The Art Newspaper – June 2021

Larry Ree Backstage (II), 1974

From John Akomfrah’s enthralling three-part film to Peter Hujar’s nightlife photographs


For almost 20 years, Peter Hujar photographed the nocturnal drag movement of New York City—what might be seen as a precursor to the non-binary activist movement of today. This work, which could not be more current, has finally goes on show at Maureen Paley. Hujar left his abusive New Jersey home at 16 to live with his English teacher, Daisy Aldan, who encouraged him to seriously pursue photography. He became a student of denizens such as Diane Arbus, and, between 1970 to 1987, immersed himself in the city’s wildly creative drag scene, which remained at the margins of New York’s artistic society. Hujar was hellbent on capturing how this emergent art form was able to reinvent gender beyond female impersonation, employing an improvisational style of performance that worked in the lineage of ancient Greek theatre, European Surrealism and Hollywood musicals. His images reflect the layers and multivalencies incumbent in drag; here, artifice, fashion, narrative and gender are held high by the clarifying and combinational power of still photography.