Bronx Museum Exhibits the Photos of Alvin Baltrop, Who Spent Years Documenting New York City’s Underground Gay Community

Alvin Baltrop, Untitled (Portrait of Marsha P. Johnson)
Alvin Baltrop, Untitled (Portrait of Marsha P. Johnson)
Bronx Museum

The name Alvin Baltrop probably doesn’t ring a bell, but an exhibition at The Bronx Museum of the Arts hopes to change that. The exhibit, “The Life and Times of Alvin Baltrop,” displays more than 200 photographs that Baltrop snapped between 1975 and 1986.

Baltrop started photography as a teen, and while he was in the Navy during Vietnam, he photographed his sailor friends doing fun things like sticking their tongues out. The Bronx-born artist then returned to New York and received an education from New York City’s School of Visual Arts, graduating in 1975. When the West Side Elevated Highway collapsed in 1973, a section of the West Side piers, near the Hudson River, became a fertile ground for gay culture and experimental artists. Baltrop photographed people sunbathing on the pier and in the midst of sexual acts; homeless people in dilapidated warehouses; and crime scenes. He also snapped a black-and-white portrait of transgender Stonewall Riots activist Marsha P. Johnson, which is part of the exhibit.

“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,” the press release reads. (The Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc. supported the exhibition.) The Bronx Museum pulled the photos from their permanent collection, from private collections, and from Baltrop’s personal archive—the first time those prints have been shown to the public.

Baltrop’s work arrived at a time when the LGBTQ community struggled with AIDS and civil rights, and Baltrop did his part in infusing his subjects with humanity. Before his untimely death from cancer in 2004, Baltrop hadn’t received much recognition and had only put on a few exhibitions, including one held in a gay nightclub. In conjunction with the exhibition, which runs until February 9, 2020, museum-goers can pick up a 200-page catalog of his works from the Bronx Museum Store.

Alvin Baltrop, Pier 52 (Gordon Matta-Clark's "Day's End"), 1975–1986
Alvin Baltrop, Pier 52 (Gordon Matta-Clark's "Day's End"), 1975–1986, Silver gelatin print, Bronx Museum of the Arts Permanent Collection.
Bronx Museum of the Arts

Alvin Baltrop, Pier 52 (Gordon Matta-Clark's "Day's End"), 1975–1986.
Alvin Baltrop, Pier 52 (Gordon Matta-Clark's "Day's End"), 1975–1986, Silver gelatin print
Bronx Museum of the Arts Permanent Collection

Meet the Artist Who Has Been Sketching New York City Subway Stations for 40 Years

art2002/iStock via Getty Images
art2002/iStock via Getty Images

The aesthetic appeal of New York City's subway system is often hidden behind a layer of grime or simply ignored by commuters. Philip Ashforth Coppola has been admiring those finer points of public transit for more than 40 years.

The New Jersey-based artist began sketching and researching the subway’s interior in 1978, Atlas Obscura reports. His pen drawings are in black and white, but Coppola notes the exact colors and the historic significance behind each. The beaver plaques at the Astor Place station, for example, represents real estate mogul John Jacob Astor, who first made his fortune in the fur trade.

“I’ve spent a lot of years on it,” he says in the 2005 documentary One Track Mind (also the title of his 2018 book). “But I haven’t accomplished that much.” The former art student is selling himself short: Coppola has drawn at least 110 of the city’s 472 stations, resulting in 2000 sketches spanning 41 notebooks.

In an interview with WNYC, Coppola admitted that he wasn’t a train enthusiast as a child. “When I was a kid, I liked to draw pictures and tell stories or write them down,” he says. “That sort of ... filed into this new adventure.”

Coppola sees the drawings as a way to preserve the subway system's overlooked details. “The idea is to make a record of what we’ve got, before more of it is lost," he says.

Even irritable commuters realized the significance of his endeavors. “People were just thunderstruck when they saw [Coppola’s] artwork,” says Jeremy Workman, the documentary's director. “It reminded them of art they had seen themselves and maybe didn’t notice. We thought that was a powerful message: Reminding people of the beauty that’s right in front of their eyes.”

You Can Rent a ‘Lisa Frank Flat’ in Los Angeles on Hotels.com

Hotels.com
Hotels.com

If you went to elementary school in the 1980s or 1990s, chances are there was at least one piece of Lisa Frank gear in your classroom. The artist's aesthetic helped define the decades, and wide-eyed, technicolor animals still hold a special place in the hearts of millennials. Now, you can live out your childhood dream of having a room that looks like the inside of your 3rd grade backpack: a penthouse suite inspired by Lisa Frank is now available to book in Los Angeles.

The Lisa Frank Flat, a collaboration between Lisa Frank and Hotels.com, screams nostalgia. Each room pays homage to the settings and characters in the artist's vast catalog. The bathroom is painted to look like an underwater paradise, with shimmering dolphins swimming in a pink and blue sea. The kitchen is stocked with snacks from your childhood—like Gushers, Pop-Tarts, Pixy Stix, and Planters Cheez Balls—and painted in bright, rainbow animal patterns that will reflect how you feel when your sugar rush peaks.

Lisa Frank bathroom.
Hotels.com

Lisa Frank kitchen.
Hotels.com

In the bedroom, the colors are toned down only slightly. A light-up cloud canopy and a rainbow sky mural create a soothing environment for falling asleep. And if seeing Lisa Frank around every corner makes you feel inspired, there's a place for you to get in touch with your inner pop artist. The desk comes supplied with pencils, folders, and a notebook—all branded with Lisa Frank artwork, naturally.

Lisa Frank bedroom.
Hotels.com

Lisa Frank desk.
Hotels.com

Interested in basking in the glow of your childhood hero for a night? Online reservations for the Lisa Frank Flat at Barsala in downtown Los Angeles will be available through Hotels.com starting October 11 and lasting through October 27. You can book your stay for $199 a night—just don't forget to pack your Trapper Keeper.

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