Leslie Lohman Museum


The Piers:
Art and Sex along
the New York Waterfront

Curated by Jonathan Weinberg with Darren Jones

 

Exhibition Dates: April 4 – July 7, 2012
Opening Reception: Wednesday, April 4; 6-8pm


Exhibition Brochure

Artist & Curator Panel Discussion The Fales Library, New York University
Thursday, April 12; 6:00 - 7:30 pm

Page 1  I  Page 2  I  Page 3

 

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.

. Map

 

 

Pier 18
In 1971 Willoughby Sharp, the avant-garde curator and editor of the conceptualist magazine Avalanche, invited 27 artists (all men), including Vito Acconci, John Baldesarri, Gorden Matta-Clark, Dennis Oppenheim, Richard Serra, and William Wegman to create pieces on Pier 18 that were documented by the photographic team of Harry Shunk and János (Jean) Kender(aka Shunk-Kender). According to Sharp, most of the works, which involved carrying out various actions and performances, were conceived in a matter of hours, “some were done in just a few minutes.” In many cases, Shunk-Kender actively participated in the creation of the pieces they documented with their cameras.


Shunk/Kender

Shunk/Kender
Gordon Matta-Clark, Pier 18
1971, 2012
Digital C print (exhibition reprint)
8 x 10”
The Shunk-Kender / Harry Shunk Photography Archives of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Exhibition Reprint, 2011
L2012.14.4 (1)

Gordon Matta-Clark’s Pier 18 piece involved the artist transplanting an evergreen tree onto a pile of debris. He then used a rope to tie one leg to a ceiling rafter and suspend himself upside down over the tree. His pose was borrowed from the hanged man of the Tarot cards, a figure that symbolizes rebellion and transition. Like Yves Klein’s famous Leap into the Void (1960, and also as “documented” by Shunk-Kender), Matta-Clark hung perilously over the abyss. 

Shunk/Kender

Shunk/Kender
John Baldesarri, Pier 18
1971, 2012
Digital C print (exhibition reprint)
8 x 10”
The Shunk-Kender / Harry Shunk Photography Archives of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Exhibition Reprint, 2011
L2012.14.2 (2)


For many of the Pier 18 projects, the artists conceived of their pieces as active collaborations with the photographic team Shunk-Kender. In this example—perhaps the most famous single image from the project—the California-based experimental artist John Baldessari used his hands simply to frame New York Harbor, in essence simulating the process of the camera composing a scene.

Shunk/Kender

Shunk/Kender
Vito Acconci, Security Zone, Pier 18
1971, 2012
Digital C print (exhibition reprint)
8 x 10”
The Shunk-Kender / Harry Shunk Photography Archives of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Exhibition Reprint, 2011
L2012.14.3 (3)


Vito Acconci used the Pier 18 project as an opportunity “to affect, improve, an everyday relationship.”  In Security Zone he went to the end of the pier and was blindfolded. He then asked Lee Jaffe, a person Acconci claimed he had an “ambiguous feeling about,” to make sure that he did not fall off the pier as he paced closer and closer to the edge. Acconci writes in the notes for the piece: I’m blindfolded, my hands are tied behind me, my ears are plugged; in my deprived position, I’m forced to have trust—there’s only one person here who can stop me from walking off into the water. The piece measures my trust; more than that, it builds up trust. (The question is: will the trust last—does this trust deserve to last—once the piece is over?)


       
Shunk

Harry Shunk
Pier 52
1975, 2012
Digital C print (exhibition print from negative)
8 x 10”
The Shunk-Kender/Harry Shunk Photography Archives of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Exhibition Reprint, 2011
L2012.14.1 (4)


Harry Shunk, on his own and with his partner János (Jean) Kender, photographed many key works of experimental art of the late-twentieth century by such artists as Mel Bochner, Christo, Alan Kaprow, Yves Klein, and Robert Rauschenberg. This photograph is exceptional, because in the process of documenting the light thrown by the large cut of Gordon Matta-Clark’s Day’s End on Pier 52, he simultaneously captured his own shadow, in essence creating a rare self-portrait.

Matta/Clark

Gordon Matta-Clark
Day's End (Pier 52)
1975
Silver dye bleach print (Cibachrome)
Diptych
Ed. of EP 1, estate stamped
56 x 49” each
Courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery
L2012.11.1 (5)

 

In the summer1975, Gordon Matta-Clark, with the help of a loyal group of assistants, used chainsaws and acetylene torches to make enormous cuts in the walls, ceiling, and floor of Pier 52 at the end of Gansevoort Street. During the "opening" of the piece, the police showed up and shut down the project. Matta-Clark remembered, "I simply appropriated the pier by keeping my crew of henchmen boarding up and barb-wiring all the alternative entrances except the front door for which I substituted my own lock and bolt." He later wrote that when he found the pier it had "become a veritable muggers' playground, both for people who go only to enjoy walking there and for a recently popularized sadomasochistic fringe" and that "city-condoned anarchy reigns there." He continued: ...in the midst of this state of affairs it would seem within the rights of an artist or any other person for that matter to enter such a premises with a desire to improve the property, to transform the structure in the midst of its ugly criminal state into a place of interest, fascination and value.

Fink

Leonard Fink
Day’s End
1977
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10”
Courtesy of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center
National History Archive
L2012.6.14 (6)

Seccombe

Shelley Seccombe
Sunbathing on the Edge, Pier 52
1977
Contemporary archival digital print
Ed. 2/25
11 x 15”
Courtesy of the artist
L2012.13.5 (7)


Although the city authorities shut down Gordon Matta-Clark’s Day’s End and boarded up the original floor cuts he made in Pier 52, gay men soon found their way back in as the photographs of Leonard Fink and Shelley Seccombe attest. The experience of Day’s End changed not only in relationship to where the sun was in the sky, but also in terms of those who interacted with it, in and outside of the art world until Pier 52 was demolished in 1979. As the artist himself put it, after the building was shut down “a lot of people took it upon themselves to break in and so keep the work in some kind of public domain.”

Hallam

Frank Hallam
Pier 52 being Demolished
1979/2011
Archival digital print from slide
AP
12.5 x 18.5”
Courtesy of the artist
L2012.9.1 (8)


Frank Hallam documented the demolition of Pier 52 at a moment when the large cut Matta-Clark made in the west façade of the building was still standing. For a few days it stood as a perfect example of what Matta-Clark called the "non-ument," a work that is sublime even as it undermines or deconstructs the grandiosity of traditional large-scale architecture.


       
Seccombe

Shelley Seccombe
Fire on Pier 46 (Black Smoke and WTC)
1980
Contemporary archival digital print
Ed. 3/25
16 x 24”
Courtesy of the artist
L2012.13.7 (10)

Seccombe

Shelley Seccombe
Man Walking Through Skeleton Pier (48)
1978
Contemporary archival digital print
Ed. 2/12
14 x 22”
Courtesy of the artist
L2012.13.2 (11)


       

       

Vito Acconci
Untitled, Pier 17
1971
Digital print
36 x 80”
Courtesy of the artist
L2012.3.1 (9)


 

Tava
Frank Hallam and Stanley Stellar both photographed Tava (born Gustav von Will) on the piers where he did his most famous work. His massive, phallocentric murals of hyper-masculine men were meant to evoke the heroes and gods of ancient civilizations that celebrated homosexual relationships. Tava’s nude giants, painted on the end of Pier 46, and the often naked men who sunbathed in front of them, were an unintended highlight of the Circle Line boats that toured Manhattan at the time.  


Tava

Gustav Von Will  (AKA Tava)
Harmodius and Aristigeiton
1980
Gold paint and silver leaf on marble slab from the World Trade Center Site
30 x 36”
Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum
Gift of Fritz Lohman
and Charles Leslie
1995.1022.0002 (12)

Tava

Gustav Von Will (AKA Tava)
Gilgamesh (remnant from the
Charles Street pier)
1979
Paint on corrugated tin and wood
36 x 32”
Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum
Gift of Wayne Snellen
1998.1022.0003 (13)


       
Fink

Leonard Fink
Tava Mural Pier 46
1980
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10”
Courtesy of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center National History Archive
L2012.6.8 (15)

Snider

Lee Snider
Hudson River, Gay Piers
(Tava Mural)
1978
Silver gelatin print
8 x 10”
The Lee Snider Collection, Fales Library, New York University
L2012.15.2 (16)



       
Fink
Leonard Fink
West Side Highway, Tava Phallus
1977
Silver gelatin print
10 x 8”
Courtesy of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center National History Archive
L2012.6.3 (14)
Stellar


Stanley Stellar
Tava (Gustav von Will)
1979/2012
Archival digital print
Ed. 1/3
20 x 16”
Courtesy of the artist
L2012.16.4 (17)


 
Hallam
Frank Hallam
Tava (Gustav von Will) Painting (Pier 46)
1980/2011
Archival digital print from slide
AP
18.5 x 12.5”
Courtesy of the artist
L2012.9.2 (18)
   
       
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