PHOTOS: A Trip Back To The Heady, Erotic Heyday Of The New York City Piers

Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York’s premier queer-art gallery, unveils its provocative new exhibit, “The Piers: Art and Sex along the NY Waterfront,” this week. The show, featuring more than 70 images curated by Jonathan Weinberg and Darren Jones, is the first to focus on the gay subculture that emerged along the Hudson River docks in the 1970s.

After years of persecution in the 1950s and ’60s, the counterculture revolution of the summer of ’69 inspired a sexual liberation within the gay community.  Barren and secluded, the crumbling piers became a haven for public nudity and sexual exchange, as captured by Vito Acconci, Gordon Matta-Clark, David Wojnarowicz, Leonard Fink and other photographers whose work will be on display.

Click through for more images from “The Piers: Art and Sex along the NY Waterfront


“The Piers” is on display at the Leslie-Lohman Museum from April 4 to May 10. Photos courtesy of the Leslie-Lohman Museum.


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  • JKB


  • Ran

    I used to sun bath on the piers just north of Christopher Street in the mid 1980s. Plenty of naked guys on sunny days.

  • thunderboltfan

    New York is such a bore now.

  • Robert in Jersey City.

    Heartbreaking. I’m 47 now, and those are all the guys that should be 47 with me. Wish they were here.

  • Just being real

    I have older bisexual and gay male friends who had sex at the piers and they told me how they’re VERY lucky to be alive and not dead from AIDS like everyone else they knew from the piers and in the 70s and 80s. They stopped being self destructive, promiscuous, and having sex with strangers before AIDS was known about and this saved their life.

  • Dont miss these days

    I wouldn’t go back to the days of public pier sex and having public cruising places, and bars or discos as being the only way to have GLBT people meet other GLBT people for sex, relationships, dating, etc. Despite the way queerty romances it all these days were not better, heady, or erotic and yes it is sad because of the way a lot of people wound up getting infected with HIV, dying from AIDS, or getting other STDs as well as HIV since people foolishly thought that you could have sex with whoever you wanted and as many people as you wanted and it was fine.

  • SirAndrew

    Some of the greatest memories of my life were made on those piers. I made great friends and had amazing sex. And I stayed HIV negative. Go figure.

  • Jesse Archer

    Whenever I get nostalgic for that 70’s subversiveness (and lament the mainstreaming of gay “culture”), I have to remind myself I wouldn’t be around today if I lived back then. Still I often wonder who they were – all the big brothers, friends and mentors I’ll never know…

  • Miss Understood

    HIV is a virus, before the 80’s no one knew about it. People sleeping around were in no way being “self destructive” given the information they had. It’s good have an develop an open attitude about sex. Seeing gays get all uptight and adopting mainstream ideas about sex and passing judgement on others is disturbing.

  • Robert in Jersey City.

    Hindsight is always 20/20.

    You said a beautiful thing Jesse. Just how I feel. Wish they were all still here.

    No one knew the tsunami that was coming.

  • Robert in Jersey City.

    @Dont miss these days: What a stupid thing to say. AIDS came out of nowhere in 1980. NOWHERE. Read a book and learn the history, or Google it!

    Now, if someone converts these days, with all we know, then, yes, a newly infected person in 2012 deserves a scolding.

  • David1950

    Miss Understood, actually back in the 70s and 80s sleeping around was seen as being self destructive. Before HIV, and even herpes there were other STDs that were very well known about. ALL of my friends from back then who were promiscuous wound up getting STDs, not all of them got HIV but some got infected with herpes, HPV, or other STDs and those STDs were very well known about then. I agree with Dont Miss those days. I do not miss them either, and HIV/AIDS did not come out of nowhere as people were getting infected with it in the 70s but they just didn’t know what it was, and as a whole back then a lot of gay and bisexual men were getting all sorts of STDs from having unprotected sex and thinking that taking semen into your anus or throat, or putting your bare penis into someone was perfectly fine and it was OK to do this with hundreds or thousands of people. I survived because I was never into anal sex, I was not promiscuous and I didn’t go and have sex with people who were into casual sex or just hooking up randomly. Everyone I knew back then who was into just hooking up with strangers is no longer alive.

  • Jake

    As others have said I think its sad that queerty is romanticizing a time where being gay was looked at as something terrible and so many gays had to sneak around and have sex in public places. The gay community really needs to take a good hard look at ourselves as we move into the future. Gays had sex in dark clubs and public bathrooms because before the 80’s that had too. This is no longer true we shouldn’t look at such times as being free or erotic because they weren’t. There is nothing prudish or boring about having a monogamous, loving, and fulfilling relationship it promotes a healthy body and soul.

  • Willie

    I don’t think that queerty is romanticizing a time where gay people were looked at as something terrible because we still are in this country and we still have to sneak around because being gay is not accepted. Maybe 100 years from now people will look back at these times and think how sad we treated people this way. I loved seeing these pictures. Seeing these guys happy and having fun. Enjoying life and each other before having to go back to their most likely straight fake lives. I very much enjoyed taking a look at my brothers past not always been saddened by HIV/AIDS. I understand that shortly after this all hell broke loose but isn’t it possible to see some of the fun or happy moments in our history. There had to be some.

  • ron

    Ah, the days of the Eagle and Uncle Charlie’s Downtown…….

  • John T

    I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it is good to reflect back on seemingly more simple, happier times. A lot of guys did pay a hefty price for all that ‘fun’, but fun it was indeed, from all the stories I’ve been told by the guys who lived it … and survived.

    I was just coming of age in the late 70s and early 80s. I was very much in the closet: struggling with the gay and God thing, and belonging to a very homophobic church. I hated myself for being who I am. I didn’t come into self-acceptance until well after everything changed. And then I knew better.

    There is yet a part of me that would have loved experiencing some of the ‘fun’ from back in the day. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to ‘romaticize’ what might have been, had things been more ideal — had a thing called AIDS not have come to fruition. Yes. I would have loved being as ‘free’ in my adolescence, into young adulthood as these guys were.

    Gratefully, I did not, was not, and believe I was spared because of that. At 50, I’m happy to be HIV, STD free.

  • pierre

    @ron: Oh my god! Loved Uncle Charlie’s Downtown! The Village was SO different in the late 70’s, early 80’s……

  • streeteditions

    Traffic used to stop on all lanes of the West Side highway to watch. And I do miss places where we were a community doing what came naturally to us without guilt or fear. You didn’t go there to hide. You went there because it was fun. As for STDS, stop victimizing us! My female friends in college were getting them at frat parties! Where does this lameass rejection of our history and ourselves come from? Bathhouses and gay bars were among the first to distribute condoms and AIDS materials when we knew what it was, but epidemic fears shut down those venues for many. Although not the hetero clubs so much. This pandering to the hetero-patriarchal normative bullshit may be fun for some, but it’s not for me. Nor was it for most others. Those who have gone all neo-conservative and moral need to deal with the fact that some queers just want to have fun. It’s why we rioted and bitched at Stonewall, The Snake,etc. Get it through your thick heads that gay liberation is liberation on all fronts, not just accommodation.

  • mantegna

    Don’t miss LEONARD FINK COMING OUT PUBLISHED BY EDITION CLANDESTIN PHOTOGRAPHS OF GAY LIBERATION AND THE NEW YORK WATERFRONT on crusing at West Side Piers by edition clandestin switzerland, edited by Judith Luks and Thomas Schoenberger.ISBN 978-3-905297-46-1

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