Human Interest
Audio Guide Playlist

Listen to commentary by artists and scholars on selected works in Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection, including Thelma Golden, K8 Hardy, Byron Kim, Deana Lawson, and Joan Semmel.

Narrator: Alvin Baltrop took this photograph in one of the warehouses on the Hudson Piers, during the 1970s. Until the mid-twentieth century, the piers had been the center of the largest port in the world. But by the time Baltrop took this picture, they had been largely abandoned. They became important sites for artists, and for gay men cruising for sex.

Jonathan Weinberg: In this photograph, probably taken in Pier 46, at the foot of Christopher Street, Baltrop focuses on a beautiful naked man stretching.
Narrator: Jonathan Weinberg is a painter, curator, and art historian.
Jonathan Weinberg: His lithe, muscular body and his pose on one foot suggest that he is a dancer, and therefore, like Baltrop, an artist, drawn to the dilapidated waterfront structures for their sublime beauty, but also the freedom they afford to spread out, to be brazenly naked, to escape the strictures of moral decorum.

Taken before the advent of the AIDS epidemic, such an image speaks for a time in the 1970s when expressing the homoerotic in such an uninhibited way was emblematic of the so-called sexual revolution, and the breaking down of political control and social repression. At the same time, Baltrop’s characteristic cityscape is in ruins, caused by profound economic displacements. The dancer’s freedom only exists in the midst of urban poverty and neglect, just a few blocks from some of the most real estate in the world.

As a queer man myself, who painted and sunbathed on the same pier at that time in my late teens, I look at Baltrop’s photograph with a great sense of nostalgia and wonder. Was there really such a time when we were so free? 

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