Saturday, April 28, 2018

Peter Hujar. Speed Of Life & Tennessee Williams. No Refuge But Writing. The Morgan Library & Museum

My lover John the poet and art critic hated Peter Hujar. I found this out in the early 70’s when we were at some art opening, and like the song goes “across a crowded room” I noticed a handsome tall stranger cruising me. “Who he?” I asked John, and he told me that it was Peter Hujar a photographer and that he hated him. He didn’t tell me why he hated him but he said I should never ever have anything to do with him, to avoid him at all costs. Well of course I heeded his warning after all he was my lover.
Hujar was on a short list of men that I was not allowed to have anything to do with, and along with him was Andy Warhol and his entire factory, in fact I was barred from ever going to the factory, Allen Ginsberg and Tennessee Williams. Quite a group and I’m sure there were others that I’ve forgotten. One of our biggest fights came when John was invited to a birthday party for Tennessee Williams given by Charles Henri Ford at his apartment at the Dakota and John said that we were not going. I couldn’t go alone although it did cross my mind to do so, but it was John’s name on the guest list not mine, so we stayed at home that night with me fuming.
All of this brings me to the irony of seeing exhibitions recently by two of the men on “the list” “Speed Of Life” is an exhibition of the photographs of Peter Hujar and “No Refuge but Writing” is a memorabilia laden show on the life of Tennessee Williams, both exhibitions by the way are wonderful.
The photographs by Peter Hujar are both hard and soft, so there are pleasing pictures of young children and pleasing photos of young men pleasing themselves. As is common now with many contemporary photographers there are plenty of “celebrities” in the show, but not the usual “A” listers, like the Annie Leibovitz Rolling Stone kind. Hujar focused on the off the cuff celeb, the lower eastside out on a limb and on the cutting edge kind sometimes raw and dirty, so we get the drag superstar Candy Darling on her death bed instead of Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise looking cute. There are haunting portraits of the poet and dance critic Edwin Denby, and of great off off Broadway actors Ethyl Eichelberger who was sort of a muse for Hujar and Charles Ludlam who was sort of a muse for the rest of us. Death hangs over the show, many of the portraits are of his friends gone from AIDS including Hujar himself. The mix while vast and appealing is somewhat unsettling but always stunning.
The Tennessee Williams show which is beautifully designed and installed features many of his manuscripts both handwritten and typed, there is even one of his typewritters included. There are early drafts of some of his great plays including “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Rose Tattoo”. Also included are snapshots of Williams and his friends and lovers, copies of his published works, including those cheap paperback editions that you can still pick up on line dirt cheap, and many posters and playbills. I’m not one for standing and leaning over vitrines to read handwritten manuscripts but I sure would have loved to browse Marlon Brando’s small address book that he kept while doing Streetcar on Broadway which is included in the exhibit. Together the exhibitions form a nice loose look at two gay artists who lived very different life styles one more open than the other in terms of using their sexuality and sex in their art, but both made vivid and provocative works one with images and the other with words.


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