Sunday, September 1, 2013

To Brooklyn, From Brooklyn, With Love.

As the one year anniversary of Brooklyn's big, brash Barclays Center approaches, this week's New York Times gave some 'Bravo Brooklyn' coverage to the installation of Ursula von Rydingsvard's 19-foot-high, cast bronze sculpture Ona, currently being installed directly under the Center's distinctive oculus overhang.

While much play was made in the article of the German-born sculptor's 35 year tenancy of "a vast studio in Williamsburg", now 71 years old and at the height of both her creative powers and international fame, artists of Ms von Rydingsvard's stature are about the only ones still able to keep studios there.

Eric Heist, Ex (72 Berry), 2008, graphite on paper
Courtesy Eric Heist and Schroeder Romero Gallery, NY

Art on the Block gives two full chapters to Williamsburg and charts the course of its rise and demise as an incubator of artistic energies and a staunch defender of its own, home grown talent. In the earliest 1950s and '60s days of clandestine living in illegally occupied industrial buildings little in the way of community existed, fearful of discovery and eviction, artists even hid from each other. 
James Cathcart,  South 3rd St. and Hewes Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1988, gelatin silver print
Courtesy James Cathcart and Causey Contemporary Gallery, NY

By the 1980s there was some fusion of a loosely knit community and by the 1990s enough raw likeminded energy to fuel multi-media extravaganzas like Cat's Head 1 and 11 in the waterfront's Old Dutch Mustard Factory. Impromptu and fiercely independent exhibition spaces like Four Walls proliferated, opening and closing as their purposes were fulfilled and the artists running them turned to other projects.
By the turn of the new century, however, the Manhattan spot light was beaming down on the outer borough as galleries proliferated and critics and collectors alike made the Williamsburg scene their darlings. Poaching of talent by Manhattan dealers and what were seen as traitorous defections by Williamsburg galleries decamping across the river left the scene depleted and interest waning. The era of Williamsburg as prime ground for artist-unaffordable condominiums and beyond-the-budget boutiques was inevitably underway.

Erik Benson, Brownnfield (site), 2010, acrylic on canvas over panel
Courtesy Erik Benson and Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art, NY

And local artists working in Brooklyn put it all down in their work. Documenting the dereliction of the pre-hipster landscape, mourning the evictions and the co-op conversions but moving on once again to other enclaves – in Bushwick and beyond.

Deborah Brown, Dick Chicken #1, 2010, oil on canvas
Courtesy Deborah Brown and Lesley Heller Workspace, NY


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