FRANK HALLAM Title Sunners, Pier 51 (Exterior from Interior), 1978 Archival digital print from slide 18.5 x 12.5" - AP Courtesy of the artist
THE PIERS: Art and Sex along the New York Waterfront
Apr 04 - Jul 07, 2012
The Piers: Art and Sex along the New York Waterfront
is the first museum exhibition to focus exclusively on the uses of the Hudson River docks by artists and a newly emerging gay subculture. It demonstrates how the gay liberation movement, spurred by the 1969 Stonewall riots, transformed the cultural and social landscape of New York. Between 1971 and 1983, the piers were the site of an enormous range of works by artists as different in intention and medium as Vito Acconci and Peter Hujar, Shelley Seccombe and Ivan Galietti, and Gordon Matta-Clark and Tava.
Not that long ago the piers below Fourteenth Street were part of a vibrant shipping industry, but by the late 1960s they fell into disuse and ruin. The photographs of Leonard Fink, Frank Hallam, Uzí Parnes, Stanley Stellar, Lee Snider, Arthur Tress, and Rich Wandel celebrate the way gay men claimed these spaces for their own—sunbathing naked, cruising, and having sex. If straight artists like Acconci and Matta-Clark were not directly representing radical forms of sexual relationships in their pier work, they were nevertheless trespassers and exhibitionists. Their avant-garde pieces undermined traditional definitions of ownership, of privacy and decency. All the artists were attracted to the piers because they seemed beyond social control.
In 1983, David Wojnarowicz and Mike Bidlo took over Pier 34 and made it an extension of the East Village scene. In Andreas Sterzing’s photographs of the projects by Louis Frangella, John Fekner, David Finn, and Judy Glantzman, there is a marvelous sense of freedom and community. In general, the piers were in Matta-Clark’s words a site of “interest, fascination and value,” but also of risk and sexual adventure.