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Pier Groups: Art and Sex Along the New York Waterfront


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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.

Author: Jonathan Weinberg

Hardcover   Published May 2019  232 pages


“Eminent queer art historian Jonathan Weinberg makes the case for how powerfully gay male social life, cruising, and public sex were of a piece in the early days of LGBT liberation. In the wake of oppression that brutally enforced queer invisibility, a newly burgeoning movement sought to colonize public spaces for queer desires. Merging the political with the erotic, queer public spaces such as the piers have become quasi-mythic embodiments of gay life before AIDS changed everything. Weinberg here strips away the myth with a careful social history of the most influential, if unseen, crucible of gay liberation at the moment when the full meaning of that term was only beginning to be realized.”

—Jonathan D. Katz, author of Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

“An alluring homage to a time, a community, and a landscape that have long since vanished.”

—Jeremy Allen, The New York Times

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