Episode 3 - Latex and Lard in the Meatpacking District

May 28, 2021


Episode 3 - Latex and Lard in the Meatpacking District


Andrew Berman: The mid-seventies was, depending on your perspective, either the greatest or the worst time in New York’s history. I think arguably, it was a little of each.

Betsy Sussler: It was a very vibrant time. It was also a very dangerous New York. But it was not yet a New York that was real estate driven, because prices were low. So we could live cheaply. We could produce and have part time jobs. And do two jobs at once, the art job and the make a living job. And it was smaller, so that when you went out, you ran into almost everyone you knew and the conversations were constant.

Carrie Mae Weems: I’m Carrie Mae Weems, welcome to Artists Among Us, a podcast from the Whitney Museum of American Art that reimagines American art and history. In this five-part season, we’re looking at the changing landscape of the Meatpacking District of New York through the lens of the artist David Hammons’s sculpture, Day’s End. In this episode, we look at the Meatpacking District through the eyes of the LGBTQ community.

Nineteen-seventies New York is famous for its mix of creativity, social action, upheaval, unrest, and change. Artists who filled the city were making work and constantly collaborating. Industries that had long been based in the city were slowly moving away. And this left behind enormous loft spaces that would become the homes and studios for artists.

It was in this climate that artist Gordon Matta-Clark chainsawed openings into the floor of an enormous warehouse on Pier 52 in the Hudson River, creating a work of art that he called Day’s End. The work was on the edge of the Meatpacking District—but at the time, there were fewer and fewer meat-packers who actually lived and worked in the area.

Another set of changes impacted the neighborhood as well. These had their roots in the nearby West Village, towards the end of the 1960s. That neighborhood had long been a place where members of the queer community socialized. But it wasn’t really a free or open environment.

[archival audio]

Police routinely arrested and fined queer people, leaving marks on their permanent records and often outing them to their families and their workplaces. In June of 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, arresting thirteen of the patrons. Over the next six days, lesbian, gay, and transgender protesters came together in resistance.

[archival audio]

In the wake of the Stonewall uprising, the fight for LBGTQ rights intensified, and there was a new sense of sexual freedom. By the time Matta-Clark started work on Day’s End, that freedom was finding expression in the Meatpacking District. Historian Andrew Berman.

Andrew Berman: There was this sudden, profound freedom that gay men had that they'd never had before, so there was definitely an explosion of sex in the neighborhood and the Meatpacking District was really an epicenter for that in a lot of ways.

Carrie Mae Weems: Photographer Efrain Gonzalez has been photographing queer culture in New York for decades.

Efrain Gonzalez: This was at a time where you could go in and discover your sexuality. That’s what I was doing in the Meatpacking. I was discovering my sexuality. When you live on Long Island and go to Catholic school, your sexuality is whatever they tell you it is. Then you come here, and you find men going into a hole in the wall, what’s in the hole in the wall, men having sex. And you begin to realize: I want to go into the hole in the wall; I want to go into the bar. You may be scared because you have no idea what’s going on. But you still have that desire, you still have that thing inside you that says, I want to go in that hole in the wall.

Carrie Mae Weems: Imagine for a moment: 1970s New York, particularly the West Side, where the city meets the Hudson River. Educator and Riverkeeper president, Paul Gallay.

Paul Gallay: The Greenwich Village waterfront was forsaken. It was littered with abandoned cars, the pier heads and the sheds were rotting and beginning to collapse into the Hudson.

Carrie Mae Weems: Critic Jonathan Weinberg.

Jonathan Weinberg: One of the things that happens at this point is that the West Side Highway, there’s this truck that shouldn’t have even been on the West Side Highway, and it creates this big hole.

Carrie Mae Weems: The former highway became a kind of wall between the piers and the city, so that you had to work hard to get to the water’s edge.

Jonathan Weinberg: A lot of times, ruins, dilapidated places exist on the edges of the city, you have to go out to them. What was extraordinary about this is that it was right in the center, right next to some of the richest real estate in the country.

Carrie Mae Weems: Historian Andrew Berman.

Andrew Berman: We have these incredible pictures of these pier structures that are sort of collapsing onto themselves, that are kind of empty. People are using them and they're sunbathing on them.

Jonathan Weinberg: There’s this sense that this is a place where the basic rules don’t apply, in which you can kind of escape from those rules—whether it means you can have a certain kind of sex, or you can be naked.

Carrie Mae Weems: NYU professor of media studies, Laura Harris.

Laura Harris: Where certain forms of sociality, certain forms of social and sexual encounter that were not otherwise accommodated by the city found a place, and found opportunity for expression.

Jonathan Weinberg: People talk about the piers as being abandoned: that’s the description, the “abandoned piers.” In many ways, they weren’t abandoned, they were being repurposed by artists. There was also homeless people lived there, there were sex workers, there were all kinds of activities that were going on in those places.

Laura Harris: That’s part of the backdrop for Matta-Clark’s practice, he attempted to intervene in some ways by opening up what he considered abandoned structures to new possibilities. Often they weren’t fully abandoned, as in the case of Day’s End where people were actively using that space. They were not considered legitimate users. Their uses were criminalized, but they were still actively using the space.

Carrie Mae Weems: BOMB magazine editor Betsy Sussler:

Betsy Sussler: I would go on exploratory walks through New York with Gordon Matta-Clark, because he would be deciding what he was going to film or if he was going to do a piece in that particular instance. And we were walking on the High Line and it, at the time, was a shanty town. It was a home for, mostly, homeless men. And I went, “Gosh, Gordon, should we be here?” And he said, “Just remember, they are more at risk than you are.”

Laura Harris: There is a danger that Matta-Clark mentions and others mentioned that there are muggers who take advantage of people who are not otherwise always in a position to immediately protect themselves. There is a lot of signage up, warning other people about muggers, taking care of one another, watching out for one another in the space.

Jonathan Weinberg: There was a gay guy who published a newsletter and also spray painted warnings on the walls of the buildings warning gay men not to go into them and that they would be mugged. I loved that sort of idea because he knew that the police, at that point, were not arresting gay men for trespassing, like they would have, but they didn't seem to care if they got killed, or something bad happened to them, or they were mugged.

Carrie Mae Weems: Activist Egyptt LaBeija was a star of the ballroom scenes on the piers.

Egyptt LaBeija: People that would come down here were targeted at times because of who they were. That’s why we never stayed alone, you always walked with someone. You kept in contact. If you’re going somewhere, you let someone know, this is where I’m going, especially at night time.

Andrew Berman: You sort of developed this kind of interesting parallel worlds there, which was the meat-packers who typically arrived at four o’clock in the morning and worked until about noon. The clubgoers and the bars that open in the late evening hours and often operated until the wee hours of the wee hours of the morning. And typically in the afternoon into the early evening, the streets of the neighborhood were pretty empty and deserted.

Efrain Gonzalez: The most dangerous thing were the dumpsters that were full of lard, rendered fat, that were leaking. And there’d be like a layer of lard on the sidewalk, dripping into the gutter. And imagine you’re wearing, like, your best leather, your finest domination gear, and you have to tippy-toe through this layer of slick lard, hoping and praying you don’t slip and fall down.

Carrie Mae Weems: The pier was a hangout spot both night and day: a place for cruising, reading, just spending time relaxing. By the early 1980s, artists like Peter Hujar, David Wojnarowicz, and Tava would become known for mixing sex and artmaking on the piers. But when Matta-Clark made Day’s End, Pier 52 wasn’t a place people would go looking for avant-garde sculpture.

Jonathan Weinberg: I had no idea that Matta-Clark actually had made this, now famous, site-specific work of art in the same place where so many gay men would go for anonymous sex or to sunbathe. The other thing about the work, which I think is so interesting, is how the work disappeared in an interesting way into the landscape that so many of the people who photographed it told me that they didn’t know that it was a work of art. They just thought it was part of the structure of the building. The Triumphal Arch that nobody knew was a Triumphal Arch. The photographer taking the picture without knowing what it is.

Carrie Mae Weems: Curator Tom Finkelpearl.

Tom Finkelpearl: I mean, I feel like works like Day’s End were not seen by many people. I’ve never met anybody who’s seen it. That’s not true. I met one person. But it was a gesture, and then sort of the friends got to know that it was happening. But it became legendary, it was a very photogenic work, because it was this intervention in this space.

Jonathan Weinberg: Matta-Clark talks about that in an interview, how he anticipates in any particular work that he does that it is going to change and disappear in some ways. Even as, usually, it’s a ruin that allows him to do the kind of cutting he’s going to do because, in a beautiful new house, they’re not going to allow Matta-Clark to come and split a beautiful new house. He had to find buildings that nobody wanted, or he thought nobody wanted, that he could do his thing to.

Carrie Mae Weems: Most people have only seen the work through photographs or films, including some beautiful, haunting ones taken by an artist named Alvin Baltrop. Here’s artist Glenn Ligon:

Glenn Ligon: I never saw Matta-Clark’s Day’s End, the pier piece. Never saw it in person. My understanding of it mostly is through Alvin Baltrop photographs, him taking photographs on that pier because that pier was a cruising site. And so I sort of learned about Matta-Clark through Baltrop, but also learned about what the West Side piers were through Baltrop. So those two things are kind of fused in my head.

Carrie Mae Weems: Alvin was a Navy veteran taking photographs in New York City, especially around the piers. One day, he was introduced to Randal Wilcox, who eventually became the trustee of the Alvin Baltrop Trust and knows work probably better than anyone else.

Randal Wilcox: After about ten minutes of looking through his work, I was just immediately stunned by it and by all the stories that he was telling me. And I said to myself, “Wait, this man is a genius. This stuff needs to be in a museum.” In a nutshell, I would say that he’s one of the most underrated photographers and visual artists of the last part of the twentieth century.

Carrie Mae Weems: Not everyone felt that way about Alvin’s work. These days, his work is revered. It’s shown in exhibition galleries around the world. But in the seventies, and for most of his lifetime Alvin was treated as an outsider—or worse. Here he is, speaking to Randal Wilcox, in a recording from 2000.

Alvin Baltrop: One woman said, “As I turn the pages of your portfolio, I can honestly say I’m afraid of your portfolio.” And I said, “why?” And she said, “Because I am afraid to see my husband or my son pop up in one of your photographs.” She said, “You must be a real sewer rat that you crawl around at night and photograph things like this. So I have to consider you a real sewer rat type of person and I don’t know if I like you.” I closed my book and walked out.

Carrie Mae Weems: Alvin grew up in the Bronx and had always been interested in capturing the parts of the city that people don’t often see, or maybe don’t look closely enough at. The piers seemed an ideal place for just that. It was, as Randal said, a place where “all of his interests converged.”

Randal Wilcox: There was nude, sex, crime scenes by other artists who worked at the piers. He would pack his van up with food, alcohol, some firearms, maybe a couple of joints and just spend like two or three days at the piers, and he would use his van as a place to sleep and change film and change clothes. He became really obsessed.

Carrie Mae Weems: The result is an incredible archive of images capturing something that very few people have. When it comes to Day’s End, Alvin captured it better than anyone.

Randal Wilcox: Pier 52 is obviously the famous pier that Gordon Matta-Clark converted into his installation Day’s End. Now, although Al photographed the Day’s End installation, specifically the cuts that Matta-Clark made into the various parts of the warehouse, he never mentioned Matta-Clark, so I don’t know if he actually knew that it was actually an artwork.

Jonathan Weinberg: A porn film made by Arch Brown, this director. There’s a scene, it takes place on the piers, and part of it takes place at Pier 52. There’s a moment where the camera pulls back and you see the great cut of the arch of Day’s End and these men are cruising in front of Matta-Clark’s work. It makes you realize that that’s how that work would have been seen in the day. It also, a few months later, sort of fell back into that, what he called, an S&M world, a gay world.

Carrie Mae Weems: Turns out many people did see Day’s End, they just didn’t know it was art. And there were all kinds of artists making work and taking photographs on Pier 52. And as fate would have it, any number of them experienced Day’s End, they just didn’t know they were looking at art.

Jonathan Weinberg: Baltrop probably aesthetically does some of the most beautiful photographs. There’s another photographer, Leonard Fink, who was a lawyer for the transit authority, of all things, but then on the weekends would go take photographs. The two pier photographers that I really have gotten to know really well are Shelley Seccombe, who is a professional photographer, takes wonderful colorful pictures. Then there’s this other wonderful man, who was just such a sweet man, named Frank Hallam. I don’t know if the word artist is the right word to use. He didn’t think of himself as an artist. He thought about what he was doing, he was taking slides because he thought this was a world that would disappear and it needed to be saved. Each photographer has their own thing.

Randal Wilcox: There’s a series of photographs of these two young men. Al said that they were kicked out of their homes for being gay. And he documented them talking to this other homeless person at the piers. He was a schizophrenic street performer. So in the photographs, the guy’s showing these two runaways where they can go, where they can stay, where they can use the bathroom, where they can wash themselves, so on and so forth. That’s one series of photographs. But I mean, there are just so many different little stories that go to various images. It’s one of the reasons why the collection is just so fascinating, because all of the little details that are attached to everything.

Jonathan Weinberg: One of the ways that I think of the piers is this sort of handing off. You have a kind of sexual promiscuity that’s happening with people literally having sex on the piers, but you also have an artistic promiscuity of passing on of one artist to another artist or different artists meeting in surprising ways.

Carrie Mae Weems: Pier 52 was a special place, but it wasn’t just the art that made this place come alive—it was the raw energy of the people. Alvin’s pictures depict an astonishing level of personal sexual freedom, and given fear and hostility towards homosexuals at the time, this is actually of particular importance. In these pictures, Pier 52 was a place where queer people can fully express themselves—sexually and otherwise.

Efrain Gonzalez: On the weekends it was full of men. You’d have guys just sitting there, cruising. You would have people bring some Chinese food and you would eat, or drink a beer, smoke a little something, watch the sunset. It was a great place just to sit and watch the sunset. And people would come in with little towels and they would put the towels down and they would sunbathe on these rotting wooden piers. At night people would just sit there and look at the stars, or cruise one another. You could sit on the pier all the way at the end, be all alone and look back and you could see the city all lit up at night. That was really nice.

Betsy Sussler: So we’re walking through. And we could see remnants of the night before, maybe some wine bottles, but then we go out onto the pier and the sun is shining and there are some lounge chairs and some umbrellas and you have this beautiful view of the Hudson River and people are sunning. It’s like, “Whoa, a lovely beach resort in New York City.”

Efrain Gonzalez: I loved going down on a Sunday afternoon. And one thing that I did was, I heard stories that they were going to tear down the piers, they were going to tear down the piers and I decided this will be my last chance. So I got a camera, some color film, and I went to the piers on a Sunday afternoon, during daylight. And I went in. And even during daylight you still had men wandering into these empty huge structures in daylight, wandering around, cruising. And I would photograph these people as they walked through the spaces. And as I was finishing up the roll of film, a guy came up to me on a bicycle. He was riding a bicycle inside the piers. He was naked. I have no idea where he kept his clothes. He was naked just riding the bicycle around.

Carrie Mae Weems: As the queer community in the area expanded into the Meatpacking District, gay bars and clubs began popping up all over the neighborhood, but there was one single person who actually owned much of the land . . .

Andrew Berman: A very eccentric guy named William or Bill Gottlieb who just bought up buildings throughout the Lower West Side of Manhattan and just kind of sat on them and did nothing with them, which, given the value of real estate in New York, is obviously quite unusual.

Efrain Gonzalez: Because of the empty spaces available due to the fact that William Gottleib did not upgrade the buildings, it became a natural magnet for all kinds of underground fetish clubs and bars. So the Mineshaft opened up, Velour, the Anvil, the Hell Fire Club, The Toilet. These were places, a lot of places just come and some would last for years.

Carrie Mae Weems: Author and historian Luc Sante.

Luc Sante: I remember going to a waterfront bar called Peter Rabbit and this would have been about 1973, and that’s when I learned about the code of bandanas and back pockets, for example. And it was bewildering. There were two possible pockets and like twenty color choices and between which pocket and which color, and also like maybe something about the droop in the hang of the bandana. It could mean like an encyclopedia of things. It was really pretty amazing.

Efrain Gonzalez: If you come from a place where your sexuality doesn’t exist, if you come from a place where your sexuality is considered abnormal and evil, you come here and you find out it’s perfectly normal, it’s ordinary. You could dress up, you could be Ernest Borgnine in a bad dress, and you could go to one of these clubs and they would say Geraldine, we haven’t seen you in weeks, come on down, we love you. And that was it. You were loved. Despite the fact that you were in a bad dress. We don’t care. You know, you tell great jokes, you’re a nice person, we love you.

Carrie Mae Weems: Filmmaker Elegance Bratton directed the 2019 film Pier Kids, a documentary about homeless queer and trans youth living on the pier.

Elegance Bratton: You know, when I was sixteen my mom kicked me out of the house for being gay. And I’m from New Jersey. So you know, I’ll never forget it, because I grew up kind of close to New York. So when you’re broke and you’re close to New York, you get on the train and you just go around New York City and you look at stuff. And so, that’s what I did when I got kicked out. And when I was on the train I saw these three Black gay men, or what I had assumed to be Black gay men, having the time of their lives, just like reading each other, like cutting up and you know being fierce and fabulous. I didn’t even know you could act that gay in public. So, I was like where are they going where they can be such blatant homosexuals? And they lead me to the pier. And you know, it was the first place I’d ever felt like home. I think home is where one is most deeply understood. And when I entered that space, people got me right away.

Egyptt LaBeija: Family. That’s the best way I can say it, family. Because it was one for all, all for one. If there was a problem with someone on the outside, we all would come and deal with it at the same time. We washed clothes together, we did everything together, because that’s all we had were each other. It wasn’t like you could go out and find someone to help you because there was no one there to help you.

Carrie Mae Weems: Activist Stefanie Rivera was a founding member of FIERCE, an organization that works to empower queer youth of color.

Stefanie Rivera: It was just jam packed with people, it didn’t matter if it was cold, there were always people, and it was, I want to say it was almost like an outdoor nightclub sometimes. There was a lot of people; you got a good socialization while just hanging out. It was very carefree. It was just very different. And you know you had an ability of being able to connect with a lot of people in this very organic way that was very different from today.

Egyptt LaBeija: Personally, it made me love me. I could put it like that. It made me love me for who I am. It made me realize that I am somebody, I’m just as important as anyone else. My life does matter because before you come down here and you didn’t realize, because, like I said, the way I grew up everything was very low key, you try to keep yourself isolated. That’s what I was, isolated. So when you got down here and I saw all of this stuff that I could only imagine in my brain that I would want to do, when I saw all of it, it was like, oh my god, this is a whole new world that I could actually get into. So yes, I’m going to jump in and I'm not coming out. And it’s been like that ever since.

Stefanie Rivera: They were the ones that really rallied for me, especially a lot of us, we don’t have a connection to our blood family. A lot of us are given a hard way to go once we step into our truth. And we go against the grain of what the family thinks is correct, then we have to kind of fend for ourselves, usually. It’s very rare that you have someone who’s supported by their family. It’s kind of slowly changing. But it’s not a thing. So for me, the impact that this community had was that they didn’t treat me like a throwaway. And they really gave me that second opportunity to be able to prove who I was as a person.

Egyptt LaBeija: People have to understand that there was a lot of history in this pier as far as the homelessness. And not just that, as far as the LGBT community is concerned, this is a safe haven for anyone to come to at any time whether you’re homeless, you could be rich and famous. If this is a place where you want to feel comfortable, this is where you come, where there’s no judgment.

Efrain Gonzalez: In the 1980s, AIDS was just beginning to break out and spread all over the place.

Carrie Mae Weems: Laura Harris.

Laura Harris: It was really not known at that point at all, looking back, one could say . . . That’s the whole part of what people mourn, when they talk about the devastation that AIDS produced was the loss of that opportunity to explore sexual life in these ways. That’s part of what AIDS really shut down in some ways because of the devastation that that community faced. I don’t think at the time, anyone had any inkling that that was coming.

Efrain Gonzalez: There was this overwhelming fear that you would meet somebody you wanted to have sex with but in the back of your head was always this fear. There was a tremendous fear in the background of AIDS and how it was basically killing the gay community. Every week you would hear somebody passed away or you lost somebody here. I remember artists that I used to admire. I used to go see their shows. Well, they died. So one by one you began losing people in the community. And so it had an effect, but in the back of your head was always this fear of AIDS.

Egyptt LaBeija: It was horrible to see. You know, you could see somebody today and in two weeks they’re dead, or they’re in hospital and they’re withering away. Because they didn’t have all the medications that they have today. So like every week, there was someone new dying. You were hearing, so and so passed away. So and so got . . . died.

Efrain Gonzalez: Now what happened was a lot of places, the Mineshaft shutdown, the Anvil was shut down, a bunch of others around the city were shut down. The Hell Fire, Frank and Lenny of the Hell Fire saw what was going on, and actually they shut themselves down. They shutdown the Hell Fire, boarded it up, and began renovating it. Took out the gloryholes, the back rooms, the sex places. When they reopened about three months later they had a new name, The Vault. And they had a policy, no sex. You can spank, jerk somebody off, but you could not have sex, even if you were married. You could not have sex. By doing so, they managed to stay open and not be shut down by the city.

Egyptt LaBeija: That is a very touchy subject for me because that whole AIDS epidemic, I lived through it and I’m still here. And a lot of people say, how is it that you are still here, there are so many . . . I can’t explain that part. I am still here. I’m still negative.

Carrie Mae Weems: Elegance Bratton.

Elegance Bratton: There’s this really great essay by Robert Sember. It’s called, I think, “Vanishing Disappearance in the age of AIDS,” something like that. And in the essay he speaks about the old structures of the pier, the piers themselves, the kind of run-down wooden structures and argues that the gay political identity was formed through public sex in those spaces.

Andrew Berman: There’s so many lessons from the past that it’s important to learn, both in terms of things that we want to hold onto that too easily can be lost or forgotten, as well as things that have dramatically changed that we’re grateful for how much they’ve changed. But, we want to make sure that we don't take for granted that where we're at now is the way things will always be or always were and that often involves a firm rooting in and understanding of our history and past and what it looked like.

Efrain Gonzalez: It sort of breaks your heart. When I look at certain photographs I begin to count who’s dead, who’s dead, who’s dead. I’m beginning to find a lot of friends who are gone. Other people are moving on. They’re going to different cultures, they’ve left the city. Everything changes. You have to accept that life changes everything. And, yeah, it was great back then, but it was also difficult back then. You have to move on. I mean the internet changed everything. Think of it in this way: in 1980, if you wanted to find one of these clubs, you had to get into a car, drive down here, or take a taxi down here, get out, walk down these streets, trying to find the address, and then walk down the staircase or try to walk in through the door of these places. And once you’re inside, you’re amongst a whole bunch of people. You can smell them, you can hear them. You know . . . and it’s a human touch to it. That’s I think what made the sexuality of the time so interesting. It was a human touch because you had to be in contact with these people. You’re not just a face on a screen. You’re not just a friend on Facebook. You had to be there.

Carrie Mae Weems: When the piers went down, things shifted both for the community that frequented them and the Meatpacking District itself. Several things continued to contribute to the changes there. One of them is that the major landowner, William Gottlieb, died.

Andrew Berman: He died without a will and so there was suddenly this tremendous concern and speculation about what would happen to all of these properties that he owned in the Meatpacking District that had been kind of allowed to just sort of stay as they were and not be developed like so much around it now that he was no longer there to be this kind of a unintended preservationist. In fact, since he died and the legal issues around his estate have been resolved a lot of those properties have since been developed, which is one of the reasons why in the last twenty years there’s been such a dramatic change in the Meatpacking District.

Efrain Gonzalez: Energy changes. A while ago, some friends of mine were going to a party, they were all dressed up in fetishware. They’re walking down the Westside Highway, when a bunch of mothers began to attack them. They didn’t want disreputable people on their block.

Carrie Mae Weems: The queer life of Pier 52 wasn’t David Hammons’s focus when he sent the idea for his Day’s End to the Whitney Museum. But a public sculpture always draws some of its meaning from the site where it’s located.

Elegance Bratton: The skeleton structure that David Hammons is building invokes that memory for me. When I see the skeleton of that, I’m just grateful that that’s not going to be lost, that people will be able to walk by these skeletons and ask themselves, why is this here? And from that question they will discover people who have laid down their lives to create the freedoms that they enjoy today.

Carrie Mae Weems: Catherine Seavitt.

Catherine Seavitt: I think the sculpture offers this opportunity to capture the imagination and to kind of burn its way into the brain like those other things that are gone. And to always be present. I think it’s a very kind of magical piece in that it’s both permanent but gone, and it’s remembering something that’s no longer there. And it, too, is also of another time.

Elegance Bratton: It’s evocative without being literal, which is important, I think. It creates space for people to imagine it into something new, and hopefully, it will inspire people to look for more ways to claim public space. I feel like he’s reclaimed this space for all those people who died of AIDS and who fell in the water, who you know, for whatever reason were not able to kind of see the result of the risk that they were taking. Now it’s there. I think it’s really, really profound and gorgeous.

Catherine Seavitt: You can never get them back, but you still sort of have them. So, maybe that’s a good way to think about ephemerals as a thing. And you’ll never get it back, but you also always have it, so there’s something perhaps in the piece that that evokes.

Carrie Mae Weems: Stefanie Rivera.

Stefanie Rivera: What of the community remains? I would probably say the cobblestone streets. That’s about it. I mean it’s sad. It’s like, if I had to describe what this neighborhood was versus now, it’s like night and day. You have the big Gansevoort Hotel where a parking lot used to be. Where the Sephora used to be, it was just abandoned, like a dilapidated building. The fancy restaurant across the street from there was this BDSM club.

But it’s changed a lot, especially as far as when you look over to the piers. You don’t see the crowds that used to come out here. It was heavily Black, Latinx and the thing was that, like before you could get from 7th Avenue all the way down to the Westside Highway, it would take you a while to get there because you were constantly getting stopped. If you knew people and, you know, it was always that kind of vibe. You also had a lot of establishments that were all up and down Christopher Street that were primarily for us that kind of vanished. You also had sex shops, those are gone. So it’s very posh in comparison to what it used to be.

Efrain Gonzalez: It’s the way things are. You know, life changes everything. So, yes we had a wonderful time here. And that time is gone. You move onto that next wonderful time.

Carrie Mae Weems: You have been listening to Artists Among Us, a podcast from the Whitney Museum of American Art. I’m Carrie Mae Weems.

In the next episode of this five-part series, we will look at how radically the coastline has changed in this part of Manhattan.

Paul Gallay: Close your eyes and imagine Manhattan four hundred years ago.

Narrator: To learn more about the stories you’ve heard here, visit whitney.org/podcast. You’ll also find Artists Among Us wherever you get your podcasts. And if you’ve enjoyed listening, please rate this show.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this podcast: Luc Sante, Catherine Seavitt, Betsy Sussler, Laura Harris, Jonathan Weinberg, Paul Gallay, Glenn Ligon, Andrew Berman, Efrain Gonzalez, Tom Finkelpearl, Randal Wilcox, Egyptt LaBeija, Stefanie Rivera, and Elegance Bratton. Special thanks to Elle Necoechea, Sofia Ortega-Guerrero, Aliza Sena, Jackie Foster, and Helena Guzik.

Original music for Artists Among Us and Day’s End was created by Daniel Carter and his collaborators.

This podcast was produced by SOUND MADE PUBLIC, with Tania Ketenjian, Katie McCutcheon, Jeremiah Moore, Mawuena Tendar, and Philip Wood. It was produced in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art, including Anne Byrd and Emma Quaytman.