Alvin Baltrop produced some of the most powerful photographs taken on the Island of Manhattan. His photographs are both voyeuristic and intimately composed portraits of friends, lovers, and strangers – many of them commingling at the Hudson river piers in the 1970s and 80s. A Bronx-born photographer, Baltrop (1948-2004) captures a vision of New York City that no longer exists; a transient scene of artistic and sexual abandon coupled with an often precarious nocturnal underground.
In focusing on the mostly undocumented subjects and scenarios of NYC’s west side in which he himself was immersed, Baltrop finds the openness, sexual liberation, and public revelry that was hidden from mainstream society, and reflects the celebratory energy and fluidity that much of the downtown art of the time inspired. For Douglas Crimp, an early champion of Baltrop’s work, these images “constitute rare and indispensable evidence of the proximity and simultaneity of artistic and sexual experimentation in the declining industrial spaces of Manhattan during the 1970s, a time of particularly creative ferment for both scenes.”
The Watermill Center hopes to bring Baltrop’s work to light by juxtaposing his photographs with the Center’s vast and eclectic collection of photography, drawings and sculpture; sparking an ongoing dialogue between unlikely figures and objects from disparate time periods and encouraging unexpected links and the formation of new meanings in a more intimate and non-traditional setting.
A contemporary of Larry Clark, Peter Moore, Danny Lyons, Franseca Woodman, Peter Hujar and others, Baltrop’s work was largely ignored by the art establishment and rarely exhibited during his lifetime. The February 2008 issue of ARTFORUM featured Baltrop on it’s cover, along with an article by Douglas Crimp. Selected exhibitions include: Alvin Baltrop: Photographs 1965-2003, Third Streaming, New York (2011); Looking Back/The Fifth White Columns Annual, White Columns, New York (2010); Alvin Baltrop: Color Photographs 1971-1991, Brooklyn, NY (2010); Mixed Use, Manhattan: Photography and Related Practices 1970s to the Present, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain (2010); Dead Flowers, Participant Inc, New York and Vox Popull, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (2010); and Darkside II-Photographic Power and Violence, Disease, and Death Photographed, Foromuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2009).
All works courtesy of The Alvin Baltrop Trust and Third Streaming (NY).
With special thanks to Randal Wilcox and Yona Backer.