NEW YORK —
“The rats were huge,” he says. “They were as big as cats, so you had to walk in the middle of the street. It’s amazing what they turned it into. It’s cool but it’s lost its, like, authenticity.”
Rudy Giuliani was elected New York City mayor in 1993 and promised to crack down on crime and make the city more livable. The number of homicides in the city — 1,960 in 1993 — had already dropped from a high of 2,245 in 1990 but has plunged steeply since then. (There were 414 in all of last year.)
The city’s AIDS crisis peaked in 1993 at 12,744 diagnoses. Terrorists staged the first attack on the World Trade Center. The look of the city has changed dramatically as national retailers have replaced independent merchants. New York City’s first Starbucks opened in 1994.
“There was a presence of a kind of downtown underground scene which you really don’t experience in New York anymore,” recalled Gary Carrion-Murayari, curator of the exhibit at the New Museum featuring 161 works, many intended to shock with sexual imagery.
Lutz Bacher’s “My Penis,” for example, repeats a video snippet from the 1991 Florida rape trial of William Kennedy Smith, a nephew of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, in which Smith testifies about the organ in question.
In Pepsn Osorio’s “The Scene of the Crime (Whose Crime?),” a blood-soaked sheet covers what appears to be a corpse. Four nude mannequins join hands and stare into space in Charles Ray’s “Family Romance.” Political issues are tackled head-on in works like Sue Williams’ “Are you Pro-Porn or Anti-Porn?”
The exhibit and accompanying pay phone campaign run through May 26.
Pay phones in the Times Square area feature X-rated talk-show host Byrd describing the neighborhood before Disney musicals and theme-park stores made it safe for tourists.
“The area wasn’t really as dangerous as people thought it was in those days,” Byrd says. “Because most of the bums that you thought were bums on the street were really undercover cops.”
She adds: “It was a great time. It’s too bad it’s changed because now it’s very pasteurized, homogenized, and it looks like Vegas.”