In 1970s New York City, the abandoned piers of the Hudson River became a site for extraordinary works of art and a popular place for nude sunbathing and anonymous sex. Jonathan Weinberg’s provocative book–part art history, part memoir–weaves interviews, documentary photographs, literary texts, artworks, and film stills to show how avant-garde practices competed and mingled with queer identities along the Manhattan waterfront.
Artists as varied as Vito Acconci, Alvin Baltrop, Shelley Seccombe, and David Wojnarowicz made work in and about the fire-ravaged structures that only twenty years before had been at the center of the world’s busiest shipping port. At the same time, the fight for the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgendered people, spurred by the 1969 Stonewall riots, was dramatically transforming the cultural and social landscape of New York City. Gay men suddenly felt free to sunbathe on the piers naked, cruise, and have sex in public. While artists collaborated to transform the buildings of Pier 34 into makeshift art studios and exhibition spaces, gay men were converting Pier 46 into what Delmas Howe calls an “arena for sexual theater.”
Featuring one hundred exemplary works from the era and drawing from a rich variety of source material, interviews, and Weinberg’s personal experience, Pier Groups breaks new ground to look at the relationship of avant-garde art to resistant subcultures and radical sexuality.