“Boy on Raft,” 1978. All photographs by Peter Hujar © Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York City/Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. Hujar’s work is on view at the Morgan Library and Museum, in New York City, through May 20, and his monograph, Peter Hujar: Speed of Life, was published last year by Aperture.
This article appeared in the May 2018 issue of Harper’s Magazine.
As he approached his death in 1987, the photographer Peter Hujar was all but unknown, with a murky reputation and a tiny, if elite, cult following. Slowly circling down what was then the hopeless spiral of AIDS, Peter had ceaselessly debated one decision, which he reached only with difficulty, and only when the end drew near. He was in a hospital bed when he made his will that summer, naming me the executor of his entire artistic estate—and also its sole owner.
The move transformed my life and induced a seething fury in lots of decent people. I can see why. Peter did not make me his heir for any of the usual reasons. I was a good and trusted friend, but he had scads of those. I was not the first person he considered for the job, nor was I the most qualified. In fact, I was a rank amateur, and my understanding of his art was limited. I knew his photographs were stunning, often upsetting, unpredictably beautiful, distinctively his. I also knew they were underrated and neglected. But I did not then really grasp his achievement.