Alvin Baltrop and Gordon Matta-Clark: The Piers From Here

If you were as lucky as I was while I was visiting home in the North-West over Christmas, you wouldn’t have been able to visit any of the local photo galleries such as Open Eye in Liverpool and Impressions in Bradford, due to them being closed for the holidays.

After taking forty winks for a week or so however, Open Eye Gallery will reopen on the 2nd January. Exhibiting there until the 9th February is the photography of Alvin Baltrop and Gordon Matta-Clark.

The exhibition focuses on the area of the piers in New York City during the mid 1970s, and speaks of the state of abandonment and dilapidation these underwent as a consequence of the oil crisis that reconfigured the geography of the city as well as the international market and trading system.

The New York piers act as a mirror or counterpart of Liverpool’s docklands. Historically linked via the transatlantic route that since Colonial times, connected Europe to the Americas, the piers in New York and the docks in Liverpool experienced a similar process of transformation. Unproductive and deserted, New York’s waterfront was gradually reclaimed by an invisible population who used it for a variety of activities, spanning gay cruising, drug-dealing and smuggling to prostitution, but also bringing together an underground community of visual artists, musicians, film-makers, performers and photographers, from the likes of Vito Acconci and Dan Graham, to Joan Jonas and David Wojnarowicz.

Whilst Gordon Matta-Clark was pursuing the idea that art could act as a catalyst for urban regeneration and land re-appropriation, Alvin Baltrop investigated life at the margins, mapping hedonistic displays of flesh, occasional sexual intercourse, corpses that could be mistaken for sleeping squatters (and vice versa) and other traces of humanity hidden amongst the interstices of society, notwithstanding the sense of freedom and liberation originating in the sexual revolution.

In 1975 Gordon Matta-Clark illegally entered and took over Pier 52, a huge corrugated iron structure, almost classic in its majesty and, to put it in Gordon’s words, “completely overrun by the gays”. There he created one of his famous ‘cuts’ entitled Day’s End, a spectacular anti-monumental intervention brought to life by the rotation of the sun, which entered the building, thus reflecting in the water of the Hudson River. As Matta-Clark was creating this architectural installation made of light, shadows and water, Alvin Baltrop kept documenting the activity of the other occupants of the Piers. The encounter resulting from their different approaches is documented in this exhibition, that represents an occasion to look back at those years, reflecting on gentrification and regeneration across the ocean and at the simultaneous disappearance of the underground (sub)culture.

This exhibition is in collaboration with The Alvin Baltrop Trust and Third Streaming, New York and the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner, New York/London.

Open Eye Gallery