Brooklyn is a complete universe unto itself. Artists aged 20 to 80 show in a variety of gallery spaces in three prime art neighborhoods -- Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo and Williamsburg. But where Manhattan’s art districts are thoroughly mapped, Brooklyn is still terra incognito. Herewith, a guide.
The elegant tree-lined streets of Brooklyn Heights are nestled between a world-famous East River promenade overlooking Manhattan's skyline and Cadman Plaza with its courthouse and government buildings. Right in the middle of it all, located in a sleekly architected ground-floor space in a 16-story brick office building, is the Rotunda Gallery. Brooklyn's oldest contemporary gallery launched its 18th season with "Chronologies," an exhibition of seven artists whose works explore the passage and measure of time.
And what better way to mark time than with crochet? Icelandic artist Hildur Bjarnadottir crocheted a large, table-top-sized doily ringed with 3-D skulls made of string. She also takes adult-sized clothes and washes and dries them until they shrink to fit a five year old. Is this a reversion to childhood, or a rebellion against grown-up chores?
Oliver Herring, perhaps better known for his life-size figures knit out of mylar strips (and exhibited at Max Protetch Gallery in Manhattan), here presents a 90-second stop-action animation on laser disc. Herring's wacky dance joyfully captures the time an artist spends in his studio. A series of 27 photos by Anna Theresa Peña of her brother Victor are both cinematic and enchanting. Brainard Carey's Foot Washing Project, a mixed-medium work done with Delia Bajo, offers free hugs, foot washing and Band-Aids every Friday to members of the public. It takes time, but the reward is worth the effort.
Time, and plenty of it, is what you need to view the 400 works by as many artists in "Size Matters" at GAle GAtes et al in Dumbo, the funky warehouse district located "down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass." A sprawling, ground-floor storefront gallery in a large industrial building, the orthographically irregular GAle GAtes turned its space over to curator Mike Weiss, who asked artists (including myself) to submit a work in an identical 24 by 24 inch format.
This show could be subtitled "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly." On the good end are abstract paintings by Giles Lyons, Matt Magee, Maureen McQuillan, Tina Marie Poulin, Giovanni Garcia-Fenech and Danny Simmons; pop paintings by Donald Baechler, Cadence Giersbach, Todd Kancar, Jason Middlebrook, Kenny Scharf and Jenny Scobel; photo works by Karen King, Daniel Mirer and Bill Orcutt; collages by Tom Moody and Katherine Powers; digital prints by Claire Corey and Hanneke van Velzen; sculptures by John Dewey and Dana Lowy; and an ambient sound piece by David Abir.
One particularly compelling video installation by Maureen Connor is entitled Time Matters. Connor constructed two shelves, the lower one holding books like Fear of Fifty, Get What You Deserve, Bouncing Back and On Death and Dying and the upper one a clock with hands and a video monitor that displays footage of stars like Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Clark Gable and Elizabeth Taylor. Incredibly, the Hollywood legends first age then morph into one another to the ticking of time. It's a mesmerizing statement on life and death.
As for the ugly, a standout in this category, placed on what could be read as a wall of rejects, is an oversized flowershaped cushion with a stain in the center. It's Mike Asente's Baby Disney Asshole, an intentionally nasty sculpture that is part of the series that was also seen at the Williamsburg gallery Art Moving.
Down the block is Smack Mellon Studios, a gallery behind a crumbling, two-story brick façade that opens up inside to a vast, wood-beamed warehouse space that used to be a spice factory (and smells like it). On view is "Natural Histories," a group show of work by 10 artists. In the basement is a spooky installation by Maureen Connor. Hanging from the ceiling is a living room suite, complete with slippers, by David Baskin -- it's a partial re-creation of his grandfather's apartment.
Mira Schor installed a 36-foot-long wall drawing, in which the words "sexual" and "sublimate" are fragmented and repeated. The battered paper hangs on the wall like human flesh with its veins and bruises. Beth B's large digital prints, irregularly sized and placed on a rough brick wall, represent dreams and memories of actual places and events. One shows the blurred image of a fox; another the grille of an abandoned car deep in the forest.
In a separate gallery, Tim Spelios placed 200 found pieces of metallic debris along a wall-mounted "horizon line" of magnetic bars that wraps around the room. He gathered the ods and ends near the highway that cuts through his Brooklyn neighborhood. In the center of the space is a set of tables and benches holding notebooks with photos of the objects and pages on which viewers can write their comments.
Brooklyn's liveliest and largest art district is Williamsburg, a mixed neighborhood with areas of warehouses and industrial buildings and streets of wood-frame houses and brick tenement buildings. At Leo Koenig Inc., the fare is (for once) contemporary masters -- as Leo and venerable dealer John Weber swapped spaces and esthetic visions for their opening exhibitions of the season.
In Koenig's rough brick space, Alighiero e Boetti's Nothing to See, Nothing to Hide leans against a wall, a Minimalist glass and steel window sculpture that was in the artist's first solo show at Gian Enzo Sperone in Turin in 1969. Slightly opposite this icon of conceptual art is the pared-down beauty of Daniel Buren's orange and white striped Painting in 5 Parts, a contemporary delight from 1971. Other works at Koenig include drawings by Boetti, Hamish Fulton and Sol LeWitt, photo works by Fulton, Hans Haacke and Michael Heizer, a wall sculpture by LeWitt and a two-channel video by Victor Burgin.
Koenig adds his own spice to this mix by displaying recent works by Javier Tellez in the back room. A young Venezuelan who's gaining international attention, Tellez presents a madly inspired view of conceptual art by representing some of its best examples with witty treatments. His somewhat smaller version of the Boetti in the front room has a hole in one of its glass panes, presumably caused by the baseball that lies on the floor. Nothing but the cans remain of Impatient Collector, a group of gallon sized re-creations of Piero Manzoni's famous Merde d'Artiste. The enigmatic contents seem to have been hastily consumed and the actual artwork discarded like waste in the corner.
Back in Manhattan, Koenig has supplied some of his freshest faces to Weber's gallery on West 20th Street in Chelsea, including works by Aidas Bareikas, Sara Braman and Erik Parker.
Arguably the center of the Williamsburg scene is Momenta Art, whose Madison Avenue-style storefront gives campy class to the brick studio building on Berry Street. Pass through that front door and enter the "World of Disney" -- the adult parody version, that is -- via an installation by Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz. Displayed in boutique niches are beautifully crafted "Disney Adult Products," a lurid selection including Disney Lights cigarettes, Disney Vodka, Minniepax Tampons, King Donald Cigars, and Disdoms-brand condoms. Once Martin and Munoz have hooked you in their ironic game, toying with your desire to regain a security blanket from childhood, they frustrate you like adults often do. Money in hand, eager to make a purchase, you discover that "nothing is for sale!"
If it's art you're looking to buy, you may have difficulty finding it in "Qwork," an almost invisible exhibition of drawings and wall sculptures by four women artists at Feed. Organized by Kathleen McShane, an assistant to Sol LeWitt, the show is a subtle visual treat that plays hide and seek with the viewer. By the entrance is a striking work by Elana Herzog, a whirling pinwheel of plastic and staples made right on the wall. Along another wall M.M. Lum has hung strips of newspaper headlines -- actually obituary headlines -- running from ceiling to floor. It's called The End of Work.
McShane's own work, called These, covers still another wall. It's an orderly grid of large sheets of white paper that have cutout, irregular holes with their edges flopping and drooping, suggestive of puffy clouds or cartoon characters . All of the quirk-work here blends neatly with the surroundings, but perhaps none more so than Jennifer Pepper's Crochet the Edges of a Room. Occupying the borders of walls -- some that are blank -- her off-white needlework is playfully punctuated with bits of yellow that quietly say, "I'm here!"
In an industrial section of Williamsburg is Roebling Hall, a clean white space presenting the first solo show of kinetic sculptor David Opdyke. A kind of mechanical alchemist, Opdyke makes 3-D assemblages from materials you find at the hardware store. Some motorized works rotate cylinders inscribed with various words that put a new spin on phrases like President Clinton's infamous "That depends upon what the meaning of 'is' is." Opdyke has a large wheeled "gazebo" of metal panels, steel piping and reconfigured Donald Duck vinyl stickers. Superlative Seascape and Arbor Day use miniature model trees and programmed lighting to fabricate mini-island paradises in which the artist is the giver of light. One of the largest works in the show, Mirage, functions like a power plant supplying energy and imaginary water to fake flowers encased in plastic boxes. It's a life support system for something that's already dead.
Strange occurrences are also commonplace in the the dreamlike paintings of Amy Cutler at Eyewash, a gallery housed in a tenement apartment on North 7th Street. Fire Bed shows a young child sitting in a bed of flames; Bathroom depicts a network of fixtures and pipes without walls; and Thirst presents a one legged armless girl with her head tilted back and a pint of vodka halfway down her throat. Cutler delicately renders her subjects in a naive, almost storybook manner, as if they were tales from folklore. She painted most of these works during her residency at Skowhegan this past summer.
One of Williamsburg's most enticing spaces is Galapagos Art and Performance Space, a bar fronted with an elegant reflecting pool. On view in the adjacent gallery are new highway paintings by Jane Dickson. Inspired by a midwestern childhood and a recent trip out west, this formidable painter has a haunting vision of life on the road that continues her 20-year pursuit of the "ominous underside of contemporary culture." Painted with oil on astroturf on what look like wide screens, four large landscapes contrast stillness with motion. This series, entitled "Out of Here," is cinematic in spirit -- an effect that's heightened by the gallery's theatrical lighting and the slow driving beat of Derek Brown's accompanying soundtrack. Seeing these paintings reminded me of my first viewing of her work at the "Times Square Show" in 1980. There's a vitality in the roots of this artist that's reflected in today's young artists exhibiting Brooklyn's galleries.
"Chronologies," through Oct. 23 at the Rotunda Gallery, 33 Clinton Street, Brooklyn Heights. Tu-F 12-5. Sa 11-4. (718) 875-4047.
"Size Matters," through Dec. 11, at GAle GAtes et al, 37 Main Street, Dumbo. W-Su 12-6. (718) 522-4597.
"Natural Histories," through Nov. 7, at Smack Mellon Studios, 56 Water Street, Dumbo. F-Su 12-6. (718) 237-8904.
"The John Weber Project," through Oct. 18 at Leo Koenig, Inc., 138 Bayad Street, Williamsburg. Th-M 12-7. (718) 387-6388.
"Walter Martin & Paloma Munoz," through Oct. 18 at Momenta Art, 72 Berry Street, Williamsburg. F-M 12-6. (718) 218-8058.
"Qwork," through Nov. 3 at Feed, 173A North 3rd Street, Williamsburg. S&S 1-6. (718) 486-8992.
"David Opdyke," through Oct. 31 at Roebling Hall, 390 Wythe Street, Williamsburg. Sa-M 12-6. (718) 599-5352.
"Amy Cutler," through Oct. 18 at Eyewash, 145 North 7th Street, Williamsburg. Sa-M 1-6. (718) 387-2714.
"Jane Dickson," through Oct. 21 at Galapagos, 70 North 6th Street, Williamsburg. Tu-Sa 6-11pm. (718) 782-5188.
PAUL LASTER is an artist living in Brooklyn.
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