Recalling and Revisioning History in Downtown Brooklyn 

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History has a way of seeping into our experiences of art, filling even the starkest minimalist voids with memories. Martin Basher's three Plexiglas cubes in Downtown Brooklyn's MetroTech Commons, part of a new Public Art Fund exhibition, epitomize this experience, coolly reflecting the buzz of office workers and college students in their mirrored surfaces by day, and glowing transparent at night, revealing odd collections of items stowed away in their airtight interiors. A few blocks away at the Brooklyn Historical Society and BRIC Rotunda Gallery, archive-combing artists created new, often diaristic works inspired by their findings. While only one show deliberately takes on borough history, each addresses narratives that are simultaneously broad and personal. The local artists in both exhibitions offer ways of engaging with place and past.

In Artist & Artifact: Re|Visioning Brooklyn's Past (through December 18), new works by seven artists, two writers and one musician appear alongside objects from the Brooklyn Historical Society that inspired them. Certain connections are too direct: intrigued by the manner in which the 19th-century "Brooklyn Directory" denoted African Americans, with asterisks besides their names, Terry Adkins collected all such marked monikers from several directories into an encyclopedic and beautifully bound new volume. Similarly broad in his approach but more successful, Andres Vera Martinez took inspiration from early drawings of idyllic waterfront Brooklyn for the graphic novelization Breuckelen 1679, about Dutch settlers arriving in the new colony. Such visual connections work best, like Stanley Greenberg's almost abstract black and white photos of support beams under the Gowanus Viaduct, rising like an Henri Rousseau jungle painting's lush foliage. Those unmistakable structures wrapped in polka dotted sheaths, seen at unusual angles alongside archival images of construction on that elevated stretch, bridge personal familiarity and shared history.

The MetroTech show (through September 16) follows a similar line of approach, addressing communal experience from subjective points of view. As curator Jesse Hamerman explains in an accompanying cell phone audio tour, the exhibition title, Total Recall, alludes to the 1990 sci-fi film's "ephemeral idea of memory, both personal and collective." Basher's sculptures, "Minimal Consumption," "Reflective Sublime" and "Aspirational Sunset Art" (all 2010), transform from gleaming reflective cubes to incubators of evocative objects, conveying drastically different experiences as the sun sets. Zipora Fried combines potentially nostalgia-sparking objects to similarly jarring effect in her nearby sculpture "Armchair" (2010): a comfy-looking leather-upholstered living room chaise pierced through with dozens of wooden baseball bats. Across the square's triangular arbor—to whose 50-some trunks Sam Moyer attached aluminum-mounted images of what resembles birch bark but is in fact a photo of the frothy North Sea for the piece "Birch Tide"—Kevin Zucker's "Amalgamated Sculpture" (2010) brings the confluence of fictive, social and individual memories full circle.

Zucker's large, off-white polyurethane form appears violently truncated on certain sides, and unwieldy on others. He assembled the piece, an internet mashup given physical form, using 3D models uploaded by users on Google SketchUp. Generic sculptural subjects like a horse and a human bust sit askew, traversed by beams and lines, including a small section of Constantin Brancusi's "Endless Column." The result is at once familiar and deeply bizarre, recognizable, collaborative but virtually illegible. Like the best pieces in both these exhibitions, it lets history in, and in doing so 
transforms it.

Slideshow
<i>Total Recall</i>&#39;s Deceptive Surfaces and Concealed Memories
<i>Total Recall</i>&#39;s Deceptive Surfaces and Concealed Memories <i>Total Recall</i>&#39;s Deceptive Surfaces and Concealed Memories <i>Total Recall</i>&#39;s Deceptive Surfaces and Concealed Memories <i>Total Recall</i>&#39;s Deceptive Surfaces and Concealed Memories <i>Total Recall</i>&#39;s Deceptive Surfaces and Concealed Memories <i>Total Recall</i>&#39;s Deceptive Surfaces and Concealed Memories <i>Total Recall</i>&#39;s Deceptive Surfaces and Concealed Memories <i>Total Recall</i>&#39;s Deceptive Surfaces and Concealed Memories

Total Recall's Deceptive Surfaces and Concealed Memories

The Public Art Fund's new exhibition in the MetroTech Commons, curated by Jesse Hamerman, dissolves boundaries between personal and communal histories.

By Benjamin Sutton

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(photo credits: the artists, On Stellar Rays and Catherine Edelman Gallery)

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