On March 4, a baby boy was born to Spice Girl Victoria "Posh Spice" Adams and her soon-to-be-husband, soccer star David Beckham. They named the jolly lad after the city where he had been conceived, Brooklyn.
Thus does New York's largest and most populous borough register a chic cultural presence on the global stage. The much-anticipated (and frequently hyped) Brooklyn art scene has now, at last, come into its own. Want new art by the rising international art stars of tomorrow? I got one word for you -- Brooklyn.
Brooklyn galleries are spread out over several areas, though most are situated in the artists' neighborhood of Williamsburg. Three spaces have been around for several years and form the core the Brooklyn scene. Pierogi 2000, founded by artist Joe Amrhein, has become famous for its flat files holding reasonably priced works by hundreds of artists. Momenta Art is a not-for-profit exhibition space, directed by artist Eric Heist (whose work is reviewed below) and Laura Parnes (soon to be showing at Deitch Projects). Arena is my favorite -- but I'm biased, as it is operated by my wife, the curator-turned-dealer Renee Riccardo.
Pierogi 2000 and Momenta Art are located in industrial spaces in Williamsburg, while Arena, currently in a Cobble Hill brownstone, will soon become nomadic, presenting shows in different areas of Brooklyn.
One new arrival to Williamsburg this spring was the tall and affable Leo Koenig, son of Kaspar Koenig, director of Portikus in Frankfurt, and Ilka Koenig, an art-book dealer from Munich. His namesake gallery, Leo Koenig Inc., currently occupies the Williamsburg space of Four Walls, while FW's Mike Ballou enjoys a yearlong residency at the KunstlerHaus Bethanien in Berlin. Leo premiered with a large-scale mixed-media installation by Aidas Bareikas, a Lithuanian artist now living in Brooklyn.
Undulating from the wall to the floor, Bareikas' work created a well-tuned, ill-assorted chaos of paint, construction materials, prosthetic limbs, debris from a celebration (balloons, toys, fruit, flowers and leaves) and the remains of a sporting event (balls and protective gear). It was titled Embarkation for Cythera, a reference to Watteau's allegorical masterpiece in the Louvre. Watteau's Rococo work represented impossible dreams, the revenge of madness on reason and freedom from moral rules -- topics not unfamiliar to today's avant-garde.
Bareikas was also recently seen in "Generation Z" at P.S.1, where he filled a room with acidic yellow debris for an installation called Yellow Peril -- Friendly Fire, a reference to the artist's personal memories of his experience as a Russian army draftee in war-torn Afghanistan.
Another intriguing stop on the Brooklyn art tour is Flipside, a small gallery in an industrial loft building that discretely coexists with the living space of artists Caroline Cox and Tim Spelios. Recently on view were new paintings by Greg Stone, whose sepia-toned works begin with fragments of sacred texts and numerical data culled from the Internet that are then layered and interwoven into a mandala-like structure of tar, plaster, and paper on wood. Like a computer hacker turned whirling dervish, Stone adds an element of wit to this otherwise solemn subject matter. Flipside also has shown motorized sculptural contraptions by Ward Shelley, sewn and crafted delicacies by Lynn Mullins, and the cartoon-inspired ouevre of Joyce Pensato.
Artists Barry Hylton and Lisa Schroeder organize the exhibitions at Feed, a sensibly designed gallery within a loft space above a pasta factory. The inaugural show this winter was a whimsical display of quasi-scientific photography by Mark McLoughlin.
This spring Feed presented recent work by Eric Heist, whose dryly humorous multi-media installation explored the relationship between the individual and the crowd. The large painting Giants shows fans at a football game, their images repeatedly silk-screened on the canvas and dusted with a veil of sugar until blurred into a massive abstraction. Live Feed is an unpainted plywood shack with a door leading into a passage that gets smaller and smaller. Carefully proceeding toward a muffled sound of talking and the faint glow of a yellow light, the viewer eventually arrives in a chamber with a little bench underneath a small round speaker broadcasting the police band. "We have a jumper at Bleecker and Lafayette. Stop and pick-up an air bag. We have an air bag. There's a female dancing on the edge of a building. Cancel the call. It's only a photo shoot." The next report coming across the airwaves is a bomb scare. While one sits in the safety of this isolation chamber -- lost in thought -- the world out there is restless.
Other works on display included Prison Party, a light box that shows on its outside a black-and-white image of a ramshackle city prison. Peering through a cutout eyehole, one can observe a crowd at a sporting event doing the wave. In the middle of the spectators is a colorfully dressed woman, arms raised in the air, wearing a pair of ridiculously large yellow sunglasses. You'd be wise to think twice before joining this party.
In Asylum, Heist mounted a color photograph of a football team's tiger mascot directly onto the gallery wall. Peeking through a hole cut in the tiger's eye, the viewer sees an image of a group of men with shaved heads standing naked in an asylum. The image is repeated in the reflections of the white Plexiglas box hidden in the wall. One of these exposed men covers his ears in a motion that mimics the gesture of the football mascot, who is removing his overstuffed head. All of the works here fit together like the pieces of a puzzle.
Roebling Hall, a Williamsburg gallery directed by artist Joel Beck and critic Christian Viveros-Fauné, got off to a great start last fall with a large allegorical group show entitled Greenworld that was presented in three installments. This spring, the gallery hosted "Alternative Alternative," a show examining the history of SPOT, a space known for showing conceptual, performance and installation art from 1995 until it closed in the spring of 1998. The exhibition was organized by William Stover, a recent graduate from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. He had been a gallery assistant at SPOT and as part of the show organized two walls of photographs, invitations, press releases, letters and various other documents from the archive of SPOT's founder, artist Warren Neidich.
As a group show it was peppered with the usual mix of the good, the bad and the indifferent. Several women artists showed political work that paid attention to detail while remaining witty. Karen Kimmel showed two works. Magazine as Site is a group of multicolored plastic racks for magazines that includes reading stools. Cozy consists of a selection of objects -- a tan neoprene dress, beer cozies, brown and tan display trays -- all left over from her performance at SPOT in which the audience was served endless amounts of Wit Beer by a bevy of young beauties.
A selection of color photos by Nina Katchadourian pictured books stacked vertically so that the titles on their spines read as visual poems. She also exhibited Book Cluster installation, an arrangement of books on shelves whose titles, taken together, form aphorisms and haikus. The set on the top shelf read The Disaster Area Modern Nature Against Architecture and the ones at the bottom composed Eyeless in Gaza Burning with Desire.
Fatima Tuggar, whose work has been featured in several group shows of late, presented a pair of sculptures. Fan is an assisted readymade for which the artist attached traditional maficichi woven fans to the armature of a white electrical ceiling fan. Broom is a bundle of tsintia with a battery-operated sound component that makes a "swish" sound when a button is pressed. Both pieces are light-hearted commentaries on household devices from two different cultures. Also by Tuggar was a recent ink jet print, Daydream, that depicts a woman preparing a large meal on a table in her kitchen while an array of feminine objects (make-up, perfume, bracelet, ring, earrings, watch, necklace, scented candle and soap) float overhead. She possesses a table full of treasures but dreams of material desires to alter her identity and eventually her way of life.
The multitalented Uscha Pohl, the artist who runs Up & Co. gallery in Tribeca and is editor and publisher of Very magazine, was also included in "Alternative Alternative." Her Changing Room-ID Cell is a large tent-like structure made from blackout fabric covered with calico and embellished with Up & Co. design patterns. It stretches from floor to ceiling with a circumference of 15 yards. Inside is a continuous video projection of three minifilms shot in super-8 by Pohl and Hugo Tillman. The films present a kind of random narrative, conjuring more the spirit of both the Dada filmmakers and the Beat poets. L'Etranger begins in Arizona, moves to Morocco, then Germany and ends in Brooklyn.
Finally, all this gallery activity has an institutional achor -- the Brooklyn Museum of Art and its determined new director, Arnold Lehman. Not too long ago, Lehman and his wife, Pamela, invited some locals up to their new Smith-Miller + Hawkinson designed Brooklyn Heights apartment, which affords breathtaking 360-degree views of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Visitors noted the Lehman's art collection, which includes works by Gilbert & George, Barbara Kruger, Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman, as well as a newly acquired mechanical word piece by the young Brooklyn artist, David Opdyke.
PAUL LASTER is an artist living in Brooklyn.
Like many Manhattan galleries, Brooklyn venues keep irregular hours in the summer. Intrepid visitors would be well advised to give a call before setting out.
Pierogi 2000, 177 North 9th Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211
Closed for the summer, but open by appointment, (718) 599-2144
Momenta Art, 72 Berry Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211
Closed for the summer, for info call (718) 218-8058
Arena, 313 Clinton Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11231
Closed for the summer; for further info call (718) 624-1307
Leo Koenig Inc., 138 Bayard Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11222
Hours: Thursday - Monday, noon to 7 pm, and by appointment, (718) 387-6388.
Flipside, 84 Withers Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211
Open Sunday 1 - 6 pm, and by appointment, (718) 389-7108
Feed, 173A North 3rd Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211,
Hours: Saturday & Sunday, 1 - 6 pm, and by appointment, (718) 486-8992