website February 21, 2018 [Online] Cited 01/11/2019

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Young Man and Boy, Italy' 1958

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Young Man and Boy, Italy
1958
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Peter Hujar. 'Palermo Catacombs (11)' 1963

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Palermo Catacombs #11, Rows of Bodies
1963
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Man in Costume on Toilet, Backstage at Palm Casino Review (installation view)
1974
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Nude Self-Portrait, Running / Nude Self-Portrait Series (Avedon Master Class) (installation view)
1966
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Group Picture (installation view)
1966
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Stephen Varble, Soho, Franklin Street (III) (installation view)
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Stephen Varble, Soho, Franklin Street (III)' 1976

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Stephen Varble, Soho, Franklin Street (III)
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Beauregard Under Plastic (1) (installation view)
1966
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Beauregard Under Plastic (1)' 1966

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Beauregard Under Plastic (1)
1966
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Bill Elliott (installation view)
1974
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Bill Elliott' 1974

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Bill Elliott
1974
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Dean Savard Reclining (installation view)
1984
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Dean Savard Reclining' 1984

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Dean Savard Reclining
1984
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Chloe Finch (installation view)
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Chloe Finch' 1981

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Chloe Finch
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Skippy on a Chair (installation view)
1985
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Jackie Curtis and Lance Loud (installation view)
1975
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Zachy and Gamal Sherif (Twins) (installation view)
1985
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Zachy and Gamal Sherif (Twins)' 1985

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Zachy and Gamal Sherif (Twins)
1985
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Ethyl Eichelberger, Dressed as a Man (installation view)
1983
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Girl in My Hallway (installation view)
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Girl in My Hallway' 1976

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Girl in My Hallway
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Hujar’s indelible portraits of famous avant-garde artists and drag queens, and his curiously gothic landscapes and animal pictures, are so fastidiously exquisite, so fussily exact, so representative of a period past (“Speed of Life” is a very odd title) that they immediately summon the ratty hauteur, the necessary obsessions, and the cold-eyed dignity that helped most gay men survive, and not survive, in the early gay lib and AIDS years. …

… His portraits often combine the freakish curiosity of Arbus and the monumental candidness of his mentor Richard Avedon into something resembling momento mori portraits suitable for displaying atop a casket. They are unmistakably contemporary but they feel historic, as if burned to silver plates. (Not for nothing did Hujar make his own display prints.) That doesn’t mean there’s no life in those portraits; far from it, these are the essences of his subjects so well-distilled that there’s really no need to go on. We see nostalgia washing over the present.

Mark B. “Peter Hujar’s brilliant, too brilliant icons,” on the 48hills website October 22, 2018 [Online] Cited 01/11/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
St. Patrick’s, Easter Sunday (installation view)
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'St. Patrick's, Easter Sunday' 1976

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
St. Patrick’s, Easter Sunday
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Boy on a Park Bench (installation view)
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Boy on a Park Bench' 1981

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Boy on a Park Bench
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Mural at Piers (installation view)
1983
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Mural at Piers' 1983

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Mural at Piers
1983
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Self Portrait (installation view)
1975
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Self Portrait in White Tank Top' 1975

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Self Portrait in White Tank Top
1975
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Gary in Contortion (1) (installation view)
1979
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Gary in Contortion (1)' 1979

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Gary in Contortion (1)
1979
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Daniel Schook Sucking Toe (Close-up) (installation view)
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Daniel Schook Sucking Toe (Close-up)' 1981

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Daniel Schook Sucking Toe (Close-up)
1981
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Pascal Imbert Scarred Abdomen (installation view)
1985
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Pascal Imbert Scarred Abdomen' 1980

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Pascal Imbert Scarred Abdomen
1985
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Manny Vasquez (Back with Bullet Wound) (installation view)
1979
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Robert Levithan on Bed (installation view)
1977
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Robert Levithan on Bed' 977

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Robert Levithan on Bed
1977
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Randy Gilberti, High Heels, Halloween (installation view)
1980
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Randy Gilberti, High Heels, Halloween' 1980

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Randy Gilberti, High Heels, Halloween
1980
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Nina Christgau (2) (installation view)
1985
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Nina Christgau (2)' 1985

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Nina Christgau (2)
1985
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Paul Hudson (Leg) (installation view)
1979
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Paul Hudson (Leg)' 1979

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Paul Hudson (Leg)
1979
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Isaac Hayes (installation view)
1971
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Isaac Hayes' 1971

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Isaac Hayes
1971
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
William S. Burroughs (1) (installation view)
1975
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'William S. Burroughs (1)' 1975

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
William S. Burroughs (1)
1975
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
David Warrilow (1) (installation view)
1985
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'David Warrilow (1)' 1985

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
David Warrilow (1)
1985
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Jerome Robbins at Bridgehampton (3) (installation view)
1977
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Jerome Robbins at Bridgehampton (3)' 1977

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Jerome Robbins at Bridgehampton (3)
1977
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Hudson River (installation view)
1975
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Hudson River' 1975

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Hudson River
1975
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Paul Hudson (installation view)
1979
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Paul Hudson' 1979

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Paul Hudson
1979
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Rockefeller Center (2) (installation view)
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Rockefeller Center (2)' 1976

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Rockefeller Center (2)
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Cat atop a cash register in a liquor store (1957)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Louise Nevelson (2) (installation view)
1969
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Louise Nevelson (2)' 1969

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Louise Nevelson (2)
1969
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Bill Rafford and Vince Aletti in Dresses Fire Island (installation view)
1971
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Bill Rafford and Vince Aletti in Dresses Fire Island' 1971

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Bill Rafford and Vince Aletti in Dresses Fire Island
1971
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Robyn Brentano (1) (installation view)
1975
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar. 'Robyn Brentano (1)' 1975

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Robyn Brentano (1)
1975
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Dog in the Street, Provincetown (installation view)
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Dog in the Street, Provincetown' 1976

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Dog in the Street, Provincetown
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Greer Lankton’s Legs (installation view)
1983
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Greer Lankton's Legs' 1983

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Greer Lankton’s Legs
1983
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Paul Thek (installation view)
1973
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Paul Thek' 1973

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Paul Thek
1973
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Christopher Street Pier #4 (installation view)
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Peter Hujar: Speed of Life' at Jeu de Paume, Paris

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Bruce de Ste. Croix (installation view)
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987) 'Bruce de Ste. Croix' 1976

 

Peter Hujar (American, 1934-1987)
Bruce de Ste. Croix
1976
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, achat en 2013 grâce au Charina Endowment Fund
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

 

 

Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
Phone: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday: 11.00 – 21.00
Wednesday – Sunday: 11.00 – 19.00
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19
Oct
18

Exhibition: ‘Black Light: Secret traditions in art since the 1950s’ at Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona

La llum negra. Tradicions secretes en l’art des dels anys cinquanta

Exhibition dates: 16th May – 21st October 2018

Curator: Enrique Juncosa

Artists: Carlos Amorales / Kenneth Anger / Antony Balch / Jordan Belson / Wallace Berman / Forrest Bess / Joseph Beuys / William S. Burroughs / Marjorie Cameron / Francesco Clemente / Bruce Conner / Aleister Crowley / René Daumal / Gino de Dominicis / Louise Despont / Nicolás Echevarría / Robert Frank / João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva / Brion Gysin / Jonathan Hammer / Frieda Harris / Derek Jarman / Jess / Alejandro Jodorowsky / Joan Jonas / Carl Gustav Jung / Matías Krahn / Wolfgang Laib / LeonKa / Goshka Macuga / Agnes Martin / Chris Martin / Henri Michaux / Grant Morrison / Tania Mouraud / Barnett Newman / Joan Ponç / Genesis P-Orridge / Sun Ra / Harry Smith / Rudolf Steiner / Philip Taaffe / Antoni Tàpies / Fred Tomaselli / Suzanne Treister / Vaccaro – Brookner / Ulla von Brandenburg / Terry Winters / Zush

 

 

 

Leon Ka – La llum negra – Mural

The mural at the entrance of the exhibition Black Light created by the artist Leon Ka, represents some of the symbols of ocultism, magic, and the mysticism of spirituality.

 

 

I love these eclectic exhibitions on unusual topics. Having studied a little Georges Gurdjieff, Carl Jung, Robert Johnson, Joseph Campbell and Carlos Castaneda to name just a few, I immersed myself in their spiritual, psychedelic and counterculture world. I had scarification done on my arm in 1992 which was one of the most spiritual rights of passage I have ever experienced in my life (see photograph below).

To be different, to explore that difference in art, is to violate the taboo of control – of adherence to the norm – that emotion which controls how we think, feel, act and create. As Georges Bataille observes,

“”The taboo is there in order to be violated.” This proposition is not the wager it looks like at first but an accurate statement of an inevitable connection between conflicting emotions. When a negative emotion has the upper hand we must obey the taboo. When a positive emotion is in the ascendant we violate it. Such a violation will not deny or suppress the contrary emotion, but justify it and arouse it.”1

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An “understanding of the text (writing, art, music, etc.) as ‘social space’,” say Barthes, “activates a broad intertextuality and a productive plurality of meanings and signifying/interpretive gestures that escape the reduction of knowledge to fixed, monological re-presentations, or presences.” What he is saying here is that there is no singular unity… for unity is variable and relative. Further, according to Kurt Thumlert (citing Lentricchia, 1998), “a transgressive textuality can also become a mode of agential resistance capable of fragmenting and releasing the subject, and thereby producing a zone of invisibility where knowledge/power is no longer able ‘find its target’.”2

In other words, transgression of the taboo allows the artist (in this case) to release himself from the logic of control and where power cannot get its hooks into him. In order to do this during the production of art, the artist must understand that representations are presentations which entail,

“the use of the codes and conventions of the available cultural forms of presentation. Such forms restrict and shape what can be said by and/or about any aspect of reality in a given place in a given society at a given time, but if that seems like a limitation on saying, it is also what makes saying possible at all. Cultural forms set the wider terms of limitation and possibility for the (re)presentation of particularities and we have to understand how the latter are caught in the former in order to understand why such-and-such gets (re)presented in the way it does. Without understanding the way images function in terms of, say, narrative, genre or spectacle, we don’t really understand why they turn out the way they do.”3

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The exhibition Black Light investigates how artists subvert these codes and conventions of representation and violate their taboo through emotions (whether positive or negative) present in the creative process. This transgressive spirit allows far seeing artists to become the seers of their day, playing with the dis/order of time, space and cultural (re)presentation. As a form of alchemy, all art partakes of this investigation into the past, present and future of life, our discontinuous existence as creatures who live and die, and the world that surrounds us, both physically and spiritually.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Bataille, Georges. Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo. New York: Walker and Company, 1962, pp. 64-65.
  2. Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006 No longer available.
  3. Dyer, Richard. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representations. London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 2-3.

 

 

Marcus Bunyan. 'Marcus (after scarification)' 1992

 

Marcus Bunyan (Australian born England, b. 1958)
Marcus (after scarification)
1992
Gelatin silver print
© Marcus Bunyan

 

 

 

Black Light. Discover the occult side of contemporary art

The occult, spirituality, psychedelia and esotericism come to the CCCB with the exhibition Black Light. An unusual look at the art of the past 50 years that has been strongly influenced by secret traditions.

 

 

Joan Jonas (American, b. 1936)
Reanimation (extract)

 

 

Henri Michaux (French born Belgium, 1899-1984)

 

 

Henri Michaux (French born Belgium, 1899-1984) was a highly idiosyncratic Belgian-born poet, writer, and painter who wrote in French. He later took French citizenship. Michaux is best known for his esoteric books written in a highly accessible style. His body of work includes poetry, travelogues, and art criticism. Michaux travelled widely, tried his hand at several careers, and experimented with psychedelic drugs, especially LSD and mescaline, which resulted in two of his most intriguing works, Miserable Miracle and The Major Ordeals of the Mind and the Countless Minor Ones.

 

 

Kenneth Anger (American, 1927-1996)
Lucifer Rising (Original track by Acqua Lazúli)
1972-80

 

 

For more information about this film please see the Lucifer Rising Wikipedia entry

Kenneth Anger (born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer; February 3, 1927) is an American underground experimental filmmaker, actor and author. Working exclusively in short films, he has produced almost forty works since 1937, nine of which have been grouped together as the “Magick Lantern Cycle”. His films variously merge surrealism with homoeroticism and the occult, and have been described as containing “elements of erotica, documentary, psychodrama, and spectacle”. Anger himself has been described as “one of America’s first openly gay filmmakers, and certainly the first whose work addressed homosexuality in an undisguised, self-implicating manner”, and his “role in rendering gay culture visible within American cinema, commercial or otherwise, is impossible to overestimate”, with several being released prior to the legalisation of homosexuality in the United States. He has also focused upon occult themes in many of his films, being fascinated by the English gnostic mage and poet Aleister Crowley, and is an adherent of Thelema, the religion Crowley founded.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Barnett Newman (1905-1970) 'Untitled' 1946

 

Barnett Newman (American, 1905-1970)
Untitled
1946
Oil on canvas
76.5 x 61.1cm
© IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Generalitat Valenciana

 

Antoni Tàpies. 'Book covers' 1987

 

Antoni Tàpies (Spanish, 1923-2012)
Book covers
1987
Paintings on old book covers
60 x 78.5 cm
Private collection, Barcelona
© Heirs of Antoni Tàpies / Vegap, Madrid

 

Leon Ka. 'Creatio: Lux, Crux' 2015

 

Leon Ka
Creatio: Lux, Crux
2015
Door of the cultural association Magia Roja, Barcelona

 

 

Black light is about the influence that various secret traditions have had on contemporary art from the nineteen-fifties to the present day. It presents some 350 works by such artists as Antoni Tàpies, Agnes Martin, Henri Michaux, Joseph Beuys, Ulla von Brandenburg, William S. Burroughs, Joan Jonas, Jordan Belson, Goshka Macuga, Kenneth Anger, Rudolf Steiner, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Francesco Clemente and Zush.

Black light brings together, in more or less chronological order, paintings, drawings, audiovisuals, sculptures, photographs, installations, books, music, engravings and documents by artists largely from North America, where secret traditions have historically enjoyed greater acceptance. There are works by creators who are considered fundamental to the history of art, such as Antoni Tàpies, Barnett Newman and Agnes Martin, alongside less-known figures of the counterculture of the sixties and seventies. The show also presents young artists to reflect the renewed interest in these traditions.

The work of all of them goes to show the relevance and continuity of these habitually overlooked trends, in many cases regarding art as a possible means to a higher cognitive level, as an instrument of connection with a more profound reality, or as a form of knowledge in itself. These ideas are contrary, for example, to a purely formalistic understanding of abstraction. Specifically, the exhibition also explores the influence of esoteric ideas on areas of popular culture, such as comics, jazz, cinema and alternative rock.

 

Henri Michaux. 'Untitled' 1983

 

Henri Michaux (French born Belgium, 1899-1984)
Untitled
1983
Oil on linen paper
24 x 33cm
© Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. Photography: Fabrice Gibert

 

Marjorie Cameron. 'West Angel' Nd

 

Marjorie Cameron (American, 1922-1995)
West Angel
Nd
Graphite, ink and gold paint on paper
60.3 x 93.3cm
© Courtesy Nicole Klagsbrun and Cameron Parsons Foundation

 

 

Marjorie Cameron Parsons Kimmel (American, 1922-1995), who professionally used the mononym Cameron, was an American artist, poet, actress, and occultist. A follower of Thelema, the new religious movement established by the English occultist Aleister Crowley, she was married to rocket pioneer and fellow Thelemite Jack Parsons.

Read her entry on the Wikipedia website

 

Aleister Crowley. 'Snow-Peak beyond Foothills, Libra I8 September-October' 1934

 

Aleister Crowley (English, 1875-1947)
Snow-Peak beyond Foothills, Libra I8 September-October
1934
Pen and wash on paper
45 x 50cm
© Ordo Templi Orientis

 

Unknown photographer. 'Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA' 1912

 

Unknown photographer
Aleister Crowley as Magus, Liber ABA
1912
Originally published in The Equinox volume 1, issue 10 (1913)

 

Wolfgang Laib. 'Passageway' 2013

 

Wolfgang Laib (Germany, b. 1950)
Passageway
2013
Brass ships, rice, wood and steel
6 3/4 x 99 x 12 inches
© Wolfgang Laib

 

 

Wolfgang Laib (born 25 March 1950 in Metzingen) is a German artist, predominantly known as a sculptor. He lives and works in a small village in southern Germany, maintaining studios in New York and South India.

His work has been exhibited worldwide in many of the most important galleries and museums. He represented Germany in the 1982 Venice Biennale and was included with his works in the Documenta 7 in 1982 and then in the Documenta 8 in 1987. In 2015 he received the Praemium Imperiale for sculpture in Tokyo, Japan.

He became worldknown for his “Milkstones”, a pure geometry of white marble made complete with milk, as well as his vibrant installations of pollen. In 2013 The Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented his largest pollen piece – 7 m x 8 m – in the central atrium of the museum.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Brion Gysin. 'Dreamachine' 1960-1976

 

Brion Gysin (British, 1916-1986)
Dreamachine
1960-1976
Cylinder. Painted and cut hard paper, Altuglas, electric bulb and motor
120.5 cm x 29.5cm
© Galerie de France. Paris, Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle

 

 

Brion Gysin (19 January 1916-13 July 1986) was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist born in Taplow, Buckinghamshire.

He is best known for his discovery of the cut-up technique, used by his friend, the novelist William S. Burroughs. With the engineer Ian Sommerville he invented the Dreamachine, a flicker device designed as an art object to be viewed with the eyes closed. It was in painting and drawing, however, that Gysin devoted his greatest efforts, creating calligraphic works inspired by the cursive Japanese “grass” script and Arabic script. Burroughs later stated that “Brion Gysin was the only man I ever respected.” …

The Dreamachine (or Dream Machine) is a stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli. Artist Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’ “systems adviser” Ian Sommerville created the Dreamachine after reading William Grey Walter’ book, The Living Brain.

In its original form, a Dreamachine is made from a cylinder with slits cut in the sides. The cylinder is placed on a record turntable and rotated at 78 or 45 revolutions per minute. A light bulb is suspended in the centre of the cylinder and the rotation speed allows the light to come out from the holes at a constant frequency of between 8 and 13 pulses per second. This frequency range corresponds to alpha waves, electrical oscillations normally present in the human brain while relaxing. In 1996, the Los Angeles Times deemed the Dreamachine “the most interesting object” in Burroughs’ major visual retrospective Ports of Entry at LACMA. The Dreamachine is the subject of the National Film Board of Canada 2008 feature documentary film FLicKeR by Nik Sheehan.

A Dreamachine is “viewed” with the eyes closed: the pulsating light stimulates the optic nerve and thus alters the brain’s electrical oscillations. Users experience increasingly bright, complex patterns of colour behind their closed eyelids (a similar effect may be experienced when travelling as a passenger in a car or bus; close your eyes as the vehicle passes through flickering shadows cast by roadside trees, or under a close-set line of streetlights or tunnel striplights). The patterns become shapes and symbols, swirling around, until the user feels surrounded by colours. It is claimed that by using a Dreamachine one may enter a hypnagogic state. This experience may sometimes be quite intense, but to escape from it, one needs only to open one’s eyes. The Dreamachine may be dangerous for persons with photosensitive epilepsy or other nervous disorders. It is thought that one out of 10,000 adults will experience a seizure while viewing the device; about twice as many children will have a similar ill effect.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

An approach without prejudice to art and esoteric beliefs

Esoteric traditions can be traced back to the very origins of civilisation, having served at different times to structure philosophical, linguistic, scientific or spiritual ideas. Despite their importance for the development of twentieth-century art, they tend to be ignored or disparaged these days due to the dominance of rationalistic thinking and the difficulty of talking about these subjects in clear, direct language.

In recent years, however, many artists have taken a renewed interest in subjects such as alchemy, secret societies, theosophy and anthroposophy, the esoteric strands in major religions, oriental philosophies, magic, psychedelia and drug-use, universal symbols and myths, the Fourth Way formulated by the Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff, etc., generating an interest in these fields that had not existed since the counterculture of the sixties and seventies.

According to the writer Enrique Juncosa, curator of this exhibition, this interest “may be due to the fact that we are, once again, living in a restless and unsatisfied world, worried about new colonial wars, fundamentalist terrorism, serious ecological crisis and nationalist populism, just as in the sixties and seventies people feared an imminent and devastating nuclear catastrophe. Furthermore, much of today’s mainstream art is actually rather boring due to its complete lack of mystery and negation of any kind of poetisation or interpretation of our experience of it.”

For the essayist Gary Lachman, author of the text “Occultism in Art. A Brief Introduction for the Uninitiated” in the exhibition catalogue, “in recent years, the art world seems to have become aware of the importance of occultism […]. Admitting the influence of Hermeticism on the Renaissance, or of theosophy on early abstract art, to mention just two examples, helps to re-situate occult forces as an undeniable part of human experience and rescue them from the marginal position to which they had been exiled for a few centuries.”

 

Terry Winters. 'Bubble Diagram' 2005

 

Terry Winters (American, b. 1949)
Bubble Diagram
2005
Oil on linen
215.9 x 279.4cm
© Mattew Marks Gallery

 

 

Terry Winters (born 1949, Brooklyn, NY) is an American painter, draughtsman, and printmaker whose nuanced approach to the process of painting has addressed evolving concepts of spatiality and expanded the concerns of abstract art. His attention to the process of painting and investigations into systems and spatial fields explores both non-narrative abstraction and the physicality of modernism. In Winters’ work, abstract processes give way to forms with real word agency that recall mathematical concepts and cybernetics, as well as natural and scientific worlds.

 

Fred Tomaselli. 'Untitled [Datura Leaves]' 1999

 

Fred Tomaselli (American, b. 1956)
Untitled (Datura Leaves)
1999
Leaves, pills, acrylic and resin on wood panel
182.88 x 137.16cm
© Collection Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman NY, Courtesy the FLAG Art Foundation

 

 

Fred Tomaselli (born in Santa Monica, California, in 1956) is an American artist. He is best known for his highly detailed paintings on wood panels, combining an array of unorthodox materials suspended in a thick layer of clear, epoxy resin.

Tomaselli’s paintings include medicinal herbs, prescription pills and hallucinogenic plants alongside images cut from books and magazines: flowers, birds, butterflies, arms, legs and noses, which are combined into dazzling patterns that spread over the surface of the painting like a beautiful virus or growth. He uses an explosion of colour and combines it with a basis in art history. His style usually involves collage, painting, and/or glazing. He seals the collages in resin after gluing them down and going over them with different varnishes.

“I want people to get lost in the work. I want to seduce people into it and I want people to escape inside the world of the work. In that way the work is pre-Modernist. I throw all of my obsessions and loves into the work, and I try not to be too embarrassed about any of it. I love nature, I love gardening, I love watching birds, and all of that gets into the work. I just try to be true to who I am and make the work I want to see. I don’t have a radical agenda.”

.
Tomaselli sees his paintings and their compendium of data as windows into a surreal, hallucinatory universe. “It is my ultimate aim”, he says, “to seduce and transport the viewer in to space of these pictures while simultaneously revealing the mechanics of that seduction.” Tomaselli has also incorporated allegorical figures into his work – in Untitled (Expulsion) (2000), for example, he borrows the Adam and Eve figures from Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1426-27), and in Field Guides (2003) he creates his own version of the grim reaper. His figures are described anatomically so that their organs and veins are exposed in the manner of a scientific drawing. He writes that his “inquiry into utopia/dystopia – framed by artifice but motivated by the desire for the real – has turned out to be the primary subject of my work”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Philip Taaffe. 'Rose Triangle' 2008

 

Philip Taaffe (American, b. 1955)
Rose Triangle
2008
Mixed media on canvas
178 x 178cm
© Collection Raymond Foye, New York

 

 

About the exhibition

In the fifties, US filmmakers Harry Smith and Jordan Belson made animated films that were precursors of the psychedelia and counterculture of the following two decades. Also at this time, painters associated with abstract expressionism in the US (such as Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Agnes Martin) and European Informalists, such as the Catalans associated with Dau al Set (including Antoni Tàpies and Joan Ponç), became interested in the writings of Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, oriental philosophies, the great myths and primitive shamanic rites. The cult US filmmaker Kenneth Anger made films that are still considered radical, influenced by the ideas of the well-known English occultist Aleister Crowley, who was also influential in the world of rock. And Forrest Bess, a self-taught, isolated artist, an unusual figure in the American art of the last century, painted symbolic, visionary images of the universal collective subconscious.

In the sixties and seventies, the emergence of counterculture and the hippy movement was accompanied by an upsurge in interest in esoteric matters and alternative spirituality. US writer William S. Burroughs and French artist and writer Brion Gysin, both interested in occultism and mysticism, developed the cut-up method to write texts using collage, actions which, like the origin of art itself, they considered magic. The American musician Sun Ra, one of the jazz world’s most idiosyncratic figures (he claims he was born on Saturn), set up the secret society Thmei Research in Chicago, and was interested in the writings of Armenian philosopher and master mystic Georges Gurdjieff, and the Ukrainian Madame Blavatsky, creator of the esoteric current known as theosophy. Sun Ra’s compositions, with a big band that performed in strange colourful clothing, were highly radical, embracing improvisation and chaos. In Europe, the German artist Joseph Beuys was inspired by the writings and activities of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, as a model to explain his ideas. Beuys called for a return to spirituality and defended art as a vehicle for healing and social change. The French artist Tania Mouraud, interested in introspection and philosophy, with a strong analytical vein, creates installations that are spaces for meditation, and the Catalan artist Zush, in Ibiza, discovers psychedelia and draws fantastic beings connected by vibrant energies.

The eighties and nineties saw the consolidation of a large number of artists who saw artistic practice as something that can facilitate a higher cognitive level. Several American abstract painters, like Terry Winters, Philip Taaffe and Fred Tomaselli, became interested in spiritual themes. Winters, for example, who took scientific images as his inspiration, based a large series of paintings on knot theory, a mathematical concept that might be seen as an emblem of the hermetic. Taaffe, meanwhile, used ornamental forms from different cultures, combining them in complex configurations of an ecstatic nature, and Tomaselli produced compositions using all kinds of drugs in a reference to psychedelia. In Europe, the German sculptor Wolfgang Laib, interested in Zen Buddhism and Taoism, creates sculptures and installations with symbolic images, like stairs and boats, suggesting ascension, travel and inner transformation, while the Italian Gino de Dominicis, who claimed to believe in extra-terrestrials and was obsessed by Sumerian culture and mythology, creates invisible sculptures. The paintings by Italian Francesco Clemente, a representative of the Transavanguardia movement, feature images of an apparently hermetic nature, creating a singular narrative of spiritual symbolism. The Chilean-French artist Alejandro Jodorowsky explores esoteric ideas in his extraordinary films of great visual imagination and also creates highly celebrated comics. In the nineties, several alternative rock bands such as Psychic TV (led by the English musician, poet and artist Genesis P-Orridge) were also interested in occultism and magic.

 

The origin of the title “Black Light”

The title “Black light” refers to a concept of Sufism, the esoteric branch of Islam that teaches a path of connection with divinity leading via inner vision and mystic experience. Sufism, which regards reality as light in differing degrees of intensity, speaks of a whole system of inner visions of colours that mark the spiritual progress of initiates until they become “men and women of light”. The intention is to achieve a state of supra-consciousness that is announced symbolically by this black light.

Press release from the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website

 

Chris Martin. 'If You Don't See It Ask For It' 2016

 

Chris Martin (American, b. 1954)
If You Don’t See It Ask For It
2016
Acrylic and glitter on canvas
195.6 x 152.4 x 4.4cm
© Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Photography: Brian Forrest

 

Genesis P-Orridge. 'Burns Forever Thee Light' 1986

 

Genesis P-Orridge (British, 1950-2020)
Burns Forever Thee Light
1986
Hair, Indian corn, wax, saliva, semen, blood, acrylic paint, flourescent tape, pages from Man Myth & Magic, Polaroids, c-prints, paint pen
20 x 25 inches
© Courtesy of the artist and INVISIBLE-EXPORTS

 

 

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (born Neil Andrew Megson; 22 February 1950) was an English singer-songwriter, musician, poet, performance artist, and occultist. After rising to notability as the founder of the COUM Transmissions artistic collective and then fronting the industrial band Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge was a founding member of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth occult group, and fronted the experimental band Psychic TV. P-Orridge identifies as third gender.

Born in Manchester, P-Orridge developed an early interest in art, occultism, and the avant-garde while at Solihull School. After dropping out of studies at the University of Hull, he moved into a counter-cultural commune in London and adopted Genesis P-Orridge as a nom-de-guerre. On returning to Hull, P-Orridge founded COUM Transmissions with Cosey Fanni Tutti, and in 1973 he relocated to London. COUM’s confrontational performance work, dealing with such subjects as sex work, pornography, serial killers, and occultism, represented a concerted attempt to challenge societal norms and attracted the attention of the national press. COUM’s 1976 Prostitution show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts was particularly vilified by tabloids, gaining them the moniker of the “wreckers of civilization.” P-Orridge’s band, Throbbing Gristle, grew out of COUM, and were active from 1975 to 1981 as pioneers in the industrial music genre. In 1981, P-Orridge co-founded Psychic TV, an experimental band that from 1988 onward came under the increasing influence of acid house.

In 1981, P-Orridge co-founded Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, an informal occult order influenced by chaos magic and experimental music. P-Orridge was often seen as the group’s leader, but rejected that position, and left the group in 1991. Amid the Satanic ritual abuse hysteria, a 1992 Channel 4 documentary accused P-Orridge of sexually abusing children, resulting in a police investigation. P-Orridge was subsequently cleared and Channel 4 retracted their allegation. P-Orridge left the United Kingdom as a result of the incident and settled in New York City. There, P-Orridge married Jacqueline Mary Breyer, later known as Lady Jaye, in 1995, and together they embarked on the Pandrogeny Project, an attempt to unite as a “pandrogyne”, or single entity, through the use of surgical body modification to physically resemble one another. P-Orridge continued with this project of body modification after Lady Jaye’s 2007 death. Although involved in reunions of both Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV in the 2000s, P-Orridge retired from music to focus on other artistic mediums in 2009. P-Orridge is credited on over 200 releases.

A controversial figure with an anti-establishment stance, P-Orridge has been heavily criticised by the British press and politicians. P-Orridge has been cited as an icon within the avant-garde art scene, accrued a cult following, and been given the moniker of the “Godperson of Industrial Music”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Harry Smith. 'Untitled, October 19, 1951' 1951

 

Harry Smith (American, 1923-1991)
Untitled, October 19, 1951
1951
Ink, watercolour, and tempera on paper
86.36 x 69.85cm
Collection Raymond Foye, New York

 

Agnes Martin. 'Untitled, No. 7' 1997

 

Agnes Martin (American born Canada, 1912-2004)
Untitled, No. 7
1997
Acrylic and graphite on canvas
152.4 x 152.4cm
Collection “la Caixa”. Art Contemporani
© Vegap

 

 

Agnes Bernice Martin (March 22, 1912 – December 16, 2004), born in Canada, was an American abstract painter. Her work has been defined as an “essay in discretion on inward-ness and silence”. Although she is often considered or referred to as a minimalist, Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist. She was awarded a National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998. …

Martin praised Mark Rothko for having “reached zero so that nothing could stand in the way of truth”. Following his example Martin also pared down to the most reductive elements to encourage a perception of perfection and to emphasise transcendent reality. Her signature style was defined by an emphasis upon line, grids, and fields of extremely subtle colour. Particularly in her breakthrough years of the early 1960s, she created 6 × 6 foot square canvases that were covered in dense, minute and softly delineated graphite grids. In the 1966 exhibition Systemic Painting at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Martin’s grids were therefore celebrated as examples of Minimalist art and were hung among works by artists including Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman, and Donald Judd. While minimalist in form, however, these paintings were quite different in spirit from those of her other minimalist counterparts, retaining small flaws and unmistakable traces of the artist’s hand; she shied away from intellectualism, favouring the personal and spiritual. Her paintings, statements, and influential writings often reflected an interest in Eastern philosophy, especially Taoist. Because of her work’s added spiritual dimension, which became more and more dominant after 1967, she preferred to be classified as an abstract expressionist.

Martin worked only in black, white, and brown before moving to New Mexico. The last painting before she abandoned her career, and left New York in 1967, Trumpet, marked a departure in that the single rectangle evolved into an overall grid of rectangles. In this painting the rectangles were drawn in pencil over uneven washes of gray translucent paint. In 1973, she returned to art making, and produced a portfolio of 30 serigraphs, On a Clear Day. During her time in Taos, she introduced light pastel washes to her grids, colours that shimmered in the changing light. Later, Martin reduced the scale of her signature 72 × 72 square paintings to 60 × 60 inches and shifted her work to use bands of ethereal colour. Another departure was a modification, if not a refinement, of the grid structure, which Martin has used since the late 1950s. In Untitled No. 4 (1994), for example, one viewed the gentle striations of pencil line and primary colour washes of diluted acrylic paint blended with gesso. The lines, which encompassed this painting, were not measured by a ruler, but rather intuitively marked by the artist. In the 1990s, symmetry would often give way to varying widths of horizontal bands.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Matías Krahn Uribe. 'Panamor' 2016

 

Matías Krahn Uribe (Chile, b. 1972)
Panamor
2016
Canvas and cotton
225 x 225cm
© Matías Krahn Uribe

 

 

Matías Krahn (b. Santiago de Chile, 1972) Catalan painter born in Chile who lives and works in Barcelona.

His colourful works are a reflection of the world that surrounds him, of a concrete circumstance and environment, but also of the most intimate and subjective. Interested in the balance between the exterior and the interior, it orders the space and the figures it contains. His work, influenced by surrealism, is the mirror of the psyche and the unconscious that expresses itself in infinite forms and tonalities.

 

Francesco Clemente. 'Tarot cards: the High Priestess' 2009-2011

 

Francesco Clemente (Italian, b. 1952)
Tarot cards: the High Priestess
2009-2011
Water colour, gouache, ink, colour pencil
48.2 x 25.4cm
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Francesco Clemente (born 23 March 1952) is an Italian contemporary artist. He has lived at various times in Italy, in India, and in New York City. Some of his work is influenced by the traditional art and culture of India. He has worked in various artistic media including drawing, fresco, graphics, mosaic, oils and sculpture. He was among the principal figures in the Italian Transavanguardia movement of the 1980s, which was characterised by a rejection of Formalism and conceptual art and a return to figurative art and Symbolism.

 

 

Black Light – Secret traditions in art since the 1950s: occultism, magic, esotericism and mysticism

This exhibition analyses the influence that different secret traditions have had on art since the 1950s and today. These are traditions that can be traced back to the very origins of civilisation and that have served at various times to structure philosophical, linguistic, scientific and spiritual ideas.

Despite the importance that these ideas had for the development of 20th century art – being fundamental in the work of key figures of modernity such as Piet Mondrian, Vasili Kandinski, Arnold Schönberg, William Butler Yeats and Fernando Pessoa – it is a tradition that has often been ignored in our time because of the dominant influence of rationalist orthodox thoughts, which are often ignored in our times.

Today, however, many contemporary artists re-explore these themes and are interested in issues as diverse as alchemy, secret societies, theosophy and anthroposophy; the esoteric currents of the great religions; oriental philosophies and magic; psychedelia and the ingestion of drugs; universal symbols and myths; the so-called fourth way of the Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff, etc., and, in so doing, generate a renewed interest in these issues that did not exist since the years of counterculture in the 1970s. Authors such as Mircea Eliade, historian of religions and novelist; Carl Gustav Jung, psychologist; Henry Corbin, specialist in Sufism, the esoteric current of Islam; Gershom Scholem, specialist in Kabbalah, the esoteric current of Judaism; and Rudolf Steiner, the founding philosopher of anthroposophy, have now found numerous new readers.

The exhibition will present, more or less chronologically, paintings, drawings, films, sculptures, photographs, installations, books, music and documents by artists as varied as Harry Smith, Jordan Belson, Barnett Newman, Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt, Antoni Tàpies, Joan Ponç, Henri Michaux, René Daumal, Forrest Bess, Kenneth Anger, Alejandro Jodor. The work of all of them demonstrates the relevance and continuity of these usually ignored traditions, and in many cases understands art as a possible way to reach a higher cognitive level or as a form of knowledge in itself.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue with texts by specialists such as Cristina Ricupero, Gary Lachman, Erik Davies and Enrique Juncosa. The proposal will also investigate and reveal occult traditions and their current context in the cultural production of our country.

Text from the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website

 

Irrationality from rationality

Vincenç Villatoro, director of the CCCB, has justified the presence of this exhibition in a centre that defends rational culture, alluding to the fact that much of the artistic production can not be understood without its connection to non-rationalistic traditions: mystical, esoteric, hermetic … and points out that although in the second half of the twentieth century the hegemonic thought was the scientist, there was a sensitive part of society that came to other traditions, especially to give meaning to its life. Villatoro warns the visitor that the exhibition La llum negra is not an encyclopedia on hidden traditions, but neither is it intended to be a defence, nor a refutation. But the exhibition points out that for many creators, art is a way to access a deeper reality, which is difficult to access in other ways. Thus, secret tradition and art are complemented.

Gustau Nerín

 

Forrest Bess. 'Homage to Ryder' 1951

 

Forrest Bess (American, 1911-1977)
Homage to Ryder
1951
Oil on canvas
20.8 × 30.5cm
© Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Gift of Mary and Earle Ludgin Collection

 

 

Forrest Bess (October 5, 1911-November 10, 1977) was an American painter and eccentric visionary. He was discovered and promoted by the art dealer Betty Parsons. Throughout his career, Bess admired the work of Albert Pinkham Ryder and Arthur Dove, but the best of his paintings stand alone as truly original works of art. …

He worked as a commercial fisherman, but painted in his spare time. He experienced visions or dreams, which he set down in his paintings. It was during this time he began to exhibit his works, earning one-person shows at museums in San Antonio and Houston. During his most creative period, 1949 through 1967, Betty Parsons arranged six solo exhibitions at her New York City gallery.

Bess was never comfortable for very long around other people, although he hosted frequent visitors to his home and studio at Chinquapin: artists, reporters, and some patrons made the trip to the spit of land on which Bess’s shack stood. He did forge lasting relationships with a few friends and neighbours, and maintained years-long friendships and correspondence with Meyer Schapiro and with Betty Parsons. But ultimately Bess preferred solitude, and his prolific activities as an artist, highlighted by limited notoriety and success, alternated with longs spells of loneliness, depression, and an ever-increasing obsession with his own anatomical manifesto.

In the 1950s, he also began a lifelong correspondence with art professor and author Meyer Schapiro and sexologist John Money. In these and other letters (which were donated to the Smithsonian Archives of American Art), Bess makes it clear that his paintings were only part of a grander theory, based on alchemy, the philosophy of Carl Jung, and the rituals of Australian aborigines, which proposed that becoming a hermaphrodite was the key to immortality. He was never able to win any converts to his theories or validation from the many doctors and psychologists with whom he corresponded. In his own home town of Bay City, he was considered something of a small-town eccentric.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rudolf Steiner. 'Untitled (Blackboard drawing from a lecture held by Rudolf Steiner on 20. 03. 1920)'

 

Rudolf Steiner (Austrian, 1861-1925)
Untitled (Blackboard drawing from a lecture held by Rudolf Steiner on 20. 03. 1920)
1920
Chalk on paper
87 x 124cm
Rudolf Steiner Archiv, Dornach

 

 

Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (27 (or 25) February 1861-30 March 1925) was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect and esotericist. Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as a literary critic and published philosophical works including The Philosophy of Freedom. At the beginning of the twentieth century he founded an esoteric spiritual movement, anthroposophy, with roots in German idealist philosophy and theosophy; other influences include Goethean science and Rosicrucianism.

In the first, more philosophically oriented phase of this movement, Steiner attempted to find a synthesis between science and spirituality. His philosophical work of these years, which he termed “spiritual science”, sought to apply the clarity of thinking characteristic of Western philosophy to spiritual questions, differentiating this approach from what he considered to be vaguer approaches to mysticism. In a second phase, beginning around 1907, he began working collaboratively in a variety of artistic media, including drama, the movement arts (developing a new artistic form, eurythmy) and architecture, culminating in the building of the Goetheanum, a cultural centre to house all the arts. In the third phase of his work, beginning after World War I, Steiner worked to establish various practical endeavours, including Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture, and anthroposophical medicine.

Steiner advocated a form of ethical individualism, to which he later brought a more explicitly spiritual approach. He based his epistemology on Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s world view, in which “Thinking… is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.” A consistent thread that runs from his earliest philosophical phase through his later spiritual orientation is the goal of demonstrating that there are no essential limits to human knowledge.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

The blackboard drawings are the instructions of a new design language that the artist wants to develop. Steiner believes in the development of a supersensible consciousness, a big change for the future of humanity. He gives many lectures in which he details his research on the concept of transmission and its influence on the social. Whether true or not, artists such as Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky and others are interested in the complex graphics of Steiner and his research. Mondrian will even write: “Art is a way of development of mankind.”

Anonymous text from the Culture Box website translated from French [Online] Cited 17/10/2018. No longer available online

 

Adaptive image from the exhibition 'Black light'

Adaptive image from the exhibition 'Black light'

 

Adaptive images from the exhibition Black Light: Secret traditions in art since the 1950s at the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona

 

 

Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona
Montalegre, 5 – 08001 Barcelona
Phone: 93 306 41 00

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11.00 – 20.00

Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona website

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01
Sep
10

Exhibition: ‘Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Exhibition dates: 2nd May – 6th September 2010

 

Many thankx to Anabeth Guthrie and the National Gallery of Art, Washington for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'Jack Kerouac the last time he visited my apartment 704 East 5th Street, N.Y.C.… Fall 1964' 1964

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
Jack Kerouac the last time he visited my apartment 704 East 5th Street, N.Y.C…. Fall 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
Image: 29.5 x 20.8cm (11 5/8 x 8 3/16 in)
Sheet: 35.5 x 27.5cm (14 x 10 13/16 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'Francesco Clemente looking over hand-script album with new poem I’d written out for his Blake-inspired watercolor illuminations…Manhattan, October 1984' 1984

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
Francesco Clemente looking over hand-script album with new poem I’d written out for his Blake-inspired watercolor illuminations… Manhattan, October 1984…
1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 40.4 x 27cm (15 7/8 x 10 5/8 in)
Sheet: 50.5 x 40.5cm (19 7/8 x 15 15/16 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'Jack Kerouac, railroad brakeman's rule-book in pocket…206 East 7th Street near Tompkins Park, Manhattan, probably September 1953' 1953

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
Jack Kerouac, railroad brakeman’s rule-book in pocket… 206 East 7th Street near Tompkins Park, Manhattan, probably September 1953
1953
Gelatin silver print; printed 1984-1997
Image: 34.8 x 23.5cm (13 11/16 x 9 1/4 in)
Sheet: 51.7 x 40.5cm (20 3/8 x 15 15/16 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

 

Some of the most compelling photographs taken by renowned 20th-century American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) of himself and his fellow Beat poets and writers – including William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, and Jack Kerouac – are the subject of the first scholarly exhibition and catalogue of these works. Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg explores all facets of his photographs through 79 black-and-white portraits, on view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, from May 2 through September 6, 2010.

The works are selected largely from a recent gift to the Gallery by Gary S. Davis as well as from private lenders. Davis acquired a master set of Ginsberg’s photographs from the poet’s estate, including one print of every photograph in Ginsberg’s possession at the time of his death. If more than one print existed, Ginsberg’s estate selected the one with the most compelling inscription. In 2008 and 2009 Davis donated more than 75 of these photographs to the National Gallery.

“We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Gary Davis for his dedication to Ginsberg’s work and for his donations to the National Gallery,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “Joining other large and important holdings of photographs by such 20th-century artists as Harry Callahan, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, André Kertész, Irving Penn, Alfred Stieglitz, and Paul Strand, this Ginsberg collection will allow future generations to study the evolution of the visual art of this important poet in all its rich complexity and to assess his contributions to 20th-century American photography.”

The same ideas that informed Ginsberg’s poetry – an intense observation of the world, a deep appreciation for the beauty of the vernacular, a faith in intuitive expression – also permeate his photographs.

When Ginsberg first began to take photographs in the 1950s, he – like countless other amateurs – had his film developed and printed at a local drugstore. The exhibition begins with a small selection of these “drugstore” prints.

The exhibition showcases examples of his now celebrated portraits of Beat writers such as Burroughs, Kerouac, and Ginsberg himself, starting just before they achieved fame with their publication, respectively, of Naked Lunch (1959), On the Road (1957), and Howl (1956), and continuing through the 1960s. In the photograph Bob Donlon (Rob Donnelly, Kerouac’s ‘Desolation Angels’), Neal Cassady, myself in black corduroy jacket… (1956), Ginsberg captures the tender, playful quality of his close-knit group of friends.

Photographs such as The first shopping cart street prophet I’d directly noticed… (1953) and Ginsberg’s apartment at 1010 Montgomery Street, San Francisco (1953), reveal his self-taught talents and careful attention to the world around him.

The second section of the exhibition presents Ginsberg’s later photographs, taken from the early 1980s until his death. These images were immediately embraced by the art world in the 1980s, and works such as Publisher-hero Barney Rosset whose Grove Press legal battles liberated U.S. literature & film… (1991) and Lita Hornick in her dining room… (1995) were exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. Prestigious institutions acquired Ginsberg’s photographs for their permanent collections, and two books were published on his photographic accomplishments. Ginsberg was not simply a happy bystander, witnessing these events from afar; he was one of the most active promoters of his photography. With their handwritten captions by Ginsberg himself, often reflecting on the passage of time, his photographs are both records and recollections of an era.

 

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

Allen Ginsberg began to take photographs in 1953 when he purchased a small, secondhand Kodak camera. From then until the early 1960s, he photographed himself and his friends in New York and San Francisco, or on his travels around the world. At the same time, he was formulating his poetic voice. Ginsberg first commanded public attention in 1955 when he read his provocative and now famous poem Howl to a wildly cheering audience at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. It was published the following year by City Lights Books with an introduction by William Carlos Williams.

Together with On the Road (1957), written by Kerouac, Howl was immediately hailed as a captivating, if challenging expression of both a new voice and a new vision for American literature. Celebrating personal freedom, sexual openness, and spontaneity, Ginsberg and Kerouac came to be seen as the embodiment of a younger generation – the Beats – who were unconcerned with middle-class American values and aspirations and decried its materialism and conformity. Ginsberg abandoned photography in 1963.

In 1983, with this rich, full life largely behind him, Ginsberg became increasingly interested in ensuring and perpetuating his legacy. Inspired by the discovery of his old negatives and encouraged by photographers Berenice Abbott and Robert Frank, he reprinted much of his early photographs and made new portraits of longtime friends and other acquaintances, such as the painter Francesco Clemente and musician Bob Dylan. With his poetic voice refined, Ginsberg, also added extensive inscriptions beneath each image, describing both his relationship with the subject and his memories of their times together.

Unlike many other members of the Beat Generation whose careers were cut short, Ginsberg wrote and published deeply moving and influential poetry for the rest of his life, including Kaddish (1961), his soulful lament for his mother, and The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965-1971 (1972), which was awarded a National Book Award in 1974. Using his fame to advance social causes, he also continued to capture public attention as an outspoken opponent to the Vietnam War and American militarism and as a champion of free speech, gay rights, and oppressed people around the world. In the midst of this popular acclaim, Ginsberg’s photographs have not received much critical attention, especially in the years since his death in 1997.

Although Ginsberg’s photographs form one of the most revealing records of the Beat and counterculture generation from the 1950s to the 1990s, tracing their journey from youthful characters to ageing, often spent figures, his pictures are far more than historical documents. Drawing on the most common form of photography – the snapshot – he created spontaneous, uninhibited pictures of ordinary events to celebrate and preserve what he called “the sacredness of the moment.

Press release from the National Gallery of Art website [Online] Cited 01/09/2010 no longer available online

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'William Burroughs, 11 pm late March 1985, being driven home to 222 Bowery…' 1985

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
William Burroughs, 11 pm late March 1985, being driven home to 222 Bowery…
1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.7 x 18.9cm (7 3/4 x 7 7/16 in)
Sheet: 25.4 x 20.3cm (10 x 8 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'Myself seen by William Burroughs…our apartment roof Lower East Side between Avenues B & C…Fall 1953' 1953; printed 1984-1997

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
Myself seen by William Burroughs… our apartment roof Lower East Side between Avenues B & C… Fall 1953
1953; printed 1984-1997
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.58 x 43.82cm (11 1/4 x 17 1/4 in)
Sheet: 40.5 x 50.5cm (15 15/16 x 19 7/8 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. '“Now Jack as I warned you"… William Burroughs… lecturing…Jack Kerouac…Manhattan, 206 East 7th St. Apt. 16, Fall 1953' 1953; printed 1984-1997

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
Now Jack as I warned you” … William Burroughs… lecturing… Jack Kerouac… Manhattan, 206 East 7th St. Apt. 16, Fall 1953
1953; printed 1984-1997
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.3 x 44.2cm (11 1/8 x 17 3/8 in)
Sheet: 40.4 x 50.2cm (15 7/8 x 19 3/4 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'William S. Burroughs looking serious, sad lover's eyes, afternoon light in window…New York, Fall 1953' 1953; printed 1984-1997

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
William S. Burroughs looking serious, sad lover’s eyes, afternoon light in window… New York, Fall 1953
1953; printed 1984-1997
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19.2 x 29cm (7 9/16 x 11 7/16 in)
Sheet: 27.9 x 35.2cm (11 x 13 7/8 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'Neal Cassady and his love of that year the star-crossed Natalie Jackson…San Francisco, maybe March 1955' 1955; printed 1984-1997

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
Neal Cassady and his love of that year the star-crossed Natalie Jackson… San Francisco, maybe March 1955
1955; printed 1984-1997
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.9 x 38cm (9 13/16 x 14 15/16 in)
Sheet: 40.5 x 50.5cm (15 15/16 x 19 7/8 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'William Burroughs' 1953

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
William Burroughs
1953
gelatin silver print
Image: 10.2 x 15.2cm (4 x 6 in)
Sheet: 11.3 x 16.1cm (4 7/16 x 6 5/16 in)
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'Peter Orlovsky at James Joyce’s grave' 1980; printed 1984-1997

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
Peter Orlovsky at James Joyce’s grave
1980; printed 1984-1997
gelatin silver print
Image: 19 x 28.5cm (7 1/2 x 11 1/4 in)
Sheet: 27.8 x 35.5cm (10 15/16 x 14 in)
Collection of Gary S. Davis
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'William Burroughs at rest in the side-yard of his house... Lawrence, Kansas May 28, 1991…' 1991

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
William Burroughs at rest in the side-yard of his house… Lawrence, Kansas May 28, 1991…
1991
gelatin silver print
Image: 22.23 x 33.02cm (8 3/4 x 13 in)
Sheet: 27.9 x 35.4cm (11 x 13 15/16 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

 

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