Doldrums, schmoldrums -- Brooklyn galleries sizzle throughout the summer. Half a dozen venues have put serious thought into their off-season offerings, with a little help from artists, freelance curators and their friends.
Brooklyn Fire Proof, which opened a few years ago in a raw space on Richardson Street on the northwestern cusp of Williamsburg,recently enjoyed a makeover and is looking downright spiffy (though its still a little hard to find). The current show is "Laying Doggo," organized by Yale MFA candidate Ann Toebbe and mainly featuring the work of other Yalies.
One exception is Ohio State alumna Stacy Fisher, whose work shares with the show's other participants an interest in the examination of mundane, archetypal imagery -- the generic, threadbare visual vocabulary of popular culture but avoids trafficking in clich and wrings some genuine emotion from the combination of generic motifs. Most of the pieces in this seven-artist show are priced for the entry-level collector, in the $500 to $2,500 range.
BFP founder and director Burr Dodd has no problem ceding control to outside curators; indeed, he seems delighted that his little corner of the world has taken on a life of its own. Next up for the gallery is "August," organized by artist Dan Kopp, followed in September by "Intimacy," assembled by the ubiquitous writer and curator David Gibson.
Fisher's work was seen last spring in "Up and Off the Wall," at the nonprofit Dumbo Arts Center. DAC has a generous space, a helpful staff, and a bit of difficulty mounting truly convincing shows. There are a couple of stand-outs in every exhibition, but frequently the curatorial conceit is fleshed out with mediocre work distinguished by nothing more than traits that happen to support it. In such a thesis-driven selection, the tail wags the dog.
DAC invites curators in to do their thing with Brooklyn artists, and the current show, "A Stereoscopic Vision," on view through Sept. 19, 2004, is curated by Melissa Chiu, museum director of the Asia Society. It succeeds better than any other recent shows at DAC in large part because of the fruitful dialogue between objects. The model of Brancusi's studio packed with towering sculptures in Joe Fig's photo Brancusi 1928 (2003) takes on new resonance in light of Bird's Eye View (2004), a floor piece by Yoko Inoue wherein a collection of mirror balls, doilies, glass jars and pink-glazed cast-ceramic versions of vaguely familiar, cartoonish big-beaked birds replicate themselves into infinity.
Multiplicity is an attribute of much of the work here, including PedroCruz-Castros Useless Objects (2001-03), a collection of plaster-covered and black-painted household objects arrayed deadpan on a plinth. The same items -- still-life components without the life -- are rendered in hazy, romantic charcoal on ledger-book pages, and in a crisp laser print wall chart, underscoring the sense of an inventory or accounting. The artist is an art handler by trade.
The emotional weight of things is expressed differently in the work of Susan Graham, who contributes two show-stoppers: Empty Rooms (2000) a slide carousel slowly and hypnotically churning through its loop of black-and-white images of empty rooms, which may be models, punctuated by just a few of lamps and mirrors in a hotel corridor and a bedroom; and the exquisite Squall (2002). In this tiny piece, projector and projected are linked in a tortured tango worthy of the hammer-locked protagonists of a Michael Mann movie. The artist's background in craft (she was a recipient, in 2003, of aNYFA craft fellowship) informs her awareness that the medium is, at the least, a considerable part of the message. Most of the work in the show is for sale, priced in the $200-$4,000 range.
Drew Heitzler and Flora Wiegmann of Champion Fine Art, located at 281 North 7th Street, have brought their clear-headed focus to the scene for the last year or so. If the address sounds familiar to you Brooklyn hands, it might be because that's the building where Flame burned briefly, a short while ago. Champion's innovative program consists of a series of 20 group shows organized entirely by artists -- the likes of Reed Anderson, Carol Bove and Steven Parrino -- invited to "champion" the work of a group of their fellow artists.
Champions current exhibition is "Escapism: a Viable Political Alternative," assembled by Fia Backstrom. The gallery walls have been painted gray and the lights turned low for the occasion; the theatrical presentation flatters Two Moons (2003, $6,000), photographer Roe Etheridge's beautiful double-take of a three-quarter moon, and facilitates its visceral, pre-verbal connection with Darth, the topographically rich, papier-mach-modified CD rack contributed by Jessica Jackson Hutchins. (This piece was sold prior to the show, and appears by arrangement with the artist's dealer, Derek Eller.) As always at Champion, a makeshift catalogue ("printed ephemera") accompanies the exhibition.
Visitors have until this Friday, Aug. 20, 2004, to see the show, and the gallery, for that matter, as Champion relocates to Los Angeles at the end of the summer. Drew tells me that he and Flora plan to return to New York in a couple of years. Here's hoping they land back in the county of Kings. Brooklyns art neighborhood also recently lost the redoubtable Becky Smith and her edgy Bellwether gallery, as well as the charming and whip-smart Monya Rowe, to the siren song of Chelsea's throngs. Mazel tov and bonne chance, ladies!
Fortunately, the Brooklyn scene is endlessly fertile and constantly regenerating. Down on Grand Street, Stay Gold has been presenting shows since January, and founder/directors Anna Sheffield and Farika tell me they're booked through spring of 2005. The comfortable, casual space, which fronts a clutch of working artists' studios and thus exudes something of a communal air, plays host through Sept. 5 to a high-voltage gathering of antiwar and other protest posters under the rubric "Yo! What Happened to Peace?" The project, which has been presented in different forms in Tokyo and Boston, features the work of about 100 graphic artists and is coordinated by L.A.-based designer John Carr. This agitprop is for sale: edition sizes vary widely but prices are generally below $100.
Speaking of gold, Roebling Hall, the borough's gold standard of lively and intelligent cultural critique, adds its voice to the chorus of art-world resistance to the Bush administration's policies and propaganda. Now, putting together a "political" show from among this gallery's artists and associates was probably slightly less taxing for directors Joel Beck and Christian Viveros-Faun than a day at the beach; nevertheless, "Bush League" is an opportunity to see some fine painterly polemics, like Dan Fords oil-on-canvas painting The Burning of the National Library, Baghdad; Troops Observing Looters (2004), an update of Turner's Burning of the Houses of Parliament. The price is $10,000.
On a lighter note, Guy Richard Smit's daydream recastings of New York Times front pages, done in watercolor on paper and dated to 2004 ($2,500 each), demonstrate that satire embraces even the absurd. The show is on view through Sept. 6, so that adventurous, Billyburg-bound delegates to the Republican National Convention (who may, after all, get lost looking for a certain overpriced steakhouse) will have an opportunity to take it in.
If you want to do something besides kvetch about the current administration in Washington, go to www.unitedforpeace.org.
STEPHEN MAINE is an artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn.