A quiet man who supported himself doing odd jobs such as street vendor, jewelry designer, photography printer, and cab driver, Bronx native Alvin Baltrop left an important body of work after his untimely death in 2004 that only now is garnering the serious attention it deserves. 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.
As such, they constitute an important document, remarkable both for its social import as well as for its groundbreaking visual dare. Rarely shown during his lifetime, Baltrop’s images return us to that conflicted era when the city was on the brink of a financial crisis; they convey the raw energy that characterized some of the city’s most impassioned grassroots campaigns for survival. Focusing on the derelict warehouses sited alongside Manhattan's West Side piers, Baltrop’s images are an extensive documentation of 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. While the interest in Baltrop’s work often focuses on the libidinous atmosphere he captured, it’s important to situate that moment as pivotal in the LGBTQ community in its struggle for inclusion and civil rights.
The Life and Times of Alvin Baltrop will feature over 120 photographs drawn from the Bronx Museum’s permanent collection and from private collections. In addition, the artist’s personal archive, housed at the Bronx Museum, will be shown to the public for the first time. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Bronx Museum will partner with Italian publisher Skira to produce a 200-page, richly illustrated catalog.