Nine weeks after the opening of the much-discussed Greater New York show at P.S. 1, Chelsea’s CRG Gallery opens its summer program with a tongue-in-cheek counterpart entitled Greater Brooklyn. Inspired by the fact that most of New York’s younger generation of artists are based in Brooklyn, this exhibition features thirty artists who have only two things in common: they live in or close to this borough and they continue to pursue their art-making without steady gallery representation.
While searching for artists to be included in their show, curators Alex Dodge and Glen Baldridge skipped the traditional route leading from direct dialogue to studio visits, and instead initiated an open call on the Internet, asking for submissions of picture files, artist statements, and essays. High tech and removed, this process only required the viewing of digital reproductions and hence, highly interpretative sources. Out of a rumored 400 eager proposals, Dodge and Baldridge selected works they had never seen before and settled on artists they had never met!
Obviously, this kind of generalized and impersonal curatorial approach has a variety of problems (not to speak of the lack of fun), in particular in terms of aesthetics, since the thirty chosen artworks vary immensely in terms of media, style, and content. Furthermore, it is hard to do justice to any known and especially unknown artist by only allowing for one work to represent a whole passionate oeuvre. However, with an original thematic concept behind it, rich diversity can become a motivator to turn unrelated fractions into interlocking puzzle pieces, to tie loose ends into a net. In the end Greater Brooklyn can be experienced as a colorful yet unstructured and very selective glimpse of what waiting to be discovered in Brooklyn’s creative studios. Though it is arguable that this project hardly differs in spirit from the chaos inherent in any art school’s graduate exhibition, which longs to encourage art dealers to scout and sign up new talent, one should take advantage of the only thing this show really has to offer: the discovery of some unsung treats.
These include two watercolors by Bella Foster and Theodore Kersten, which in line with the current trend towards the figurative naïve, enchant through the intelligible and humorous symbiosis of boldly outlined human forms and animalistic fable creatures. Set against simplified landscapes, these embody a powerfully contradictory mixture of helplessness and playful adventurism, transforming each character into symbolic personifications of adulthood’s struggle to find footing in a world post kindergarten.
The tragic comedy accompanying these little moments of truth is often extended beyond the sheer physicality of the artworks by introducing titles worthy of song lyrics or diary confessions. Personal announcements, such as “I Heard a Tree Fall in the Forest Last Night” (Foster) or Eddie Martinez’s “If I only had a Sweet Bill Cosby Sweater” sound equally au courant, the latter giving an almost South Park-ian rendition of a 1980s styled counterfeit a distinct message. Wearing a Boston Red Sox cap and an exquisitely patterned sweater, which would make knitting circles and Scottish shepherds equally envious, Martinez’s hero stares at us, proving that there is no dream too campy, no statement too banal to deserve honest painterly devotion.
Casually demonstrating that the abstract can be disguised as “minimal with a twist”, the highly sophisticated works introduced by Jim Lee and Keiko Narahashi blend the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Whereas Lee’s “Ultra Blue Wood” might seem an imperfect flat oval from afar, it manifests itself as a three-dimensional wall construction as soon as seen from up close, changing from a succulent hole to a protruding force. In comparison, Narahashi’s “Untitled (Small & Red White)”, a skillful assemblage of varying rectangles held in a sugar cane palette, appears much softer. In fact, similar to sensations often generated by Claes Oldenburg’s large latex sculptures, Narahashi’s delicate piece makes it hard for any viewer to obey the “do not touch, do not squeeze, or lovingly squish the artwork” rule, common in so many exhibition halls.
In “Lincoln,” an astonishing ink on paper, George Boorujy captures the late American president without the standard beard known from any five-dollar bill. Instead, lush chest hair framing chiseled collar bones make up for it, providing Boorujy’s extreme realism with a slightly surreal aftertaste, which increases when turning to the adjacent wall presenting Sam Wilson’s “90210: The Complete 10 Seasons.” An homage to home videotaping, this work consists of numerous cassettes made of molded paper, all carefully stacked and arranged side by side on a shelf. Containing thorough descriptions of their imaginary contents, each object succeeds in questioning what spending valuable time means. What was more joyful to Wilson, watching the actual television show or translating his experience into sculptural form, thinking of the meaning each illusory videotape would signify?
79. (Brooklyn Navy Yard, Columbia County)
NOV 2021 | The Miraculous
An artist in his mid-30s living in New York and working in a 300-square-foot studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, finds himself consumed by frustration and anger. Although he is having exhibitions, after the shows close his paintings inevitably return to his studio, unsold. Hes not sure he wants to go on being an artist. A psychiatrist he consults helps him to understand that his anger revolves around his feelings about race, class and entitlement. Eventually the psychiatrist recommends that he begin working with a physical trainer, who has him start boxing and working out with a punching bag. Around the same time the artist, who is half-Choctaw and half-Cherokee, has been meeting with traditional Native American artists who tell him how the practices of dancing, drumming and beading have saved their lives. These experiences lead him to make a breakthrough in his work. Instead of focusing on painting, he begins to adorn Everlast vinyl punching bags like those he has been using at the boxing gym in extravagant styles inspired by Native American beadwork, pop culture, and everyday life. Along with beads, he adds tassels, sequins, brass and steel studs, yarn, chains, and sundry items. Some of the bags feature beaded texts quoting everyone from Simone de Beauvoir to Public Enemy.
36. The 1960s, BrooklynBy Raphael Rubinstein
FEB 2023 | The Miraculous
Its the mid-1960s in Bedford-Stuyvesant where some 15 or 20 young men get into the habit of harmonizing together after pick-up basketball games. One of them, an aspiring musician who is supporting himself as an elevator operator, notices some talented voices in the crowd, so one night he invites everyone back to his apartment to rehearse, hoping for something interesting to emerge.
The Brooklyn Presence at SXSWBy Nic Yeager
MAY 2022 | Film
Between March 11 and 20, four Brooklyn-based short films screened at SXSW, each shot in Brooklyn and made by and featuring Brooklynites. SXSW is known for celebrating innovation in tech and education, and these projects offer their own kind of innovation: namely, an irreplaceable artistic ingenuity that flows out of this borough.
76. (The Brooklyn Museum)By Raphael Rubinstein
NOV 2021 | The Miraculous
At the sparsely attended opening of his first museum show in the United States, a German artist carries a 16-mm movie camera on his shoulder throughout the event. As people come up to congratulate him, he says almost nothing while pointing the camera at their faces. Its unclear whether or not he is actually filming, but the camera effectively insulates him from his fans, however few they are.