Through the 1970s and 80s, photographer Peter Hujar sought to capture the unseen. He turned his lens on the artistic counterculture of Manhattan’s East Village, a scene in which he was a central figure. Hujar shot captivating portraits of burgeoning musicians, writers, artists, actors, and drag queens. His subjects would go on to become well-known figures like Susan Sontag, Fran Lebowitz, and Janis Joplin. His photographs, like the deathbed portrait of Candy Darling, a transgender actress who appeared in many Andy Warhol films, have made their way into the collections of such illustrious institutions as the Tate in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum.

However, before Hujar became an integral piece of New York City’s photographic history, he was just a kid growing up on his grandmother’s farm in New Jersey. In a new exhibit at the Ukrainian Museum, Peter Hujar: Rialto, the influence of Hujar’s Ukrainian heritage and various sources of inspiration are explored through the display of rarely seen images from his early career.

Two people look at photographs on the wall of the Peter Hujar exhibit at the Ukrainian Museum
Photo by Chandler Cearley

On June 27th, join Ukranian Museum director and curator of Rialto, Peter Doroshenko, for a guided tour of the exhibit! This tour is $10 for Untapped New York Insiders. 100% of your ticket price goes to the museum. Not an Insider yet? Become a member today with promo code JOINUS and get your first month free!

Peter Hujar: Rialto Director-Led Tour at the Ukrainian Museum

Rialto features 75 of Hujar’s earliest photographs of people, country landscapes, and city life. Every image on display was taken from 1955 to 1969. The highlight of this new exhibit is the unveiling of three series from the first fifteen years of Hujar’s career: Southbury (1957), Florence (1958), and the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo (1963).

Southbury highlights images from Hujar’s visit to the Southbury Training School for mentally challenged students in Connecticut. Florence contains portraits of neurologically impaired children Hujar encountered on a trip to Italy. The Capuchin Catacombs series, taken on a different Italian excursion, documents the exposed corpses below ground in Sicily and turns the lens on customs and traditions of Palermo society from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. 

Peter Hujar, Girl on Swing, Southbury, 1957, Courtesy The Ukrainian Museum, New York, 2 May – 1 September 2024, © The Peter Hujar Archive – Artists Rights Society (ARS)
Peter Hujar, Girl on Swing, Southbury, 1957, Courtesy The Ukrainian Museum, New York, 2 May – 1 September 2024, © The Peter Hujar Archive – Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Visitors to Rialto will also get a sense of Hujar’s later work capturing the bohemian Downtown scene of New York City. Street shots of city life, like one of a cat perched atop a bodega shelf, are included alongside portraits of figures like Iggy Pop, Jackie Curtis, and Hujar’s partner Paul Thek. Hujar’s ‘Orgasmic Man’ photograph, seen by millions on the cover of Hanya Yanigihara’s bestselling novel A Little Life, is also on display.

Man looking at a photograph at photographs on the wall of the Peter Hujar exhibit at the Ukrainian Museum
Photo by Chandler Cearley

The exhibition’s name, Rialto, translates to meeting place, where people converge and ideas are exchanged. In this case, the word refers to Hujar’s studio inside the former Louis N. Jaffe Art Theatre (now the Village East Cinema). The space became a meeting place for trailblazing creatives yearning to make their mark through various artistic endeavors.

Hujar’s artist’s haven was suitable for his photographic pursuits and his Ukrainian background. Raised by his Ukrainian grandmother, Hujar only spoke the Ukrainian language for the first five years of his life. His studio in Ukrainian Village was steps away from cultural establishments like the restaurant Veselka and the Ukrainian Museum.

Photo by Chandler Cearley

On a guided tour of the exhibit, the Ukrainian Museum’s director and curator of the exhibition, Peter Doroshenko, will share eye-opening personal accounts of Hujar shared by the artist’s friends. Guests will gain insight into Doroshenko’s inspirations for the exhibition, learn more about Hujar’s Ukrainian upbringing, and explore how Hujar’s life impacted his work. Rialto is on display through September 1, 2024.

Peter Hujar: Rialto Director-Led Tour at the Ukrainian Museum

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