The Life and Times of Alvin Baltrop
This exhibition memorializes the late artist, as well as the grassroots passion and raw energy of New York City’s underground gay culture of the 1970s and ‘80s.
The Bronx Museum of the Arts presents “The Life and Times of Alvin Baltrop”, on view from August 7, 2019 through February 9, 2020. The exhibition gives long due recognition to the late photographer, featuring over 120 photographs by the Bronx native documenting the underground gay culture of New York City’s West Side piers throughout the 1970s. This includes a suite of works from the artist’s personal archives that, up until now, have never been seen by the public.
Baltrop’s work was largely unrecognized in his lifetime. Having passed away in 2004, it is only now that his photographs are garnering the critical attention they deserve. Like the startling images of Peter Moore, Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Hujar, and Gordon Matta-Clark, the photographs of Alvin Baltrop memorialize New York City at a breaking-point moment amid ruin and chaos. The explicitly sexual nature of many of his works are an important benchmark in capturing the LGBTQ community’s struggle for inclusion and civil rights.
Focusing on the derelict warehouses situated alongside Manhattan’s West Side piers, Baltrop’s images extensively chronicle the underground gay culture that flourished along the Hudson River, in an isolated section alongside the collapse of a segment of the West Side Elevated Highway in 1973.
A few blocks southwest of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, the area also became a center for drug smuggling and prostitution. Baltrop’s images captured leisurely sunbathing, cruising, sexual acts, and crime scenes. With a sensibility to architecture, Baltrop portrayed his subjects with a heightened sense of drama, instilling his scenes with humanity.
Baltrop’s works constitute an important document, remarkable both for their social import as well as for their groundbreaking visual dare. They return us to that conflicted era when New York City was on the brink of a financial crisis and convey the raw energy that characterized some of the city’s most impassioned grassroots campaigns for survival.