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