Hunter College Art Galleries Present:
Something Possible Everywhere: Pier 34 NYC, 1983–84
Curated by Jonathan Weinberg
Featuring the photographs of Andreas Sterzing September 30–November 20, 2016
Opening Reception: Thursday, September 29, 7–9pm
205 Hudson Gallery
205 Hudson Street
Entrance on Canal Street between Hudson and Greenwich Streets New York, New York 10013
Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 1–6pm
Something Possible Everywhere: Pier 34 NYC, 1983–84 is the first exhibition to revisit the extraordinary place and time when David Wojnarowicz and his friends and peers including Jane Bauman, Mike Bidlo, Paolo Buggiani, Keith Davis, Steven Doughton, John Fekner, David Finn, Jean Foos, Luis Frangella, Valeriy Gerlovin, Judy Glantzman, Alain Jacquet, Kim Jones, Rob Jones, Ruth Kligman, Stephen Lack, Liz-N-Val, Bill Mutter, Michael Ottersen, Rick Prol, Russell Sharon, Kiki Smith, Huck Snyder, Betty Tompkins, and Ruth Zwillinger among many others, effectively seized a city-owned pier and filled it with art. Andreas Sterzing’s remarkable photographs, along with related images by Peter Hujar, Marisela La Grave, and Dirk Rowntree, document how these artists turned the Ward Line shipping terminal at the foot of Canal Street, into a series of makeshift art galleries and studios.
Accompanying Sterzing’s photographs are over 75 paintings, drawings, and sculptures, made by the many artists who worked on the pier. Sadly, the building was demolished and almost all of the art made on the pier no longer exists, but the presence of contemporaneous work in the exhibition makes tangible something of the physicality of the waterfront art and its larger aesthetic context.
The numerous artists who worked on Pier 34 crossed generations, from established figures like Alain Jacquet and Ruth Kligman, to emerging artists like Steven Doughton and Rhonda Zwillinger. They utilized a variety of media and styles, from the performance art of Kim Jones and Paolo Buggiani, to the expressionism of Judy Glantzman and Stephen Lack. This diversity and the site-specificity of works by artists like John Fekner and Teres Wydler, challenges the stereotypes of the 1980s art scene as market- driven and conservative with a turn toward easel painting. Indeed, the chief instigators of the Pier 34 experiment, Wojnarowicz and Bidlo, self-consciously saw the site as anti-commercial.
As rumors spread in the spring of 1983 of what was happening on the waterfront, Bidlo and Wojnarowicz released a statement to friends in the press that explained their resistance to the gallery system and the aim to create an opportunity for anyone “to explore any image in any material on any surface they chose. It was something no gallery would tolerate...” Above all, they claimed that Pier 34 forged a community: “People who lived in this city for years said it was the first time they experienced fulfillment in terms of contact with the art scene and strangers.”i
This exhibition is made possible by the generous support provided by Carol and Arthur Goldberg, Joan and Charles Lazarus, Dorothy Lichtenstein, and an anonymous donor.
Andreas Sterzing studied photography at Bayerische Staatslehranstalt für Fotografie in Munich, Germany. In 1982 he moved to New York and worked for photographers Hans Namuth, Evelyn Hofer, Annie Leibowitz and others while establishing himself as an editorial and portrait photographer. He currently lives and works in London and Cornwall, England.
Hunter College Art Galleries
Something Possible Everywhere: Pier 34 NYC, 1983–84, curated by Jonathan Weinberg at the 2o5 Hudson Street Gallery of the Hunter College Art Galleries, is the first exhibition to focus on this era and this place. Other recent shows have touched on it, such as The Piers: Art and Sex along the New York Waterfront (co-curated by Weinberg) at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, and Pier 34 did follow a number of other art projects in the Hudson River ruins, including Gordon Matta Clark’s “sun-and-water temple” “Day’s End” (1975). But Something Possible Everywhere concentrates on why this particular pier was a distinct hub of collaboration and freedom, even if some artists only visited for a day.
“ … No matter how much time the artists spent on the waterfront, a repeated theme in their recollections is the richness and joy of the shared experience,” writes Weinberg in the accompanying catalogue. “Perhaps that is why this exhibition feels like a reunion in its attempt to recreate a transformative moment among a community of artists; but it is also a memorial. Keith Davis, Luis Frangella, Rob Jones, Peter Hujar, Huck Snyder, and David Wojnarowicz would all be with us to celebrate and remember, but for the HIV/AIDS epidemic that stole their lives.”
The exhibition’s title is taken from Wojnarowicz and Bidlo’s Pier 34 statement:
And this is just a start for all of us. We are all responsible for what it currently is and what it will become. This is something possible anywhere there are abandoned buildings. This is something possible everywhere.
Little of the art made on Pier 34 survives, aside from a stray window shade bracket painted by Wojnarowicz and saved by Jean Foos. On view instead is work produced by over 30 artists who participated in the original experiment, accompanied by vibrant documentary photographs by Andreas Sterzing. John Fekner’s “DANGER LIVE ARTISTS” stencil mural has been newly executed by Hunter MFA student Mikey Estes, lining a tunnel that leads you to a photograph of a waterlogged pier hallway, from which you access a slideshow of Sterzing’s images accompanied by a soundtrack of artist and audience remembrances. David Finn’s trio of animalistic figures formed from found objects is seated on the gallery staircase, recalling the placement of another set as greeters at the pier.
You can only imagine encountering them on the trash-strewn steps to Pier 34, and then envision climbing into the rooms lit through broken glass. Inside, you admire the incredible murals on the walls, like Wojnarowicz’s cow or Luis Frangella’s expressionistic torsos, but you know you have to watch your step because the risk of falling through to the water is real. As you explore, maybe you suddenly glimpse Rob Jones’s ghostly “Shroud,” walk up to it, look for a figure beneath the fiberglass drapery, and find it empty. On the second floor, if you time your visit right, you see sunlight cast through holes in the roof into tracings by Kiki Smith.
The grass on the ground fits so well with the mood of romantic disintegration that you don’t even realize it was planted by Wojnarowicz himself. And maybe, as you continue to wander, as former offices lead into the cavernous terminal, you meet an artist working, Betty Tompkins creating a leaping wild cat from painted words or Valeriy Gerlovin stabbing syringes into a painted icon. The art is messy, imperfect, and muted by the overriding browns and gray of the space, but it feels alive.
Some things aren’t addressed in the exhibition — for instance, the fact that Pier 34 was a free-form community but limited in its diversity, with most of the artists coming out of the East Village gallery scene. But Something Possible Everywhere is careful to not use the pier as a metaphor for the 1980s or read its collapse as a symbol of the AIDs crisis that was only dawning. The destruction of the pier was what finally ended the experiment, although police attention and overexposure had already threatened it. A 1984 photograph by Sterzing, the last work in the show, captures Wojnarowicz’s cow mural through a gaping demolition hole, about to disappear.