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Artists Among Us

The Whitney Museum of American Art presents Artists Among Us, a podcast about American art and culture. In keeping with the Whitney’s mission, collection, and programming, Artists Among Us is our newest mode of storytelling by which we consider the complexities and contradictions that have culminated in the United States we experience today.

Season: Day’s End

We consider the American artist David Hammons and his new sculpture, Day’s End (2014–21). This is a monumental, permanent public installation that pays tribute to a long-destroyed 1975 artwork of the same name by the artist Gordon Matta-Clark. Anchored on the banks of Manhattan’s West Side and stretching into the Hudson River, Hammons’s Day’s End is sited next to the Museum and occupies the precise location where Matta-Clark’s work once stood. We follow the evolution of the Manhattan coastline through the history of the Meatpacking District, and celebrate the communities that have shaped the neighborhood where the Whitney now stands.

Hosted by Carrie Mae Weems.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or via RSS.


This Is Artists Among Us: Day’s End
Trailer

The Whitney Museum of American Art presents Artists Among Us, a podcast about American art and culture. In keeping with the Whitney’s mission, collection, and programming, Artists Among Us considers the complexities and contradictions that have shaped the United States we experience today.

Released May 3, 2021

In order of appearance: Kellie Jones, Glenn Ligon, Curtis Zunigha, John Jobaggy, Efrain Gonzalez, Catherine Seavitt

Trailer - This Is Artists Among Us: Day's End

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Trailer - This Is Artists Among Us: Day's End

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Kellie Jones: Hammons makes us think about what was there, not just last week, not just ten years ago, but generations ago, before New York.

Carrie Mae Weems: In the Hudson River, on the West side of Manhattan, resides a new, permanent sculpture. It’s called Day’s End, and it’s by the artist David Hammons. Day’s End is a nod to another sculpture, by the same name, that was on this very same spot, forty-five years earlier.

Glenn Ligon: He's creating something that nobody would think David Hammons would create. It's about something that's kind of ghostly, that exists and does not exist at the same time, that riffs on something that riffs on something else.

Carrie Mae Weems: Welcome to Artists Among Us, a podcast from the Whitney Museum of American Art that reimagines American art and history. I am Carrie Mae Weems. And in this season, we’ll be looking at the history of this ever-changing location, inspired by Day’s End

We’ll look at the Indigenous people that lived here,

Curtis Zunigha: Some of the stories that I share about our history have to start with creation and lifeways that went on for several thousands of years on this very land.

Carrie Mae Weems: To the people who worked here later,

John Jobaggy: These were farm kids who came to America—poor kids, like my grandfather—to make a better living for themselves. They weren't coming to New York to be meat packers, to be butchers.

Carrie Mae Weems: To the underground communities that made it their home,

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.

Carrie Mae Weems: Please join us as we explore this fascinating and complex view of the city as it’s framed by Day’s End.

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.

Carrie Mae Weems: Artists Among Us drops in the Spring. You’ll find it everywhere you get your podcasts.


The Dawn of Day’s End
Episode 1

“David’s work isn’t always about what you see or even what you notice. Often, it’s about what’s invisible but right in front of you.”
— Carrie Mae Weems

Our inaugural episode introduces David Hammons’s Day’s End (2014–21). As we discuss the project’s origins and site-specific nature, the layered social and cultural histories of the site begin to unfold.

Released May 14, 2021 

In order of appearance: Bill T. Jones, Glenn Ligon, Adam Weinberg, Tom Finkelpearl, Kellie Jones, Luc Sante, Guy Nordenson, Catherine Seavitt, Betsy Sussler

Gordon Matta-Clark, Days End Pier 52.1 (Documentation of the action "Day's End" made in 1975 in New York, United States), 1975, printed 1977. Gelatin silver print, sheet: 8 × 10 in. (20.3 × 25.4 cm) Image: 7 9/16 × 9 7/16 in. (19.2 × 24 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Harold Berg 2017.132. © Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

David Hammons, Day's End, 2014. Graphite on paper, sheet: 8 1/2 × 11 in. (21.6 × 27.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the artist 2021.11

Dawoud Bey, David Hammons, Bliz-aard Ball Sale I, 1983, printed 2019. Inkjet print mounted on Dibond, sheet: 33 × 44 in. (83.8 × 111.8 cm) Image: 40 1/16 × 29 3/16 in. (101.8 × 74.1 cm) Mount: 33 × 44 × 1/8 in. (83.8 × 111.8 × 0.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Jack E. Chachkes Endowed Purchase Fund 2020.31. © Dawoud Bey

David Hammons: Rousing the Rubble, 1969–1990. Exhibition website, MoMA PS1, New York (Dec. 16, 1990–Feb. 10, 1991).

David Hammons: Higher Goals. Exhibition website, Public Art Fund.

Randy Kenny. "Making Doors: Linda Goode Bryant in Conversation with Senga Nengudi." Ursula 1 (2018).

Max Lakin. "When Dawoud Bey Met David Hammons." New York Times, May 1, 2019.

"Episode 360: Dawoud Bey." Bad at Sports. Podcast audio, July 23, 2013.

Episode 1 - The Dawn of Day’s End

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Episode 1 - The Dawn of Day’s End

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Carrie Mae Weems: In 1975, an artist determined to make something new went to a warehouse building on Pier 52 on the Hudson River in the Meatpacking District. That artist was Gordon Matta-Clark.

He went in with a ladder and chain saw and cut a trench into the floor of the warehouse.  He also carved a massive new-moon shape into the building’s end wall. This flooded the space with light, resulting in a work of art unlike any other. Gordon called it Day’s End.

At the time, the piers were a gathering place for the queer community of New York, and images of the time show men sunbathing naked, reading books, having sex there. Historically, the piers had been a place of commerce. Now they were on the brink of collapse, waiting for a bankrupt city to demolish them. And within a few years, many of them were torn down, including Pier 52, and Day’s End disappeared.

By 2015—four decades later—just like everything else around it, the Meatpacking District had changed dramatically. Surprisingly, it now had even a new museum: the Whitney Museum of American Art. As the Whitney was putting the finishing touches on its own new building, the artist David Hammons came for a visit. Talking with Adam Weinberg, the Museum’s Director, David was looking out the window as Adam pointed out the spot where Day’s End once stood. A few days later, a sketch arrived in the mail, a simple outline of the building that once stood there, at Pier 52.

That small, simple, elegant sketch has been turned into a massive but delicate sculpture by David Hammons. It emerges out of the Hudson, on the very spot where the original Day’s End once stood, and it’s also called Day’s End.

Bill T. Jones: I think he's a champion for something about what I call the world of ideas. I have been known to say artmaking is participation in the world of ideas. Or art does for me what religion traditionally did. It organizes a seemingly chaotic universe.

Glenn Ligon: He's creating something that nobody would think David Hammons would create. But still, it's so much about David's work because it's about this kind of ephemerality. It's about something that's kind of ghostly, that exists and does not exist at the same time, that riffs on something that riffs on something else, a pier that was here that's not here anymore.

Carrie Mae Weems: Choreographer Bill T. Jones and artist Glenn Ligon have long admired David’s work.

Adam Weinberg: It's a building without doors, without windows, without walls, without ceiling, without floor.

Carrie Mae Weems: Whitney Museum Director Adam Weinberg.

Adam Weinberg: So it's not a building. It's sort of like a drawing because it's a drawing in space, but yet, it's not physically a drawing. It's a sculpture. And I see it also as a container that contains nothing and a container that contains everything. It's . . . you look through it, you see the city, you see the water, you see the light, you see the air.

Carrie Mae Weems: What you don’t see—at least not immediately—is history. But the place where Day’s End now stands has a varied and rich history that, together, we’ll explore.

I’d like to welcome you to Artists Among Us, a podcast from the Whitney Museum of American Art that reimagines American art and history. I’m Carrie Mae Weems, an artist, and over the years, I’ve given a great deal of thought to history and the way in which art can make the invisible visible. I’m also a great admirer of David Hammons. And I’m looking forward to exploring the fascinating ways that his sculpture invites us to reflect on the past of this site—who lived there, who worked there, and then, how it all changed.

If you haven’t heard David’s name before, that’s probably at least in part because he wants it that way. He prefers speaking more through his work than through his words. But his work has a lot to say about social conditions and the structures that constrain us. At the same time, the work is imbued with a profound sense of spirit, magic, and wonder.

David’s work isn’t always about what you see or even what you notice. Often, it’s about what’s invisible but right in front of you.

Tom Finkelpearl: One time, David called me up, and he said, “I’ve done a project at 14th Street Subway Station. Just go over there. You’re going to figure out what it is.”

Carrie Mae Weems: Tom Finkelpearl curated an exhibition of David’s work at PS1 in Queens in 1990. 

Tom Finkelpearl: And so, I went there, and I walked through. It was a construction site. And I looked, and I said, "Oh, this is it," this kind of weird shack. And then I was like, "Enh?" And then I walked all the way to the end of the platform, and there was this stack of metal garbage cans, perfectly stacked, and that was it.

And so, I called David back afterwards, and I said, "That was it, right?" And he said, "Of course, that was it," right? And it wasn't . . . he hadn't done anything. He had just sort of intervened in the city, to get people to go to the place and look at this thing.

Glenn Ligon: David's made work out of helium balloons. David's made work by putting a fax machine in the gallery. David's sold snowballs on the street. David makes paintings. David makes sculptures. David makes interventions and books.

Carrie Mae Weems: Again, Glenn Ligon.

Glenn Ligon: All of that gives you this possibility that anything you think of fits into one's practice. So I often say that I'm a painter. But really, what I want to do is make lots of different kinds of things. And David is kind of the artist that gives me a kind of permission to do that. 

Carrie Mae Weems: The permission that Glenn is talking about is not only important to us makers. It’s also important to the viewer. It offers the viewer a chance to see the many different things that can be art. David has been making work publicly for decades. It’s never been about decorating a site. It’s really about engaging the city—sometimes channeling its energy and sometimes resisting it. 

Glenn Ligon: I lived in downtown Brooklyn, I think in the mid-eighties. And I lived near the big post office in downtown Brooklyn. And for weeks on end, I would see this guy out in the park in front of that post office nailing bottle caps onto this giant telephone pole. And I just thought, "What is this?" And then when the giant telephone pole was stood up, I realized, oh, it's an artwork. And that guy was David Hammons, and he was making this piece I think called Higher Goals.

In Higher Goals, Hammons transformed forty-foot telephone poles into basketball hoops, making the nets impossibly high and out of reach.

Glenn Ligon: In retrospect, I think what was amazing about that is he did it outside. He didn't do it in the studio and then bring it somewhere. It was important for him to do it on-site, and that's what he did.

And so that kind of idea that you make your work in public was quite extraordinary, I think. And it's sort of demystified by seeing that making happen. So literally, I saw him doing stuff on telephone poles in the park, and I didn't think he was an artist. I just thought, this is some crazy guy tapping the tops of beer bottles . . . beer bottle caps into telephone poles for weeks on end. And then it's like, "Oh, art." But I loved that, that line between crazy guy and art was very porous. But also, I think he's one of those artists that really takes his clues from the street, or from the environment.

Kellie Jones: In that time, people were still fighting to be seen, because even some of these so-called alternative spaces in downtown New York were not showing the work of Black people, people of color, et cetera.

Carrie Mae Weems: Making work in the streets meant David could claim the opportunities he saw without waiting for an invitation from a museum or a gallery. He did, of course, have some exhibitions, especially in a gallery called Just Above Midtown. But at the same time, he preferred working in the streets, in places like vacant lots, basketball courts, parks, and on street corners. And as opposed to buying materials, he preferred found objects: gum wrappers, chicken bones, wine bottles, bottle caps, and even snow. David’s move to the street was a critical gesture—a rejection of the mainstream art world and all of its traditions. But beyond that, it also expanded his audience to include anyone who happened to be passing by. One of the beautiful things about David is that he offers the audience the richness of an art experience, whether they know they’re looking at art or not. I think he’s a master. Kellie Jones is an art historian who’s been friends with David since the early eighties.

Kellie Jones: He's using telephone poles and decorating them with patterns made from bottle caps, in '86. But these are also related to something that is really kind of . . . not into street work or types of works, but something called “Bottle Trees” that he does, where he upends bottles, liquor bottles, cheap liquor bottles, that are strewn around in the urban space, and upends them on trees, just in abandoned lots and so on.

You don't have to go to a gallery to see this. It's something unknown, but you look at it, and you say, "What's going on there?" And it makes you stop and think.

Carrie Mae Weems: Hammons once guessed that he spent about eighty-five percent of his time out on the streets. He said, “When I go to the studio, I expect to regurgitate these experiences of the streets, of all the social things I see—the social conditions of racism. It comes out of me like sweat."

Take Higher Goals, the sculpture that Glenn Ligon unwittingly observed Hammons making. With its mosaic of bottle caps, it’s a funky but beautiful, masterful piece. At the same time, the basketball hoops forty feet off the ground suggest futility and frustrated hopes.

David made the work in 1986. That same year, Spike Lee’s character Mars Blackmon debuted his beloved Air Jordans, and Run-DMC rapped an ode to Adidas Superstars. It was a big moment for advertisers hoping to use dreams of basketball stardom to make young Black men into high-end consumers. But David did more than simply critique the situation. With David, nothing is ever really that simple. Instead, Higher Goals both embodies frustrated hopes and offers up a tremendous amount of visual appeal. You didn’t have to choose. You could live with both the good and the bad at the same time.

Kellie Jones: He's always about the kind of . . . the social connection with humanity in these works. So it could be transactional, where you're selling people snowballs, or little baby shoes, which he also did in the eighties.

Carrie Mae Weems: Kellie’s talking about David’s great work Bliz-aard Ball Sale.

Adam Weinberg: It snowed. And in a way, maybe a snowball or a snowman is maybe the first act of sculpture that any kid who grows up in the snow makes. It's the first time you actually fashion something in 3-D. What is the simplest version of that? A ball. So here he is, he's making snowballs. 

Carrie Mae Weems: Imagine several dozen balls—snowballs—lying on the ground, arranged in varying sizes from small, medium, and large, laid out on a North African blanket, set up on a street corner in Cooper Square in the East Village. This is where any number of street vendors informally came to sell all kinds of things. And then Hammons once guessed that he was inspired to go there by a man who was selling about thirty sets of false teeth.

Luc Sante: It's one of the great regrets of my life that I did not happen to walk [by], and I walked in front of Cooper Union four times a day for years.

Carrie Mae Weems: Luc Sante is an author and professor who grew up in New York. 

Luc Sante: And somehow, I missed the day he was selling snowballs. I'll never forgive myself. But reconfiguring things you're familiar with . . . I mean, he does that.

Kellie Jones: He's fascinated with the evanescent, with the ephemeral . . . and the tension between all of those things. And it's also fun. Part of his work is, like I said, the social engagement. Art doesn't have to be so serious. Let's have fun with it. And people buy a lot of crazy things.

Carrie Mae Weems: Including—and this was probably not beside the point—art.

Kellie Jones: Why not buy a snowball that's perfect, made with a melon baller or whatever you're going to use . . . an ice cream scoop, make [a] perfect snowball? People will spend a buck on that, or whatever, ten dollars, if they have money. So it's also, there's ways that it deals with commerce, the kind of, "I'm going to sell you this and make money on ephemerality, but I'm also going to have fun with this."

Adam Weinberg: So much of his works are found objects. So many of his works are about hiding, about covering, about what I call hiding in plain sight, you know. I mean things that you can see, but you can't see. There're many mirrors in his work, which are about everything and nothing. I mean, you see everything in it, and whatever you're seeing is constantly changing.

Glenn Ligon: Hammons once said the less he does as an artist, the more artist he is. And so that statement, outside of whatever he's made, has been important. I think about that when I'm making my work. What's the least I can do?

Kellie Jones: It's not just the type of objects he makes because he makes all these different things that for all intents and purposes are just like little junky things, frankly: bottles that are discarded, hair that's discarded . . . things that are just found in everyday that you would just not pay attention to. But he understands how those things relate to our social life and being and how we'll recognize that in them, if he does certain things to them. If I was going to say anything about Hammons it is that he really knows humanity, the social human spirit, and is able to reflect that and talk to us through these works in a way that astounds us, amazes us, makes us laugh, makes us just be very thoughtful and meditative. But that he's able to really connect with us on things that are in our everyday life and make them really sing out with something that's just extra special.

Carrie Mae Weems: With its sleek, stainless steel frame, Day’s End may appear to be different from the improvisational work that David made on the streets. But it shares the same spirit that Kellie describes.

So this is the story: David was visiting Adam at the Museum before the Museum opened. They were talking about where Gordon Matta-Clark’s Day’s End once stood.

Adam Weinberg: I noticed he was paying attention to that but didn't think anything about it. And that's, I think, one of the interesting things about David. It's like . . . you might be saying something very casual, and he's taking it a completely different way. And the things that you think you're telling him you think is what he's paying attention to, but actually, he's paying attention to the things that you're not paying attention to.

Carrie Mae Weems: The building that Gordon used to make the original Day’s End was enormous, huge, about the size of a football field. The new-moon shape that he carved into the building’s western wall let in a stream of light, which moved dramatically around the vast warehouse as the sun began to set. This gave the work its name—Day’s End—and its reason for being. When Adam pointed out the site to David on their tour of the new Museum, all of this was ancient history. The warehouse had been demolished in 1979.

Adam Weinberg: So it never would have occurred to us that when we were talking about Gordon Matta-Clark's piece being out there in the water that, within a short time, he would send this little sketch out of the blue to us without any note on it.

Carrie Mae Weems: A few days later, a sketch arrived in the mail from David . . .

Adam Weinberg: I had no idea what he was intending. I didn't think much about it. We put it aside because we were focused on getting the new building open. Then some weeks later, when I looked at the sketch again, I thought maybe this was a message in the bottle and that David was, in his own way, saying something to us, challenging us, enticing us, teasing us, making fun of us.

Carrie Mae Weems: Adam invited David back, and the sketch developed into an idea and, after five years, a work of public sculpture.

Adam Weinberg: He originally called it a monument to Gordon Matta-Clark because he wanted it to be identified so specifically with Gordon Matta-Clark. I asked him in a meeting years ago, "Is it a monument?" I said, "It's really sort of an anti-monument in a way." And then he said to me, "What did Gordon call the piece?" And I said, "Day's End." And he said, "A great tailor makes the fewest cuts. We will call it Day's End."

Carrie Mae Weems: Like the sketch, Day’s End is an outline of what was once. It’s like a spirit or a ghost, something that’s there or not there.

Guy Nordenson: In terms of the structure, it seemed pretty clear actually from David Hammons's sketch what it would be. There were details that evolved over time, but I was excited about the potential for it being quite thin, in the spirit of what the sketch showed, and what that would mean structurally, how that could be done.

Carrie Mae Weems: That’s Guy Nordenson. He’s a structural engineer who has helped artists and architects realize their visions.

Guy Nordenson: When you build a structure like a bridge or this sculpture, then you're out in the elements. Then of course, the corrosion is a big deal. You're out in the salt water. That took a while before we arrived at what we all wanted to use. We landed on a really advanced kind of stainless steel which has a great name, Super-Duplex, which is highly corrosion-resistant and also happens to be very strong and very ductile.

Catherine Seavitt: The thing should appear seamless, so it can be this ephemeral, ghost-like piece. I think that's really been the goal. And the challenge of the work in many ways is how to make it appear almost magical. That it just arrived there and it was effortless.

Carrie Mae Weems: Catherine Seavitt is an architect. She’s been working with Guy to overcome the challenges of building a permanent sculpture in the Hudson, a dynamic, ever-changing tidal river.

Catherine Seavitt: And I think that's kind of what's joyful about some things. They're mysterious. You don't understand how it could be made. But you know, anyone will know, like that must have been a lot of work. But there's a kind of moment when you dust yourself off and you're like, "Oh, it was nothing.”

Kellie Jones: If you're just having the kind of framework of a building that no longer exists, there's a way that it also engages our own imaginations to fill that space, to think about that space, and to really kind of meditate on what's there and what's not there. It's really about meditating on that absence, on that invisibility. Is it an invisibility of people, of housing? Of certainly thinking about Native American sovereignty in those spaces that may not be thought about. That kind of empty framework makes us think about what was there, not just last week, not just ten years ago, but generations ago, before New York.

Glenn Ligon: I think the relationship between David's project and Gordon Matta-Clark is because Gordon Matta-Clark was taking existing sites and transforming them, so that's very much David, too, taking some preexisting thing and working with it, transforming it. But in terms of his, David's project here, what I like about it is you're not exactly sure what he's transforming. Is it the Gordon Matta-Clark piece? Or is it the pier itself as a structure? Or is it both? In New York City, you have this notion of what the piers were, what the West Side Highway was, and the sort of life around the piers.

Adam Weinberg: We live in our memories as much as we live in our life. The way we are with other people is based on our memories of those people, whether the memories are accurate or not. So the memories are alive and objects out in the world, whether we can physically see them there now or not, are part of the subconscious of the culture. We act based on those memories out in the world and in the landscape. I think art functions that way, functions as a mnemonic device that is constantly a reminder.

Luc Sante: Well, an homage is an acknowledgement, an acknowledgement of the past, an acknowledgement of the fact that you were not sprung forth from the forehead of Zeus, an acknowledgement that you stand on ground that's been previously trodden. Any writer, any artist, and any painter, any sculptor, any photographer, at this point, has to acknowledge that their work is only made possible by the work of people who have gone by previously. So an homage is tipping your hat, tipping your hat and holding it over your heart. It's an acknowledgement. What can I say? It's a thank you note across time.

Carrie Mae Weems: Over the next four episodes, we’ll dive deeper into what Luc Sante so eloquently refers to as the ground that has been previously trodden. In our next episode, we will go back to the seventies, to the original Day’s End, and to a very different New York City. 

Betsy Sussler: You would have walked into this dark, empty, musty, funky, smarmy place, site that had, you knew, all the potential in the world. I mean, here it was utterly abandoned on the shore of the Hudson in the West Village, which at the time was a huge gay scene. And gone, "Whoa." I mean, this is vast, and there's something very profound happening there because there's this darkness, but beams of light are coming through little crevices.


Thank you for joining us for the first episode of this five-part series of Artists Among Us, a podcast from the Whitney Museum of American Art.

To learn more about the voices you have heard here, please visit whitney.org/podcast. You’ll also find Artists Among Us wherever you get your podcasts. If you’ve enjoyed listening, please rate the show and share it with your friends.

The Whitney is located in Lenapehoking, the ancestral homeland of the Lenape. The Whitney acknowledges the displacement of this region's original inhabitants and the Lenape diaspora that exists today as an ongoing consequence of settler colonialism.

Special thanks to the artist, David Hammons, whose vision made this project possible. 

Thank you to the City of New York, The Keith Haring Foundation, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund and Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust, and the many donors for their generous support to realize David Hammons, Day’s End, and a special thanks to the Joan Ganz Cooney and Holly Peterson Foundation and The Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation for their support towards the creation of this podcast, Artists Among Us.

Thank you to our host, Carrie Mae Weems.

Additional thanks to our many podcast contributors: Adam Weinberg, Glenn Ligon, Luc Sante, Bill T. Jones, Catherine Seavitt, Guy Nordenson, Tom Finkelpearl, and Kellie Jones. Special thanks to Kyle Croft, Alex Fiahlo, George Cominske, Jonathan Kuhn, Gina Morrow, Elle Necoechea, Sofia Ortega-Guerrero, Aliza Sena, Kathryn Potts, Stephen Vider, Sasha Wortzel, and Liza Zapol.

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, by Anne Byrd, Jackie Foster, and Emma Quaytman.


A Cathedral of Light on the Hudson River
Episode 2

“He went in with the chainsaws and his block and tackle and proceeded to cut it up. And what was most alarming to New York state authorities was that he’d actually cut the pier away from the mainland, so it was there, sort of floating, in the water.”
— Jane Crawford

How did the artist Gordon Matta-Clark transform a dilapidated shipping pier into a “cathedral of light”? In this episode, we trace the decline of Manhattan’s formerly flourishing meat markets and waterfront industries. Amid the decay, Matta-Clark spotted the potential for beauty.

Released May 21, 2021

In order of appearance: Betsy Sussler, Jonathan Weinberg, Jane Crawford, Andrew Berman, Tom Finkelpearl, Adam Weinberg, Laura Harris, Florent Morellet, Catherine Seavitt, Glenn Ligon, Jessamyn Fiore, John Jobaggy, Alan Michelson, George Stonefish, Curtis Zunigha, Eric Sanderson, Luc Sante

Around Day’s End: Downtown New York, 1970–1986. Exhibition website, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (Sept. 3–Nov. 1, 2020).

Taylor Dafoe. “What Is ‘Post-Stonewall Art’? Historian and Artist Jonathan Weinberg Breaks Down the Themes That Define the Era.Artnet News, June 25, 2019.

Kyle Croft. “Cruising the Archive: Jonathan Weinberg on the History of the Piers.Art in America, June 13, 2019.

Alan Michelson: Wolf Nation. Exhibition website, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (Oct. 25, 2019–Jan. 12, 2020).

Manna-hatta Fund in partnership with American Indian Community House. “History.” mannahattafund.org.

Jim Dwyer. “The Sounds of ‘Mannahatta’ in Your Ear.New York Times, Apr. 25, 2017.

Elizabeth Kray. “Walking Tour: Herman Melville's Downtown New York City.” poets.org.

Silky Love.RadioLab. Podcast audio, Sept. 27, 2019.

#296 Talking Trash: The NYC Department of Sanitation.The Bowery Boys: New York City History. Podcast audio, Aug. 8, 2019.

#180 The Chelsea Piers and the Age of the Ocean Liner.The Bowery Boys: New York City History. Podcast audio, Apr. 16, 2015.

Biographer Robert Caro.Fresh Air. Podcast audio, Mar. 6, 2020.

Episode 2 - A Cathedral of Light on the Hudson River

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Episode 2 - A Cathedral of Light on the Hudson River

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Carrie Mae Weems: A public sculpture by the artist David Hammons, called Day’s End, has been permanently installed in the Hudson River. The construction was a collaboration with the Whitney Museum, and the work now belongs to the city of New York. But if you ask David, he’ll graciously tell you that, actually, the sculpture belongs to Gordon Matta-Clark.

Gordon Matta-Clark is the artist who built the original Day’s End on the same spot—Pier 52, on the edge of the Meatpacking District—nearly half a century earlier.

Betsy Sussler: You would have walked into this dark, empty, musty, funky, smarmy place, site that had, you knew, all the potential in the world.

Carrie Mae Weems: Bomb magazine editor Betsy Sussler was with Gordon as he scouted the pier before starting work on the original Day’s End.

Betsy Sussler: I mean, here it was utterly abandoned on the shore of the Hudson in the West Village, which at the time was a huge, gay scene. And gone, “Whoa.” I mean, this is vast, and there’s something very profound happening there because there’s this darkness, but beams of light are coming through little crevices. And Gordon, I think, was drawn to those beams of light.

Carrie Mae Weems: Gordon was an artist, like David Hammons, who used the city as source material. In his best-known work, he transformed buildings with a chainsaw that he used to cut into them. Once, he split an abandoned house in half, cracking open its domestic interior. For Gordon, cutting into the building wasn’t about destroying it but rather re-creating it and encouraging the public to experience them as sculpture. In the case of Day’s End, the work was on a grand scale.

Jonathan Weinberg: Kind of like a hangar space.

Carrie Mae Weems: Artist and art historian Jonathan Weinberg.

Jonathan Weinberg: Imagine a Costco that was emptied of all the stuff, or a gigantic Home Depot. That would be what it’s like.

Jane Crawford: The pier in those days was a meeting place for gay men. It was an enormous pier with a lot of broken glass on the ground and, outside, people were sunbathing. And Gordon went in to transform it, and he put up some signs saying “no trespassing” and “men at work.” And of course, it was just him and maybe one or two other people he convinced to help him.

Carrie Mae Weems: Jane Crawford, wife of the late Gordon Matta-Clark.

Jane Crawford: He went in with the chainsaws and his block and tackle and proceeded to cut it up. And what was most alarming to New York state authorities was that he’d actually cut the pier away from the mainland, so it was there, sort of floating, in the water.

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 season, we take David Hammons’s sculpture, Day’s End, as a starting point. From there, we look into the many histories, mostly now invisible, that have shaped this site on the edge of lower Manhattan.

In episode one, we learned David Hammons used the city to create his work. In this second episode, we dive deeper into the original Day’s End.

Jane Crawford: Gordon liked to say that the layers of how we live in a room are like the layers of skin, and he considered himself a kind of urban archeologist, cutting through these layers to see how people had lived before.

Carrie Mae Weems: Today, we’re traveling backwards in time. We’ll start in 1970s New York City, and go back to when the Lenape were the primary inhabitants of the island, which was then called Mannahatta. Historian Andrew Berman.

Andrew Berman: To me, that’s still what I always think of when I think of the neighborhood, even as cleaned up and glamorized and different as it’s become today.

Carrie Mae Weems: This neighborhood is a stretch of land along the far west side of lower Manhattan, below 14th Street. Historically, it has always been a place of commerce. But when Gordon Matta-Clark created Day’s End, the neighborhood had been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair.

Carrie Mae Weems: Curator Tom Finkelpearl.

Tom Finkelpearl: And I hear people reminiscing about that, or especially young people, thinking about how great it must have been, and you have to remember that a lot of people are getting murdered. There were no jobs. But I think that these kinds of interventions, like what Matta-Clark did, was to see the beauty, or the potential beauty, in this wrecked urban space, and then intervene in a way that allowed you to see it.

Adam D. Weinberg: Matta-Clark wasn’t the only artist working on the piers.

Carrie Mae Weems: Here’s Adam Weinberg, Director of the Whitney Museum.

Adam D. Weinberg: There was actually an exhibition of art made on Pier 18.

Jonathan Weinberg: Pier 18 was really the idea of Willoughby Sharp, who invited twenty-seven male artists to create works of art on Pier 18, which is down by the World Trade Center in what we call Battery Park City now. Sharp’s idea was to ask these various artists to come up with different conceptual pieces.

Vito Acconci’s piece for Pier 18 is really amazing, in which he got his friend and artist Lee Jaffee to blindfold him and then while he’s wandering on the piers, it was Lee Jaffee’s job to make sure that Vito didn’t fall into the water. When this is photographed, it really looks like something from a film noir, as if Jaffee is not trying to keep Acconci from falling into the water, but is leading him to the water or going to kill him, because of the blindfold. Of course, one of the big associations of the waterfront is as a site of mafia corruption and teamster corruption.

Adam D. Weinberg: Artists just kept taking over the piers, long after Matta-Clark’s Day’s End was complete. Even in the early eighties a group of East Village artists transformed Pier 34 into a giant exhibition space.

Jonathan Weinberg: Pier 34 is at the end of Canal Street, and it was “discovered” by David Wojnarowicz, so it’s way down from the so-called sex piers. Basically, what happens is this group of artists squat in this space.

Adam D. Weinberg: Wojnarowicz, Peter Hujar, Mike Bidlo . . .

Jonathan Weinberg: They take it over and they start painting on the walls and creating all kinds of sculpture and installations in this amazing space. At a certain point, it was announced that there would be an opening and all these people are invited to come see the work. The police show up and shut it down.

It’s quite the same thing with Gordon Matta-Clark, I think you have to put your head into the mentality too that artists and young people had in the seventies, which was that the city and the government and the police were the sort of bad guys, and that doing this kind of thing, taking over these spaces was an act of freedom and liberation.

Carrie Mae Weems: Gordon saw an underlying beauty in these abandoned buildings that city planners and politicians simply ignored.

Laura Harris: He grew up in the era of urban renewal projects, large-scale urban renewal projects, in which parts of the city that were considered problems, or irrelevant and unimportant, were essentially razed to make way for fortress-like corporate spaces, and, quite commonly, freeways, bridges, tunnels, and other forms of passage to secure safe travel in and out of the city for suburban commuters.

Carrie Mae Weems: That’s NYU Professor of Media Studies, Laura Harris.

Laura Harris: That’s part of the backdrop for Matta-Clark’s practice, I think, is not wanting to participate in this kind of development, in this use of architecture, which depended in some ways on transforming the city through these brutal renewal projects.

Instead, he attempted to intervene in some ways by opening up what he considered abandoned structures to new possibilities.

Carrie Mae Weems: The Meatpacking District felt very different from the quainter New York neighborhood nearby, the West Village. And yet in many ways, it represents what New York is all about: a wide-ranging mix of people living and working side by side.

Andrew Berman: In addition to the meatpacking businesses, which were still very much there there was also this increasing concentration of these bars and clubs, both sex clubs and dance clubs.

Carrie Mae Weems: And it’s where Florent Morellet ran his in-crowd restaurant from 1985 to 2008. It was a favorite spot for artists, celebrities, and clientele of the neighborhood’s many gay bars.

Florent Morellet: I went to the Mine Shaft, the Anvil. And coming out at two, three, four o’clock in the morning was unlike any other club you came out [of] at that time, because you came out of the clubs, the city was dead. But you came out of those clubs in the meat market, and you had a neighborhood that was packed with traffic jam[s] and trucks, and people are going around yelling at each other like, “Move!” Taxis and meat-packers.

Catherine Seavitt: The meat market still persisted quite long, really until the last few decades, really.

Carrie Mae Weems: Architect Catherine Seavitt.

Catherine Seavitt: So, that brings you to the kind of stench of rotting meat or the smell of the carcasses or the blood from the animals, which are really being carved up inside of these buildings and then trucked around on . . . Not things unlike the garment racks that move around in the fashion district, but actually these would be carcasses rolling along wheeled carts with guys in white aprons wielding them.

Glenn Ligon: A visitor to New York is like, “Why was it called the Meatpacking District?”

Carrie Mae Weems: Artist Glenn Ligon.

Glenn Ligon: I was like, “Because there would be bloody carcasses hung on the street outside of the meatpacking shops that line the streets here.” And there would literally be blood running on the street.

Florent Morellet: In the early days, it stunk, yeah, especially in the warmer weather.

Andrew Berman: When I think of the Meatpacking District, I think of the smell, in terms of what it used to smell like, in part because of all of those meatpacking plants.

Florent Morellet: Rotten blood. But, you know, being close to the river, it’s an area where you have a little bit of breeze. But yeah . . . I mean, I remember whole sides of beef were on those rails.

Catherine Seavitt: There was still a kind of chaotic street life. Of course, the Belgian block that paved all of those streets in the Meatpacking District had a particular rattle for both cars and those carts of meat. So there was very much a kind of loud street life that persisted.

Carrie Mae Weems: When Gordon came to the Meatpacking District, meatpackers had already begun moving out, and the vibrant shipping industry of the early twentieth century was long gone.

Matta-Clark spent a total of three months cutting into the building’s floors and walls with chainsaws, transforming the space. But by doing this, he also temporarily displaced the people who used the piers for sunbathing, socializing, and sex. We’ll spend more time with them in our next episode. And while he was trespassing on their space, he was also legally trespassing. After he finished the work, a warrant went out for his arrest.

Jonathan Weinberg: One of the things that made it so dangerous is that he actually made cuts in the floor to reveal the water, and he made a little bridge. So you would see these big cuts, both on the floor . . . as if the light coming through this huge, arc-like shape had sort of cut holes into the floor—like beams of light had cut holes into the floor.

Laura Harris: The play of light and wind and rain and all the elements he’s allowing in on the structure. The way that it penetrates one hole and exits another hole. The way that the light and shadows and the whole atmosphere of the space changes over the course of the day, from beginning to day’s end is what he’s interested in at that moment.

Jonathan Weinberg: If you stayed there long enough, you’d watch the sun setting, which, to him, was the ultimate narrative of the piece. That’s why it’s called Day’s End because you’re watching the movement of the light through it.

Carrie Mae Weems: Jessamyn Fiore is the . . .

Jessamyn Fiore: . . . curator as well as the co-director of the Gordon Matta-Clark Estate. He really talked and spoke and wrote about Day’s End as a kind of public park, that he wanted it to be experienced through all four seasons. He wanted to see how the light changed in the space for all four seasons. He wanted people to enter the space that was once dark and dangerous and foreboding, and now had been opened up and was a celebration of light and water and just being in this place that is the island of Manhattan. And for people to be able to access that and have that experience, and look at their environment in a new way.

Jane Crawford: Gordon had more energy than all of us here in this room.

Carrie Mae Weems: Jane Crawford was married to Gordon Matta-Clark until his death in 1978 at the age of thirty-five from pancreatic cancer.

Jane Crawford: He was very magnetic, a personality. He was always laughing and joking and very engaging with other people. I used to say he’d go out in the morning to buy the newspaper on the corner and came back with two or three people he’d just picked up on the street. And, you know, they could be anywhere from homeless to students to a nuclear physicist he came home with once.

The pier was lovely inside because you could hear not only the lapping of the water and the boats, the tugboats honking their horns and the little boats honking their horns, but there’s also just this lovely murmur of the city at a distance, which I always found somehow very romantic. You’d hear sirens and cars honking, but always from a distance, so that was like the subliminal soundtrack of the pier, if you will.

Betsy Sussler: The interior, of course, is what Gordon was drawn to. And he wanted to bring light into it. And he never told me until the eleventh hour what environment he had picked to go film, or to go do a piece, or an intervention, or an architectural intervention in. So this really was, one morning, we woke up and he said, “Grab your Super 8, we’re going to go, and I’ve got this whole thing planned.”

Carrie Mae Weems: Betsy Sussler filmed the making of Day’s End.

Betsy Sussler: And there he was with the pulleys and the saws, and I just filmed. I really just caught the action wherever I could, the light coming in.

Jessamyn Fiore: I think when looking at what Gordon was doing with making these cuts in buildings, it’s important to remember that it wasn’t about destruction. He wanted to transform the spaces.

Laura Harris: There’s a level at which he’s interested in imagining what else might a building look like if you let light in this way? What might it feel like if you let sound or wind in in this way? But also what other interactions might emerge if you reshaped buildings or opened them up in this way?

Jessamyn Fiore: And he talked about how he felt, that people, everyday people, were too timid in their own spaces. That in fact, we have the ability to change our spaces, even if that change is by cutting holes in them.

Jonathan Weinberg: He’s one of those artists that he just touches something, and he decides, I’m going to cut this out and then it’s going to be a work of art. I’m very drawn to, I guess, the sort of notion of the artist as an alchemist, which I think is a theme that recurs in his work. To me, that’s what artists do. They’re transformative, they transform things, and they create something that is magical that truly opens up the world . . . creates a kind of moment of freedom. 

Carrie Mae Weems: The artist as alchemist is a useful way of thinking about both Matta-Clark and David Hammons. But their artistic parallels don’t simply stop there.

Laura Harris: One might imagine Hammons’s piece as a picking up of where Matta-Clark left off. What he did was highlight and bring to our attention a kind of practice that he is also inviting us all to take up in our own ways. A creative inhabitation of space, a creative rearrangement of space, for example, a creative reworking of the city to open up the possibilities for how we might perceive and how we might live.

Jessamyn Fiore: I think that the spirit of both Gordon’s work and the David Hammons sculpture is for people to relook at their own urban space, urban existence, to connect with the history of generations that have come before in this place and its architecture. And just the spirit of creativity and art and possibility that is, to my mind, ingrained in this city, in its soil even.

Carrie Mae Weems: The ground beneath Day’s End and the Whitney Museum has a rich and storied history.

Adam D. Weinberg: The Museum is on Gansevoort Street. And Day’s End is just at the end of Gansevoort Street, on the peninsula. In fact, the name goes back to the early nineteenth century. It comes from Fort Gansevoort, which during the War of 1812 to defend against the British—in fact, it was never actually used. And the fort itself was named for a Revolutionary War hero, Peter Gansevoort.

Andrew Berman: Many of the streets in Greenwich Village are named, in fact, for Revolutionary War heroes. All of those named streets that still survive south of Washington Square Park, like Sullivan, Thompson, and MacDougal. Those were Revolutionary War heroes. Colonel Gansevoort was a slaveholder, as were many New Yorkers at the time. New York, interestingly, while it was a center of abolitionist activity, it was also a center of a lot of slave-owning and slave trading.

Adam D. Weinberg: Some of the abolitionist activity in fact took place relatively close to the Museum. There was the African Free School in Greenwich Village, and teachers worked really closely with Black children there to try to get them to think positively about the notion of emancipation, and to prepare themselves for it. And there was also a community around Zion Methodist Episcopal Church, which was in the West Village, which included Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman. And I think the church was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. 

Peter Gansevoort was also Herman Melville’s grandfather. After the Civil War, Melville worked on Gansevoort Street as a customs inspector. He became a customs inspector because Moby-Dick was an incredible financial failure, which most people don’t realize. He was pretty much unemployed, working for four dollars a day, and even adjusted that wasn’t so great. I remember reading that he hated his job, and he said it was “worse than driving geese”—which I find particularly amusing, because the name Gansevoort in Dutch means “the lead goose,” the goose that leads the V that cuts across the sky. And his office was on West Street, right where Gansevoort Street hit the river.

Andrew Berman: As the nineteenth century went on, you had bigger and bigger piers on the west side. The industrial revolution also led to a landfill. So, you had the land being added to and built out, with everything from sort of waste and garbage to dirt and soil. And you certainly saw factories starting to crop up, especially along the waterfront, including in Greenwich Village.

And along the waterfront, in addition to all of these very, very busy piers and the factories, you also had a lot of sailors’ hotels, because you had a lot of folks who worked along the waterfront.

Some of them were quite notorious, had a sort of Barbary Coast kind of flavor to them.

And then interestingly, there were some that were set up by these sort of missionary charitable organizations to give sailors a wholesome, healthy place for them to stay during their time in port.

Catherine Seavitt: The site on which the Whitney now sits used to be Gansevoort Market. It was an open-air market, where commerce, where there was mostly vegetable produce, was brought by horse and cart. And it was an outdoor fruit market, essentially, fruit and vegetable market. And that’s really like the end of the nineteenth century.

Andrew Berman: One of the reasons why it did develop as a market neighborhood was in part because of its proximity to the river, and there used to be these great big piers that were located there. Pier 54, actually, which no longer exists was the pier where the survivors of the Titanic were brought when they were rescued. It’s also where the Lusitania left, where it shipped out of New York on its fateful journey.

Catherine Seavitt: Later, there’s actually a new, enclosed, structured market called the West Washington Market, which goes up just across the street on the Gansevoort Pier, exactly where Pier 52 was located and is now the site of Hammons’s sculpture.

Andrew Berman: These were large, large piers that accommodated the biggest ships of their day.

Catherine Seavitt: That enclosed market was quite novel in many ways, because they could actually start to sell produce that was meat-based or animal-based. So both dairy products as well as meat products could be sold there because of this advent of refrigeration. And it was because of this refrigeration that meat could be safely packaged for the market in these buildings.

Andrew Berman: The High Line was sort of this strange intervention in the kind of dying days of commerce and industry, or at least of that traditional kind of commerce and industry along the West Side.

Catherine Seavitt: Essentially the rail, the trains were running on grade, initially, so at the street level. And there were even, I think it was called the “avenue of death.” It was pretty dangerous for pedestrians who were walking around in the neighborhood because they were basically at risk of being run down by trains. There were even these guys, cowboys on horses, who would try to control pedestrian and horse and wagon traffic from collisions with the train. So they would basically police people and keep them out of the way of the trains when they were oncoming.

Andrew Berman: The funny thing was that they did it, I guess they couldn’t quite see it coming, but certainly at this time period, we were really beginning a pretty dramatic shift away from this method of transporting goods. So, the High Line was built in the thirties. The Second World War happened, and after the Second World War, there was a huge shift away from that kind of transportation.

Then when trucking became the more predominant way of goods like the meats were moved in and out, its proximity to the West Side Highway also was an important part of how and why the Meatpacking District functioned there.

Carrie Mae Weems: John Jobaggy is a third-generation meatpacker and grew up in the neighborhood, watching his father and grandfather do business.

John Jobaggy: When I first came down here, you had a lot of Western European immigrants. And they were primarily guys from farms; they weren’t kids from cities. These were farm kids who came to America—poor kids, like my grandfather—to make a better living for themselves. They weren’t growing up in mansions, coming to New York to be meatpackers, to be butchers.

You got to remember, it went from 15th Street and 9th Avenue over to 10th Avenue, and it went from 15th. Fourteenth Street was the main street. And then you had a few meat companies past Gansevoort Street, from 9th to 13th. So you had them four blocks north, south, and two blocks east, west. And all the buildings, nothing was empty.

Andrew Berman: One of the things that’s so interesting about the neighborhood’s history is how many of the really famous bohemian haunts of the twentieth century were places that were run by Italian immigrants, Irish immigrants. And it was in fact that sort of sense of this close knit, intimate community that existed outside of the contemporary mainstream of American culture and society that really drew a lot of these artists and writers and painters to these places, both the neighborhoods and specifically these bars, coffee houses, cafes.

John Jobaggy: Every store front, big and small, was full. And it was a community, and people loved it, and everybody knew each other, and all the bosses, it was almost like a club. And the bosses would get together. There was a restaurant called Frank’s Restaurant on Washington Street and 14th Street, and the bosses would get together; a lot of them would like to have their little cliques. They would meet every day for breakfast together. And they loved to talk about, “Where’s the pork market? Where’s this market? Where’s the beef, where’s prices going?” And just, socially and business-wise, chat. And they loved it. Loved it.

Andrew Berman: Certainly, I would not say that the neighborhood was without conflicts or tensions. There’s also just a wonderful history of kind of mixing and interaction that really shaped the character of the neighborhood tremendously.

Carrie Mae Weems: This vibrancy in people, sound, in exchange of some kind, has always been part of the neighborhood.

Catherine Seavitt: I think the fascinating aspect of that site in which the Whitney is now planted—the downtown Whitney—is that it’s always been historically a place for trading, a trading place. A place of exchange, a trading post. In fact, it goes all the way back to the Lenape peoples. Sapokanikan is the name of the trading post, which was actually at that very point on the Hudson River shoreline on Manhattan Island.

Alan Michelson: It was called Sapokanikan, which, in the Lenape language, is thought to mean tobacco field or place where tobacco grows.

Carrie Mae Weems: That’s Alan Michelson, a New York City-based artist, and a Turtle Clan Mohawk member of Six Nations of the Grand River.

Alan Michelson: I was fascinated by the fact that the name of that Lenape settlement had survived, and that the Whitney landed on that site four hundred years later. So four hundred years ago, in the early days of the New Amsterdam colony, that area was a beach and a small settlement. There was probably fishing and planting, maybe more than tobacco, and a place of trade. And that was trade that probably included trade not just among the immediate groups of Lenape and the sub nations, but groups like the Haudenosaunee, my ancestors, who were upriver.

Carrie Mae Weems: In the fall of 2019, Michelson had a solo exhibition at the Whitney called Wolf Nation. His idea was to investigate the layered histories of the place and to reveal its Indigenous history. His work reminds us that we stand on land that has a long and complicated history—one that challenges us, one that was not taught to us in school.

Alan Michelson: It’s a significant site, a significant Native site, one of many that basically are covered with concrete and buildings, not just in Manhattan, but across the country. And I just wanted to use that opportunity of showing at the Whitney to bring that history to light.

Carrie Mae Weems: George Stonefish is an elder of the Lenape Nation, and a longtime New Yorker.

George Stonefish: Most New Yorkers, if you ask them what natives met the Dutch, they don’t know. They don’t know it was the Lenape. All they’ll tell you about, we know they sold the island of Manhattan for twenty-four dollars, and that’s the limit of their education. We came from this area, and we were chased ultimately, and settled here, and were chased again. And we were massacred at that one spot where we are presently at right now. And that whole history of going down and so forth, people should know of.

Carrie Mae Weems: Curtis Zunigha is a Lenape Indian.

Curtis Zunigha: Well, that’s kind of the way Lenapehoking was. It wasn’t just one homogenous people. There were common language, and lifeways, and religious ways, but they were still more of a collective than one homogenous group.

Carrie Mae Weems: Eric Sanderson.

Eric Sanderson: If we were here in the early seventeenth century, coming into New York Harbor, we would have seen a long, thin, wooded island, which is, the local people called Mannahatta. Maybe you would have seen Lenape canoes. They would make them out of these tulip trees, these very tall, very straight tulip trees. We think Sapokanikan, near where the Whitney is, is a place where they would cross the river to trade with the people over in Hoboken, and back and forth. You might even have caught a glimpse of a trail that would have gone back into the forest, and then down through Greenwich Village, and then on to the main north, south trail that was on the east side of Manhattan, somewhere around Murray Hill, and so forth. Would have been really extraordinary.

Catherine Seavitt: So it goes from being this site of Lenape exchange, connecting to waterfront and terrestrial voyaging paths, let’s say, or pathways, to this more commercialized produce market and then a meat market, but always about this place of exchange that's tied to both the river, to other transportation systems such as rail and road or trail, all within this little nexus. So it’s a fascinating site.

Carrie Mae Weems: I’m pretty sure that neither Matta-Clark nor Hammons had these histories at the top of their minds when they conceived their versions of Day’s End. But each work, in its own way, opens up a hole or an absence into the day-to-day, inviting reflection on what stories or what histories have passed from view, [been] ignored, or been denied.

Carrie Mae Weems: Artist Glenn Ligon.

Glenn Ligon: I think that sort of idea of the past being present is always in David’s work, partially because the materials he often uses have another life. And so he’s literally taking something that someone else has used, or someone else has discarded, and sort of thinking, making new objects with it.

Carrie Mae Weems: Writer, critic, and artist Luc Sante.

Luc Sante: And I believe that you can’t really live in the present, unless you have the past to look back upon. It would be like deciding that you’re a writer or a student of literature but are unwilling to acknowledge the literature of the past. Obviously, you can’t do that. You’re standing on other shoulders.

Betsy Sussler: It’s that old Faulkner adage, “The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past yet.”

Luc Sante: And it’s the same for things that are less specific, things that are more subjective about the past and about the way it affects you and the things that you see on the street, the stories that are handed down. We don’t just exist in this one present moment. We’re also existing in a spectrum of time.

Narrator: You have been listening to Artists Among Us, a podcast from the Whitney Museum of American Art. Over the next three episodes, our exploration continues: looking more closely at the queer community that frequented the Meatpacking District in the seventies.

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 lay 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.

Narrator: To learn more about the stories you heard here, visit whitney.org/podcast. You’ll also find Artists Among Us wherever you get your podcasts. Rate, share, tweet, and, if you’re in New York City, across the street from the Whitney, listen and do some time traveling.

The Whitney is located in Lenapehoking, the ancestral homeland of the Lenape. The Whitney acknowledges the displacement of this region’s original inhabitants and the Lenape diaspora that exists today as an ongoing consequence of settler colonialism.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this podcast: Luc Sante, Catherine Seavitt, Betsy Sussler, Laura Harris, Jane Crawford, Jessamyn Fiore, Eric Sanderson, Jonathan Weinberg, Glenn Ligon, Alan Michelson, Andrew Berman, Tom Finkelpearl, Florent Morellet, Adam Weinberg, Curtis Zunigha, and George Stonefish. Thanks also to oral historians Liza Zapol who interviewed John Jobaggy, and Sara Sinclair who interviewed Curtis and George. 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.


Latex and Lard in the Meatpacking District
Episode 3

“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.”
— Andrew Berman

A vibrant Queer community inhabited Manhattan’s Meatpacking District when Gordon Matta-Clark created a sculpture by carving into Pier 52 on the Hudson River. This episode recalls a golden age when sex, art, and creativity converged on the waterfront in the years prior to the AIDS crisis in New York City.

Released May 28, 2021

In order of appearance: Andrew Berman, Betsy Sussler, Efrain Gonzalez, Paul Gallay, Jonathan Weinberg, Laura Harris, Egyptt LaBeija, Tom Finklepearl, Glenn Ligon, Randal Wilcox, archival recording of Alvin Baltrop, Luc Sante, Elegance Bratton, Stefanie Rivera, Catherine Seavitt

Whitney Museum of American Art. “Douglas Crimp and Juliane Rebentisch on Before Pictures.” Video, 01:24:44. Sept. 10, 2016.

The Clit Club Crew on the Clit Club for the 6th Annual Last Address Tribute Walk.The Visual AIDS Blog, July 3, 2018.

Visual AIDS. “Past Event - Last Address Tribute Walk: Meatpacking District - Whitney Museum Screening & Meatpacking District Doorstep Readings.” visualaids.org. May 12, 2018.

Victor Ultra Omni. “Interview with Icon Egyptt Labeija.The Center For Black Trans Thought (blog), Nov. 1, 2018.

Pier Kids: The Life. “Pier Kids TRAILER.YouTube video, 01:00. Sept. 30, 2019.

Ben Miller. “Photos: Efrain Gonzalez Chronicled NYC’s Seedy, Glorious West Side Nightlife.Gothamist, Mar. 24, 2014.

The Life and Times of Alvin Baltrop. Exhibition website, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York (Aug. 7, 2019–Feb. 9, 2020).

Live from Stonewall.Making Gay History | LGBTQ Oral Histories from the Archive. Podcast audio, May 23, 2019.

Remembering Stonewall: 50 Years Later.StoryCorps. Podcast audio, June 25, 2019.

Episode 3 - Latex and Lard in the Meatpacking District

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Episode 3 - Latex and Lard in the Meatpacking District

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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.


Coastline Cultures: The Evolution of Manhattan’s Waterfront
Episode 4

“There are accounts of people sailing into New York Harbor and catching fish just by lowering a basket over the side of it and pulling it back up. If we were here then, our view would be full of fish.”
— Pete Malinowski

Anchored in the Gansevoort Peninsula and reaching out into the Hudson River, Day’s End (2014–21) was designed to be permanent. But for hundreds of years, the site has been in constant flux. In this episode, architects, environmentalists, Lenape elders, and artists inform some of the ways in which the many people connected to this place endeavor to keep it alive.

Released June 4, 2021

In order of appearance: Luc Sante, Catherine Seavitt, Adam Weinberg, Jessamyn Fiore, Laura Harris, Kellie Jones, Glenn Ligon, Bernice Rosenzweig, Eric Sanderson, Paul Gallay, Pete Malinowski, Curtis Zunigha, George Stonefish, Alan Michelson, Guy Nordenson, Bill T. Jones

Joe Baker and Hadrien Coumans. “Home in Lenapehoking.Urban Omnibus, Feb. 6, 2020.

American Indian Community House. “Home | AICH.” aich.org.

The Lenape Center. “The Lenape Center.” thelenapecenter.com.

Colleen Connolly. “The True Native New Yorkers Can Never Truly Reclaim Their Homeland.Smithsonian Magazine, Oct. 5, 2018.

New York Climate Change Science Clearinghouse. “Maps.” nyclimatescience.org.

Billion Oyster Project. “Our Story.” billionoysterproject.org.

Native Land Digital. “Native-Land.ca | Our home on native land.” native-land.ca.

What is imperialism? w/ Charisse Burden-Stelly (Pt.2).The Red Nation Podcast. Podcast audio, May 31, 2021.

Can Our Ancestors Hear Us?All My Relations. Podcast audio, July 2, 2019.

5. The Land Grab.This Land. Podcast audio, July 1, 2019.

Robin Wall Kimmerer — The Intelligence of Plants.On Being with Krista Tippett. Podcast audio, Feb. 25, 2016.

Rewind: The Land of the Lenape.The Bowery Boys: New York City History. Podcast audio, July 23, 2020.

Episode 4 - Coastline Cultures: The Evolution of Manhattan’s Waterfront

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Episode 4 - Coastline Cultures: The Evolution of Manhattan’s Waterfront

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Luc Sante: New York is the least preserving of all the major cities that I know personally. The Rem Koolhaas quote that I use: “New York is a city that will be replaced by another city.” That’s a fundamental truth about the place. Various pasts are superimposed onto other pasts.

Catherine Seavitt: If you look at geological time. It’s only going to change, like the only stable thing that we can understand is that it won’t be the same. That the sea level will be different. The coast will become something else. The people that live here will do something else or move somewhere else and life will . . . if it continues, carry on differently.

Carrie Mae Weems: That’s author Luc Sante and architect Catherine Seavitt. 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 artist David Hammons’s sculpture Day’s End. In episode three, we explored the communities that frequented the piers.

In this episode, we look at an aspect of Manhattan that we don’t tend to think about, and one that has experienced radical changes—its coastline. It, too, becomes part of Day’s End’s meaning. With sculpture, materials and processes have an enormous impact on the way we understand them. A glossy, luminous statue carved from marble feels very different from one molded from clay. Day’s End is different again. It’s been designed to stand permanently in the Hudson River. Storms, rising sea levels, and other aspects of global climate change have been part of the work’s conception from the very beginning. Building it has required an effort to anticipate the future—but it also carries echoes of the past.

As a refresher, let’s remind ourselves of what this sculpture actually looks like. Here’s Adam Weinberg, Director of the Whitney Museum.

Adam D. Weinberg: It’s a building without doors, without windows, without walls, without ceiling, without floor. So it’s not a building, it’s sort of like a drawing because it’s a drawing in space, but yet it’s not physically a drawing, it’s a sculpture. It’s like how people draw stick figures in a way. This becomes the kind of steady state frame through which we see other things as it evolves and changes.

Catherine Seavitt: The frame is exactly the size of the old pier building that Gordon Matta-Clark carved.

Carrie Mae Weems: In 1975, this building became the first Day’s End. It was torn down four years later.

Adam D. Weinberg: It doesn’t look that big. But you realize that it’s 300 and, I think, 45 feet long. It’s longer than the size of this building itself—the Whitney building. It’s absolutely, I would say, massive, but it’s not massive because there’s not mass to it. It’s enormous in its shape.

Catherine Seavitt: So, it shows you that kind of ghost-like memory like, “I remember how big it was.” I remember the space it contained, but it somehow becomes very ephemeral at the same time where the air and the light can pass right through it.

Carrie Mae Weems: To create the sculpture, a team of architects, engineers, ecologists, and manufacturers came together to collaborate with David and the Museum.

Catherine Seavitt: What’s been really interesting about Day’s End and the collaboration we’ve been doing here is really thinking about the site around the project and how the Whitney’s neighborhood in some ways is part of the project. So, how the structure of the sculpture actually starts to give readings to that sort of ecological history of the waterfront at the Whitney site.

Carrie Mae Weems: Jessamyn Fiore, is the . . .

Jessamyn Fiore: . . . curator as well as the co-director of the Gordon Matta-Clark estate.

I think that when you look at the old photographs of Day’s End, particularly the ones where you see the skyline in the background, and I’m so excited to compare those to what is going to be that same angle with the David Hammons sculpture, because I think it is going to be shocking, just that snapshot of how much this side of Manhattan has transformed.

Carrie Mae Weems: Matta-Clark made Day’s End knowing full well that it would one day be gone. And Hammons has worked with the ideas of transience and ephemerality before, too. Indeed, earlier in this series we looked at one such work that brings up these questions. It’s called the Bliz-aard Ball Sale . . . fantastic work of art!

NYU professor of media studies Laura Harris.

Laura Harris: The very famous performance piece in which he spreads out a blanket and then offers snowballs for sale on the streets of New York.

Carrie Mae Weems: Art historian Kellie Jones.

Kellie Jones: In winter, in pop-up markets, or they’re alternative markets people used to have around Cooper Union and elsewhere, where people put a blanket on the street and sell you a few little things. So he would sell snowballs.

Carrie Mae Weems: Artist Glenn Ligon.

Glenn Ligon: The snowballs on the street wasn’t announced. It just happened. 

Catherine Seavitt: I love David Hammons’s piece with the snowballs when he sold snowballs down on Cooper Square. And I think there’s nothing more ephemeral than something that melts away. And I always wonder, and others have wondered, “What does it sound like when ice melts? Is there a sound?” And then when you expand that question, “What does it sound like when the glaciers are melting? What does climate change sound like?” Certainly sound and things that melt away are probably the most ephemeral things there are. It’s there and then it’s gone. Those snowballs are just sort of the best idea or way of capturing something about ephemera that the piece does as well.

Carrie Mae Weems: The Bliz-aard Ball Sale happened in 1983. Much later, in the summer of 2019, David revisited the work for an exhibition held in Los Angeles. Framed on the wall was an old letter from a prospective collector—the name was blotted out—and the collector hoping to buy one of the snowballs. But the collector had a complaint. The snowball was too expensive, and no insurance company would insure them. Near the letter, there was a bowl holding just about a melted snowball’s worth of water.

It was David’s way of saying, you can spend all the money you want, but you can’t stop time. Eventually, someone’s going to unplug that freezer. I like to say, money won’t change it, but time will take you on. Compared with the enormous Day’s End, this new look at an old work is simply a modest gesture. But in both works, there’s a bow to the unstoppable natural force of nature. But of course in the Hudson River, those forces have a different kind of force—a brute force.

Ecologist Bernice Rosenzweig.

Bernice Rosenzweig: What really changed the face of what Manhattan looked like in terms of its modern or its pre-development landscape was the most recent ice age. So, during the most recent ice age, around roughly fifteen-thousand years ago, the glaciers, we have ice glaciers in the far North, and we have sea ice in the Arctic. During the most recent ice age, the glaciers made it as far South as New York City and they got just South of Manhattan. So they run through Brooklyn and parts of Staten Island and that’s where they ended. But Manhattan itself, like many other northern U.S. cities, was just carved by glaciers. So you can think about how these enormous walls of ice just scraped over this very hard rock and carved it away over thousands and thousands of years.

Eric Sanderson: Because of the geological history of Manhattan, because it was a glaciated landscape, when glaciers retreat, they leave these sort of beds of sand and silt and till over the top of the bedrock. The bedrock was scraped down by the ice, and then these sediments were laid on top of it, and then that’s what the soil and the vegetation forms on.

Bernice Rosenzweig: The Meatpacking District is on somewhat higher ground. In feet I’d say maybe 20 feet above sea level. Whereas if you go further South into what most New Yorkers would call Lower Manhattan, it was actually much lower in elevation and there were natural springs and there were also actual freshwater streams and tidal creeks that crisscrossed across the landscape.

Eric Sanderson: There’s an early description that talks about a small valley amongst three hills, a small triangular valley, which is pretty much where the Whitney is today. There was a beach. You wouldn’t have to walk too far to find another stream or spring to drink fresh water. Sixty-six miles of streams on Mannahatta.

There is something really lovely about a stream. I always love the place where streams come out to the ocean. Imagine the beach and the fresh water running across the beach and into the Hudson River, where the Whitney is and the West Side Highway. It blows the mind.

Bernice Rosenzweig: There are places where the city has invested, or the state in some cases have invested, in creating parks that really do try to recreate the natural landscapes and the natural ecosystems that were there pre-development. They’ve restored a lot of the pre-development wetlands or attempted to restore a lot of the pre-development wetlands. If you look at the right angle, maybe you can pretend you’re seeing what the Lenape saw before European settlement in this area.

Carrie Mae Weems: Educator and Riverkeeper president Paul Gallay.

Paul Gallay: Close your eyes and imagine Manhattan four hundred years ago. The shoreline was different. It was all natural, none of the fill that’s been brought in to make the coastline so homogenous and flattened out existed. You had sinuous coastlines and you had near shore communities of wading birds, vegetation above and below the surface. You had an intertidal zone that was filled with mussels, clams, and oysters. And critters that made the biodiversity of the Hudson legend.

Eric Sanderson: It’s this sort of biogeographic boundary, and then it’s this really important place for migratory birds, because of the way it fits into the Northeast coastline, and not to mention the fish runs that would have been going up and down the Hudson River, right off of where the Whitney is today. But I often think about [Henry] Hudson, because Hudson, he was looking for something that we have in abundance, which is things from China, and international trade. That’s what he wanted, and he missed the thing that was so valuable about the place he was in then, which was the ecological value and all the relationships of all the plants and animals, and the long-term history that had created that resilience in the place before him, but he was completely blind to it. Of course, today, that’s the most valuable thing. We can’t find a place that is as wild as Mannahatta was four hundred years ago.

Paul Gallay: Before the European first contact, it was said that during the spring migrations of the dozens and dozens of species of fish that make the Hudson their home, that there were so many fish during those spring runs that you could practically walk on the backs of the fish. The river didn’t run blue with those times, it ran silver with the sun glinting off the backs of those fish.

Carrie Mae Weems: Conservationist Pete Malinowski co-founded the Billion Oyster Project and is its executive director.

Pete Malinowski: There are accounts of people sailing into New York Harbor and catching fish just by lowering a basket over the side of it and pulling it back up. If we were here then, our view would be full of fish.

Carrie Mae Weems: Curtis Zunigha is a Lenape Indian.

Curtis Zunigha: There’s a tidal basin part that flows inward, and then you’ve got the ice and snow flow down river toward the open bay. So, you’ve got these different currents going on.

In our Lenape ways, the waters are a female spirit. With those tides and its constant movement, there’s a connection with that spirit, even connected with the moon, which is also a female spirit, the moon affected tides.

Eric Sanderson: You can imagine, a raindrop falling four hundred years ago would fall, come down through the trees, and maybe down the trunk and into the soil. Then, if the roots didn’t pick it up or something there, it would flow over the course of the bedrock through these beds of sands and silts, and then emerge into a spring or a stream, and then flow, trickling down to the shore.

Paul Gallay: You had no barrier. There was no hard barrier between the river and the Island of Manhattan. You had temporary villages that were seasonal, the Native American communities of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have these settlements and go from one to another depending upon the season, depending upon the sources of food and shelter that made most sense for the season.

Carrie Mae Weems: George Stonefish.

George Stonefish: Most New Yorkers, if you ask them, “What Natives met the Dutch?” They don’t know. They don’t know it was the Lenape. All they’ll tell you is “We know they sold the island of Manhattan for twenty four dollars.” We came from this area, and we were chased, ultimately, and we were massacred at that one spot that we are present at now. And that whole history, people should know of.

Curtis Zunigha: A lot of things that were written in books were done by these historians, and people in the military, people in trade and commerce, people in the churches, missionaries and the like, they wrote extensively about the Lenape, and many other tribes. So, in a lot of ways we have to learn from their history.

I’ve been asked to come back and speak at functions: “Will you come and do a land acknowledgment statement?” And yes, I can acknowledge that yes, we are on the Indigenous lands of the Lenape people, and I can tell brief stories of history. But that still puts us in the past. It’s time to raise our voices. I not only want land acknowledgment, what I want is land equity.

We’ve lost so much. We have lost so much traditional knowledge. Now, we’ve not lost our culture. I can still pray in Lenape.

Carrie Mae Weems: Geologically speaking, the greatest change to Manhattan may have occurred during the ice age nearly 20,000 years ago. But the invasion of the Dutch and the violent uprooting of the Lenape in the early sixteen hundreds severely affected the coastline as well. 

Eric Sanderson: A lot of people ask me, what do I think the biggest change was in Manhattan, in the last four hundred years? I actually think the probably most dramatic changes were right after the Dutch came to settle in 1624.

Paul Gallay: The shoreline very quickly went from being bucolic to industrialized. And everything shifted, everything shifted so hard and everything that we did to the waterfront to create that industrial boom became just a remnant. And we had decades and decades and generations of industrial and economic glory because of those changes. And then when everything shifted, we suddenly realized that now the bill had come due and the ecosystems had been destroyed and the coastline was also just falling into the water and just a terrible remnant of even what it was.

Carrie Mae Weems: Artist Alan Michelson recently made an augmented reality installation at the Whitney called Sapokanikan.

Alan Michelson: . . . which, in the Lenape language is thought to mean tobacco field, or place where tobacco grows.

Carrie Mae Weems: It offered visitors visions of what the Museum’s site may have looked like when the Lenape lived here.

Alan Michelson: The work consists of a ring of virtual tobacco plants. And the tobacco plants are good sized plants, and I based them on my sister’s garden at Six Nations Reserve. I was fascinated by the fact that the name of that Lenape settlement had survived, and that the Whitney landed on that site four hundred years later. So it’s a significant site, a significant Native site, one of many that basically are covered with concrete and buildings. Not just in Manhattan, but across the country.

Carrie Mae Weems: Michelson invites us to reflect on what once existed in this spot.

Alan Michelson: It was a way of putting something there that was both there and not there. And that’s maybe how a lot of Indigenous sites function. There was something there, it’s no longer there, and how do you grasp that? So this was an attempt to embody something that would carry that message.

Curtis Zunigha: Some of the stories that I share about our history have to start with creation and lifeways that went on for several thousands of years on this very land, this place that we are now, in a larger geographic environment that stretches all the way from—I’ve got to get my orientation here—stretches all the way from the foothills of say about the Catskill Mountains, once you get north of there you’re in Iroquois country, but say from there all the way down the Hudson River, down to New York, further past all of New Jersey, and you get down into the Philadelphia area, Delaware River Valley, all of that, that’s our original homeland. 

Eric Sanderson: All the ways the Lenape had been shaping the landscape for thousands of years all changed pretty much overnight. Then, the Dutch, they brought in other things. They brought pigs, and cows, and things they didn’t mean to, rats and things, which changed the ecology. These big mammals, introducing them to a landscape that wasn’t used to them. That’s a big change. Then, diseases that are associated with that too came with them. I think that was probably the most dramatic change.

Carrie Mae Weems: Architect Catherine Seavitt.

Catherine Seavitt: I feel like when one thinks about the landscape or ecology, it’s an invented word. It goes back to a Greek word that gets picked up in around 1840, 1850. And it’s loosely translated as the household of nature, which I’ve always loved, because it’s about how things work together in systems as opposed to individual fish, bird, plants. So, the household of nature really encompasses everything and everyone and how they interact. And those transactions and interactions are fluid. They change over time, but they’re always there and there’s often traces of them embedded in even the soils or those filled land. Who knows what it’s encompassing, but there are people, and animals, and plants, and seeds all part of that whole household. It’s landfill. It can be anything. It’s not just nice, clean soil from somewhere tightly stacked up.

Carrie Mae Weems: Guy Nordenson was the structural engineer who oversaw Day’s End.

Guy Nordenson: Historically, the bottom of Manhattan Island has been expanded over the years, repeatedly, sometimes formally, sometimes informally, by just dumping all kinds of things over the edge, usually on the inside of some kind of wall that contains it, you know, so the, the general approach is you build a water, a wall out in the water, and then you displace the water with landfill. And that went on throughout the mostly nineteenth century.

Bernice Rosenzweig: When landfilling operations happen today in the United States, it’s typically done with clean sand, and there’s so much demand for that type of clean sand that it’s actually in short supply globally. But historically, whatever was available was used for filling land. So you had the supply of stuff, whether that was coal ash, whether that was construction debris, whether that was soil or clay from an excavation, whether it was bricks, whatever just happened to be available. And you had this demand for space as the city grew and developed.

They weren’t thinking ahead about sea level rise, or coastal storms, or things like that. And so they tend to be the lower parts of New York City today. So the areas that are more prone to flooding.

So it’s really an interesting story, and it’s really a mystery as to what’s actually there. And some researchers have started to do some work to try to reconstruct what those landfilled sediments are like. So it’s really kind of an unknown. But it’s really interesting to think about how our human activities really drove these radical transformations of the whole landscape and define our city today.

Carrie Mae Weems: Kellie Jones is an art historian.

Kellie Jones: Creative Time had a program called Art on the Beach, which was on New York City landfill, leading up to its being taken over and made into luxury housing of Battery Park City. So this area of lower Manhattan, which is a landfill area, discarded shoreline, if you will, is transformed into spaces for artist projects for a number of years.

Carrie Mae Weems: Guy Nordenson.

Guy Nordenson: I got involved in the one in 1985. And most of that was empty land and quite sandy. So it felt like a beach.

Adam D. Weinberg: As it turned out, Guy had met David once before when David did his Delta Spirit piece in Art on the Beach.

Guy Nordenson: Hammons was there every day that I was out there, building our project, hammering away at this shack, which he had covered with bottle caps. It was a small building, tall and thin with a peaked roof, and just covered up with all kinds of things that he nailed onto it. But on a platform, so it was it, you know, again, being on the beach, in the presence of water, you kind of had the feeling that this was, you know, raised up a little bit to get out of the water and in the event of flooding. So it sort of captured the spirit of being on the edge in a place that could potentially flood.

Kellie Jones: He based it, as he told me at that time, in vernacular architecture. He actually did work with an architect, but he wanted it to seem just more vernacular, things that people, just, who were untrained, in some ways, will put together. “Something that is,” as he said, “nothing fits, but everything works.” And is all thirty-second off an inch, right?

It also becomes a space for performance where Sun Ra comes and performs. So it’s actually a functional space, and looking at it from another angle, we can also see it as a community center, in another way.

So I think those are some of his inspirations. But also, we can think about the fact that it’s on the beach.

He’s done pieces at the water, pieces that are kind of at the edge of our existence, our human existence. Something that takes us to just the edge of land, the edge of the city, the edge of the country.

I mean, he’s already been, the beach was one of his sites on the West Coast. How is this beach different? How is the Hudson River different from you know the Pacific Ocean? What’s the difference? What’s the difference when New Jersey is right across the way? What’s the difference, when you have the Statue of Liberty down the street?

Guy Nordenson: He didn’t just show up, build the thing and go away. He was there, the entire duration of the process, which was quite different than I think most of the other installations there. And so it was a kind of occupation, you know, and that, that, that I really, I was really struck by and I think that, you know, spiritually and, and in many ways, you know, Day’s End is that kind of presence and occupation, you know, very different in that it’s, I mean, it’s spiritual, also, right. But it’s all about absence as well as presence.

Carrie Mae Weems: We might imagine Day’s End as a frame, a container of sorts, through which you could see the city, the coastline and, over time, bear witness to the changes that will continue to come.

Guy Nordenson: In terms of the structure, it seemed pretty clear from David Hammons’s sketch what it would be. There were details that evolved over time, but I was excited about the potential for it being quite thin in the spirit of what the sketch showed and what that would mean structurally how that could be done.

Catherine Seavitt: It’s always interesting to think about something that stays in the same place while everything around it is changing.

Guy Nordenson: The poles above the water stop above the water and are set on concrete columns that come out of the water. Those are located so that when the tides go up and down, they’re going up and down along the concrete columns so that the upper structure which is steel doesn’t get in the water except maybe in a storm. Then underneath that concrete, there’s piles that are driven piles, steel. They go all the way down to the rock. There’s actually 150 feet of structure really below the water even more if you include the water depth. Then, above that, you have the structure which is about 50 feet tall. It’s like an iceberg. There’s more below than there is above.

Bernice Rosenzweig: What really stands out about human-induced climate change is that it’s happening so fast. We’ve just taken so much carbon that accumulated over such long time scales and just released it in really two hundred years, most within one hundred years. And if we keep doing that at an increasing rate, the climate is going to change just so much faster than it does as a result of all of these other factors. As the globe warms and sea levels rise, the water is also going to get warmer, and warmer waters, warmer coastal waters fuel stronger storms.

Guy Nordenson: When you build a structure like a bridge or the sculpture, then you're out in the elements. So then, you’re not only worried about extreme events like hurricanes or floods or earthquakes for that matter, but you’re also worried about the daily wear and tear, corrosion, waves, all that.

Paul Gallay: And by 2050, the projections are that we’re going to have 20 inches of sea level rise by 2050, that’s only thirty years from now. We don’t know what our communities will look like after that sea level has risen. We don’t know whether we’re going to be able to be resilient in our current configuration as a community when those storms become more frequent and when the flooding becomes more frequent, which is why New York City now faces a defining moment. 

Guy Nordenson: Clearly the sculpture, ninety-nine percent of the time is just going to see the tides going up and down, but there will be occasions where there’s a storm, heavy wind, even things that might hit it, ice, so I think I was pretty tuned into the fact that there’s a lot of different things that come down the river that could have an effect, that we’d have to take into account.

Catherine Seavitt: It’s being designed as a structure that will be impenetrable to corrosion or what would have been called rot if it were made of wood. So, it’s trying to be outside of time. I think that’s really interesting. And it’s beautiful and that it has a kind of way of being there, and then disappearing. I think it will disappear at night. It’s not to be lit at night, and I think it will start to fade in certain light conditions or reflections of water and sky. And atmosphere may make it even more ephemeral. Yet, it’s being designed as something that’s very permanent. That it won’t fail, that it will not collapse, that it will not rust. So, it’s both present and absent at the same time. It’s very interesting.

Alan Michelson: It’s trying to surface something that is otherwise not visible. And I think it’s a good thing. I think people live that land a certain way for a long time, and the fact that things have changed and that that land no longer sustains that kind of activity is not a reason for it to be forgotten or for it to be completely erased. So I think it’s important to do public monuments, but I don’t think they have to be the way they’ve typically been in this individualistic, American way where it’s just white male generals and things, commemorated in statues. I think they can be much more relevant and beautiful. And I hope that David’s monument does that down there.

Carrie Mae Weems: Choreographer Bill T. Jones. 

Bill T. Jones: It’s kind of a brilliant idea that he wants to recall a building that is no longer there. A building that represented the masters of industry that have built this town. When they looked at it, a beach front, what they saw was an opportunity and they polluted it and made it ugly, ugly, ugly. David Hammons comes on years later, in light of the brand new glowing Whitney Museum. And he wants to bring that ghost back. What is he driving at? It sounds like he’s in love with the artist as a magician. The artist is a provocateur who does not have to make objects, but the gestures are as eloquent as any object you could make.

Narration: You have been listening to Artists Among Us, a podcast series from the Whitney Museum of American Art. Now that we have come this far, in the final episode of the series we’ll return to the sculpture that inspired it, David Hammons’s Day’s End

Laura Harris: Does the Hammons piece conjure the ghosts of those who were removed or are still being removed to make space for the renewal of this part of the city? The ghosts or the shadows, that are perhaps still warm, and that he wants us to perceive here? If it is a monument, who or what is being memorialized here and to what end? Is that memorialization celebration or mourning?

Narrator: Thank you to everyone who contributed to this podcast: Catherine Seavitt, Guy Nordenson, Laura Harris, Paul Gallay, Glenn Ligon, Jessamyn Fiore, Eric Sanderson, Bernice Rosenzweig. Adam Weinberg, Kellie Jones, Luc Sante, Alan Michelson, Pete Malinowski, and Bill T. Jones. Thanks also to oral historian Sara Sinclair, who interviewed George Stonefish and Curtis Zunigha. Special thanks to Elle Necoechea, Sofia Ortega-Guerrero, Aliza Sena, Jackie Foster, and Helena Guzik.

Thank you to our host, Carrie Mae Weems.

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.

The Whitney is located in Lenapehoking, the ancestral homeland of the Lenape. The Whitney acknowledges the displacement of this region's original inhabitants and the Lenape diaspora that exists today as an ongoing consequence of settler colonialism.


Making the Ghost Visible
Episode 5

“It is a drawing in space. It is an implied volume by the simplest and smallest number of linear elements that gives you the impression of a very large warehouse space. And yet nothing is actually enclosed except air.”
— Adam Weinberg

Is Day’s End (2014–21) an anti-monument for our time? In this episode, we return to the sculpture itself: how it makes meaning, how it fits into the surrounding environment, and what public art tells us about freedom and power.

Released June 11, 2021

In order of appearance: Glenn Ligon, Kellie Jones, Tom Finkelpearl, Mabel O. Wilson, Adam Weinberg, Ken Lum, An-My Lê, Guy Nordenson, Catherine Seavitt, Elegance Bratton, Stefanie Rivera, Curtis Zunigha

NYC Parks. “Henry Ward Beecher Monument.” nycgovparks.org.

The Museum of Modern Art. “Installation view of “Public Enemy” by David Hammons in the exhibition “Dislocations.”” moma.org.

Dislocations. Exhibition website, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (Oct. 20, 1991–Jan. 7, 1992).

Brakkton Booker. “Theodore Roosevelt Statue To Be Removed From New York Museum Entrance.WNYC, Jun. 22, 2020.

An-My Lê. “Silent General.” anmyle.com.

Monument Lab. “About - Monument Lab.” monumentlab.com.

Mabel O. Wilson on Statues & Symbolism.” Narrated by Alison Stewart. All Of It. WNYC, June 25, 2020.

Episode 4: In Direct Line.Public Art Works. Podcast audio, June 21, 2019.

Notes on an Imagined Plaque.The Memory Palace. Podcast audio, Aug. 13, 2015.

Episode 26: Museums are Not Neutral with Movement Co-Founders La Tanya S. Autry and Mike Murawski.Monument Lab. Podcast audio, May 14, 2020.

Take a Walk.99% Invisible. Podcast audio, Oct. 27, 2020.

Episode 5 - Making the Ghost Visible

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Episode 5 - Making the Ghost Visible

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Glenn Ligon: In downtown Brooklyn, there’s this statue of Henry Ward Beecher, a big abolitionist. So he’s up on a big pedestal. And at his feet are two seemingly larger than life-size images of Black people.

Carrie Mae Weems: Glenn Ligon is an artist who first met David Hammons at the Studio Museum in Harlem and later watched him as he made work in the streets of Brooklyn.

Glenn Ligon: And what David is doing is putting a scarf around the neck of one of the figures at the base of the Beecher statue because it’s in the middle of a blizzard, so he’s literally putting a scarf around this Black woman’s neck and head to keep her from catching cold. 

Carrie Mae Weems: The scene Glenn is describing is from a short video made in 2007. 

Glenn Ligon: It’s not like he thought, “Let me wait for a snowstorm. And then I’ll go out to Cadman Plaza and put . . .” It just feels like, “Oh, it’s snowing. I’m going to go do something out at the statue. Call up a friend, it’s like, ‘Come videotape this.’” It has that feeling like all of his work, not premeditated. It just feels like it’s responding to a moment.

Carrie Mae Weems: David has often used modest gestures to ask big questions. Art historian Kellie Jones. 

Kellie Jones: I think he’s still pointing out the kind of inequities, not just in our country, but also just in our visual culture.

Glenn Ligon: White men get pedestals. Black folks get the base. They get to be on the ground looking up adoringly at their saviors. But it’s also a kind of acknowledgement that the past is sort of present, this image of this Black girl is present for him and needs taking care of. And so this gesture of putting a scarf around her neck in the snowstorm is that.

Kellie Jones: Hammons has really been engaged with these ideas of representation, how people of color are represented and how you can intercede in these canonical visual structures, and particularly in public space.

Carrie Mae Weems: Welcome to Artists Among Us, a podcast from the Whitney Museum of American Art. In this season, we’ve been looking at the ways that David Hammons’s sculpture Day’s End opens up new perspectives on this site. In this episode, we come back to the sculpture itself—how it makes its meaning and how it fits into the world around it—right now.

Kellie Jones: It’s really impressive to see how Hammons has really engaged this idea of monuments over time, to the point that last week we saw all these monuments just falling or being taken down.

Carrie Mae Weems: Our interview with art historian Kellie Jones happened in June of 2020. By that time, as many of you know, George Floyd had been murdered by the Minneapolis police. This resulted in unprecedented uprisings, rebellions, demonstrations, all over the country. In any number of cases, protests were targeting the symbols of white supremacy itself: the monuments, monuments that existed around the country that needed to be reexamined, understood and perhaps even removed. As Kellie Jones points out, David had already dealt with these issues, the issues of monuments, and the problem of monuments in his earlier work.

Kellie Jones: What Public Enemy is, it’s part of the show Dislocations that the Museum of Modern Art, 1991 and ‘92, installations by seven artists, curated by Robert Storr.

Carrie Mae Weems: According to MoMA, Dislocations “leads us to question some of the familiar mental landmarks by which we orient our thinking.”

Kellie Jones: Hammons’s piece is called Public Enemy. He creates this kind of three-dimensional photo mural. It’s really like a box with photos of this sculpture from all angles, or at least from four angles.

Carrie Mae Weems: Curator Tom Finkelpearl.

Tom Finkelpearl: He took four photographs of the sculpture that's in front of the Museum of Natural History, which is of Teddy Roosevelt, and on either side of Teddy Roosevelt it’s meant to represent the continent of Africa and the continent of the Americas, so it’s a Black figure and a Native American figure.

Kellie Jones: He creates a box, puts it in the Museum of Modern Art, and then hides it in some ways behind sandbags, police lines. And he recreates, in some ways, this famous sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth president of the United States, previously governor of New York, which sits outside of the American Museum of Natural History.

Carrie Mae Weems: Mabel Wilson is a professor at Columbia University and an architect.

Mabel O. Wilson: So, there he is broad-chested, reining his horse. And on one side is an Indigenous person with their rifle down and then on the other side is an African with a rifle up. And so it’s clearly a narrative of conquest. The conquest of civilization.

Kellie Jones: Again, we see, the white figure that is on high and the figures of color who are lower than. And of course, from art history, theorizations, formula analysis, the white male is at the apex of the whole thing.

Carrie Mae Weems: The sculpture was somewhat disorienting. Its center was a large box, depicting images of monuments, with police barricades and balloons surrounding it. It was celebratory and ominous, messy and unclear.

Mabel O. Wilson: I think the Hammons piece is really sort of pointing out like these stakes of like, we don’t live in a public sphere that’s in fact about the representation, per se, of freedom and equality. It speaks to freedom and equality for some. And then speaks about your inferiority and your absence of rights in the public sphere.

Tom Finkelpearl: What David did in that environment was then surround that big huge photograph, which was in the middle of the room with sandbags, and then as if, you know, there’s sort of like a war going on, which there kind of is, around that sculpture and then balloons . . .

Mabel O. Wilson: There is this kind of posture of defense, that’s clearly around protecting it, could be one version. There’s the sort of celebration and the streamers around it.

Tom Finkelpearl: . . . as if there was a party going on.

Mabel O. Wilson: I think that the Hammons work, in my mind, sort of speaks to the entrenchment, actually, of that white supremacy and the protection of those representations in the public sphere, because they’ve become so commonsensical. How could you not see the beauty? How could you not see Roosevelt as a great man? How can you not sort of celebrate this as our shared set of values of what it means to be an American, without understanding how deeply embedded racialization is, even I would say in the category of the aesthetic?

Kellie Jones: The fact that it is called Public Enemy, he’s saying that the enemy is really the imperialist figure in Roosevelt, but of course, Public Enemy is, at that point, a well known hip hop band, and reusing that term because Black people, people of color are always seen as the “public enemy.”

Mabel O. Wilson: The notion that even speaking and pointing out the problematic nature of those kinds of representations, the fact that we actually do live in a highly racialized, racist society, you then become an enemy. You become the enemy. You become the problem. You become the racist. And it’s exactly the logic. That is domination. That is how you dominate someone. Right? That you’re always flipping the script. You’re always changing the narrative. It’s bullying, essentially. But that’s what domination does, to the point there’s no way to move. It’s a kind of psychic violence, so that you have no way to turn.

Kellie Jones: There’s a certain ambivalence there, that you’re really not sure, what the “message is.” It’s not like he has texts that say, “Oh, I can’t stand Theodore Roosevelt.” No. And then there’s balloons, there’s other things. So you don’t know if it’s a celebration, it’s a demonstration, it’s unclear, but he leaves it up to the audience. He’s not going to tell you what these things are. He’s going to listen to see what you have to say about it, which for him is the much more interesting approach.

What do you see? How does this make you feel? I would say that even if, with our 2020 vision, we can look and see, wow, how amazing that he’s been engaging monuments. And this is something that we’re engaging right now, the subtleness, and the sideways approach, to these type of ideas.

Mabel O. Wilson: I would say, along with the questions of aesthetics, form, the language of form, the work that monuments, I think, in the West do, are express power. They mark time. They mark place. They often are material and linguistic expressions of a set of values of a group of people at a moment in time. You know, one of the challenges is how long does the interpretation of that meaning, essentially, last over time? And I do think there’s a way, and this is the kind of way in which, how we think about knowledge and the past and history and the West. It’s timeless. It’s universal. So, built into our way of knowing the world is, “Well, really all of the world is that way.”

Adam D. Weinberg: A monument suggests something that is out of time. It’s something that is beyond time.

Carrie Mae Weems: Adam Weinberg is the Whitney’s director.

Adam D. Weinberg: Recently a lot of artists have been questioning the notion of a monument. There’s An-My Lê for example, is one artist who comes to mind who was in a recent Whitney Biennial and the artist Ken Lum has also been focusing on this. He’s been known for exploring the concept of monuments and he’s cofounded an organization, I guess it’s sort of a think tank, called the Monument Lab.

Ken Lum: We speculate on future monuments. At the same time, we study the behavior of monuments, our expectations of monuments, the iconography of monuments. We ultimately try to unfix the fixed notions we have of monuments.

I was new to Philadelphia in 2012 and I was walking around this city. I started noticing this very uneven inventory of monuments. Philadelphia has over a thousand statues, for example, and not until 2017, was there a full-size historical African American figure that was officially sanctioned. Philadelphia is forty percent African American. This is the city of Marianne Anderson, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, you name it. There’s a lot of incredible figures here, and yet none of them have statues that memorialize them.

Where a light bulb hit my head was the Rocky Balboa statue, which is obviously a fictional character from the movie Rocky, graces a very hallowed site at the base of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But Philadelphia is also home to a real heavyweight champion, Joe Frazier, who beat Muhammad Ali in some brutal fights decades ago.

Yet to this day, there’s no officially sanctioned statue of Joe Frazier in Philadelphia. There’s no public memorialization of a true heavyweight champion, but there is one of a fictional one who’s white. There’s lots of stories like that.

The critique of monuments . . . It’s about the crisis of representation. What can we believe in and what can we not believe in?

Adam D. Weinberg: David always believes that our works are multi-valent. That they don’t have singular readings. He does not want to tell people what to believe either verbally or through work itself. So he’s always leaving things open and the notion of his work is always about questioning rather than making declarative statements. He never explains why he decided to take on the Roosevelt monument, but he is always thinking about the positioning of the public artworks and relationship to public institutions. That’s something that’s not uncommon is the notion of how art enters the public sphere.

Carrie Mae Weems: In Public Enemy, David did take aim at the Roosevelt monument’s overt racism. But in retrospect, there was a lot more to it than that. Maybe that crazy, kind of awkward party celebrated the end of all those ideas wrapped up in the European tradition of monuments—that timelessness, that universality, that sense of victory that was all an illusion.

An-My Lê: I have a problem with monuments in general. I think that monuments tend to simplify things and essentializing something and they’re kind of meant to fail in a way, because probably they will speak and inspire some people, but I don’t think that it speaks to all people always. I thought the Statue of Liberty would speak to all people and obviously it’s not. So I think that the notion of monuments are efforts that are probably set to fail. The corny, the reductive, someone will hate them. 

Adam D. Weinberg: Around the time of Trump’s election, artist An-My Lê took some incredible photographs of Confederate monuments, often after they’d been removed from their original site, in storage facilities.

She was working in New Orleans at the time when all the Robert E. Lee and many of the other Confederate statues were being taken down.

So it’s that sense of displacement and the notion of what is there to represent and how are we represented in the public sphere? It’s very different than David’s work itself. But where they coincide is with the notion of questioning. Questioning is what is public art?

An-My Lê: The monuments came down, and they were at first done very secretly and mysteriously at night. Unmarked vans were used, the date was never posted. I was teaching at the time and so it was always very difficult to plan the timing and be there when it happened. And even though I tried it multiple times, I basically missed the removal of Beauregard and Robert E. Lee and General Davies. But I persisted. And so eventually in the summer of 2016, I was able to gain access to the Homeland Security storage where those monuments were actually kept, and it was actually so much more interesting, to tell you the truth, to see those monuments enormous being kept in something so simple as plywood storage in one case and something much more industrial in another case.

So I was able to photograph Robert E. Lee and Beauregard in plywood storage, and Davies was in another industrial storage.

It is so clarifying to see them away from the pedestal being kept and stored just like anything else. Their monumentality is still ever-present.

Adam Weinberg: What do we put out in the public sphere to represent history? What is history itself? Who tells history? Who owns history? Those are the kinds of questions that An-My and David are both addressing from radically different perspectives with radically different means.

Carrie Mae Weems: In Day’s End, David makes a kind of counter narrative, a counter proposal, a totally different model for using public sculpture to embody communal meaning. 

Adam D. Weinberg: When I asked him in a meeting years ago, “Is it a monument?” I said, “It’s really sort of an anti monument in a way.” 

Carrie Mae Weems: As a reminder, the sculpture started as a sketch, an outline of the building that rested on Pier 52, across the West Side Highway from the Whitney. That sketch has finally been transformed into a work of sculpture, massive but without volume. 

Guy Nordenson is the structural engineer who oversaw the construction of Day’s End

Guy Nordenson: It’s so mysterious. What the heck is this thing? My hope and what I tried really hard to achieve on our end is that every piece of it is really, really skinny, barely there so that the spirit and the ghostlike quality of it, hopefully, will be very clear. 

An-My Lê: For me, I think, as a photographer, the way to access history is to be specific, to describe things in details, to really go in there and dig deep and try to be certain I know what I’m talking about.

Day’s End is extraordinary in the sense that it’s so minimal and it’s a skeleton. It has no details except the structure, the shape, the line of the building. 

Carrie Mae Weems: Adam Weinberg is the Whitney’s Director. 

Adam D. Weinberg: What is it? It is a description in space. It is a drawing in space. It is an implied volume by the simplest and smallest number of linear elements that gives you the impression of a very large warehouse space. And yet nothing is actually enclosed except air. 

Ken Lum: Somehow it succeeds even more so because we don’t notice it in a funny way until you walk away from it. 

Mabel O. Wilson: And so, I think it marks time and space in a very kind of light way. It’s very ephemeral and fleeting. And that’s more of a counter monument than it is within the idiom and the language of the Western monument.

Carrie Mae Weems: Architect Catherine Seavitt worked closely with Guy. 

Catherine Seavitt: I guess for me that word “monument,” it always just sounds really heavy. Like it’s made out of bronze, or stone, or it has a lot of self-weight. So it’s interesting to think about this piece as a monument, because it’s truly so ephemeral and light, and really almost . . . it almost floats, right? It seems to be almost in defiance of gravity, and that heaviness that we so often associate with the word monument.

Monuments are often so specific, also. They’re about a very particular date in history, or about a very specific event. And they tend to mark that place, or that person, or that date. And I think what’s profound is to not have all of those singular associations. As opposed to it being totally specific, it actually opens up to being completely indeterminate. More than even a counter proposal, it’s a contrarian position that says it’s not about this. It’s not about one single thing, but it’s about an infinite number of things, possibly.

I think there’s something very comforting about this thing, this presence of this ghost of the past that brings back another time, but it’s also looking forward. So, it’s not nostalgic in many ways.

Glenn Ligon: I think the sort of here- and there-ness, here- and there-ness in the sense of here, but not here at the same time, is a lot of what David’s work is about. David making things that have this enormous presence but are also kind of ghostly, they’re not here.

Carrie Mae Weems: Day’s End doesn’t have any one story to tell, any single history to celebrate. It’s an absence, a frame of a building that no longer exists. But it’s so rooted in its site at the meeting point of the city and the river that we might also see that absence as an opening—a space for the many absences and invisible histories of this place to speak.

Carrie Mae Weems: Professor Kellie Jones.

Kellie Jones: I think with this piece and with some of these others, it’s really about meditating on that absence, on that invisibility. Is it an invisibility of people, of housing? Of certainly thinking about Native American sovereignty in those spaces. That kind of empty framework makes us think about what was there, not just last week, not just ten years ago, but generations ago, before New York. And the fact that it’s empty, and there’s just a framework, really, I think takes us to that place of kind of starting over. 

Elegance Bratton: In the ruins of the past comes the seeds of the future, like literally seeds coming everywhere. 

Carrie Mae Weems: Filmmaker Elegance Bratton. 

Elegance Bratton: So when I walk through this space, I think about, you know, the people who’ve been lost to time in this space.

Carrie Mae Weems: Activist Stefanie Rivera. 

Stefanie Rivera: And that’s going to bring a lot of feelings for a lot of people that were from over here, or who got to be here, and got to experience it. I think sometimes we don’t give enough credit to like landmarks that existed. And I think it’s important that we, you know, try to hold onto a little bit of that before it’s all completely gone.

Mabel O. Wilson: So, those spaces have their own memory. 

Carrie Mae Weems: Professor Mabel Wilson.

Mabel O. Wilson: And so the piece sort of feels like just a brief glimmer outline of what happened there. But just a very faint marking. Not a reconstruction. Not a recreation. But a kind of marking of what happened there.

Curtis Zunigha: You don’t have to read the Encyclopedia Britannica to learn about the history of this place. If you can open yourself, it comes to you.

Carrie Mae Weems: Activist Curtis Zunigha.

Don’t let the Encyclopedia Britannica, or Wikipedia, tell you that we are no longer here.

Carrie Mae Weems: Artist Glenn Ligon. 

Glenn Ligon: I think David’s aware of the history of this site and what it was and what it is now. And his project is a kind of . . . It’s about a ghost. It’s like any urban space changes over time, but the ghost of what it was is still there. And I think that’s what he’s doing in this project, is making the ghost visible.

Narrator: Thank you for being with us for the last episode of our five-part series. Artists Among Us is a podcast from the Whitney Museum of American Art. If you’re downtown near the Whitney and the High Line, come see the sculpture that inspired the series, David Hammons’s Day’s End.

To learn more about the voices you have heard here, please visit whitney.org/podcast. You’ll also find Artists Among Us wherever you get your podcasts. If you’ve enjoyed listening, please rate the show and share it with your friends.

Special thanks to the artist, David Hammons, whose vision made this project possible.

And thank you to our host, artist Carrie Mae Weems.

Thank you to the City of New York, the Keith Haring Foundation, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund and Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust and the many donors for their generous support to realize David Hammons’s Day’s End, and a special thanks to the Joan Ganz Cooney and Holly Peterson Foundation and the Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation for their support towards the creation of this podcast, Artists Among Us.

Additional thanks to our podcast contributors: Kellie Jones, Tom Finkelpearl, Mabel O. Wilson, Adam D. Weinberg, Ken Lum, An-My Lê, Guy Nordenson, Catherine Seavitt, Andrew Berman, Elegance Bratton, Stefanie Rivera, Curtis Zunigha, and Glenn Ligon.

Special thanks also to Kyle Croft, Alex Fiahlo, George Comenske, Jonathan Kuhn, Gina Morrow, Elle Necoechea, Sofia Ortega-Guerrero, Aliza Sena, Stephen Vider, Sasha Wortzel, and Liza Zapol, as well as Jackie Foster, and Helena Guzik.

Original music for Artists Among Us and Day’s End was created by Daniel Carter with Federico Ughi and 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.


Credits

Thank you to the City of New York, The Keith Haring Foundation, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund and Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust, and the many donors for their generous support to realize David Hammons, Day’s End, and a special thanks to the Joan Ganz Cooney and Holly Peterson Foundation and The Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation for their support towards the creation of this podcast.

The Whitney is located in Lenapehoking, the ancestral homeland of the Lenape. The Whitney acknowledges the displacement of this region's original inhabitants and the Lenape diaspora that exists today as an ongoing consequence of settler colonialism.

Our host is Carrie Mae Weems.

Original music for Artists Among Us and Day’s End was created by Daniel Carter and his collaborators, with Ayumi Ishito, Gabby Fluke-Mogul, Jessica Ackerley, Eric Plaks, Luke Stewart, Ryan Sawyer, Federico Ughi, Stelios Mihas, Irma Nejando, Matthew Shipp and William Parker, among other musicians.

This podcast was produced by Sound Made Public in collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art.


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