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Leonard Fink Coming Out

7. December 2014 – 10. May 2015

Photographs of Gay Liberation and the New York Waterfront


From 7 December 2014 to 23 March 2015 – EXTENDED UNTIL 10 May 2015

Opening on 6 December at 7pm with the curators and Wolfgang Brückle, senior lecturer at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences & Arts


Until the middle of the twentieth century the West Side Piers on the Hudson River of Manhattan have been the supply center for the trade from New York. After the decay of the Piers the area developed into a focus of sexual and artistic subcultures.


The Jewish photographer and actor Leonard Fink (1930-1992) was one of the important historiographers of these developments. He recorded the sexualization of the place, which was at the same time the starting point of new artistic interventions, such as Vito Acconci, Godron Marra-Clark, Richard Serra and others, who wanted to get rid of the institutional constraints. They used the interieurs of the deteriorated piers for the authenticity of their installations and performative works.


Leonard Fink’s pictures are visual records of the daily life on the piers, of cruising, sunbathing, posing in front of the bars Ramrod, Badlands and the Cellar Bar at the Weststreet, which connects the piers with the Greenwich Village. Not far from there is Christopher Street, where the Stonewall Riots started at the end of the sixties after a police raid.


Fink pictures also document the decay of an architecture on the West-Side of Manhattan, that doesn’t exist anymore today. Its decay brought with it the slow disappearance of these subcultures.


Copyright: Leonard Fink/LGBT Archive New York

Leonard Fink was born in New York City in 1930, and he grew up on the West-Side of Manhattan.  During Leonard’s childhood, his father was a doctor in the army, stationed in Japan and later Korea, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Leonard was raised in an orthodox Jewish household, and was bar mitzvah, but as a grownup he was a non-observant Jew. Fink received his undergraduate degree from Louisiana State University. He served in the army in the early 1950s and rose to the rank of a sergeant. Although he wanted to be an architect, his parents dissuaded him from pursuing a career in the arts and he instead got a law degree from New York Law School. Throughout most of his career he worked as an attorney for the New York City Transit Authority where he investigated and defended the city against accident claims.  It is reported that he hated his job. He was never really out as a gay man to his family.  His brother said that he only became aware of Leonard’s gay identity when he saw one of his sexually explicit photographs in his apartment toward the end of Leonard’s life.

Although Fink never has exhibited his photographs during his lifetime, he shared them with friends and sent them as “greeting cards.”  For example, he showed many of his most explicit pictures to James Gigliello, who he met in 1980. He photographed Gigliello in his apartment and Gigliello watched him develop his own pictures in his makeshift darkroom that he had in his apartment. Gigliello reports that Fink, camera always around his neck and on roller-skates was so well known in the gay scene of the West Village of the early 1980s, that he was the unofficial “Mayor of Christopher Street.” Fink died of HIV/AIDS in 1992. This biographical information is based on interviews conducted by Jonathan Weinberg with Susan Fink Caplan, Andrea Fink, Howard Fink, and James Gigliello in May 2014.


Judith Luks, Cultural Manager and Publisher & Thomas Schoenberger, Art Historian


The new comprehensive book „LEONARD FINK COMING OUT. Photographs of Gay Liberation and the New York Waterfront” (Publisher edition clandestin, editor Judith Luks & Thomas Schoenberger) will be published simultaneously with the exhibition. It can be bought at the museumsshop of the Schwules Museum* (40 EUR).

It was supported by following institutions:

Bundesamt für Kultur, Switzerland /  Heinrich Hössli Foundation / george foundation / Georges and Jenny Bloch-Foundation / Kresau4-Foundation.