Above, Ward Shelley: Williamsburg Timeline, 2002, lithograph, 29 by 58 inches. Courtesy Pierogi, Brooklyn.      
  SEPTEMBER 2004    

Big Brash Borough


At the freshened-up Brooklyn Museum of Art, a large crowded exhibition showed
the borough's art scene growing in scale, diversity and ambition.

By Greogory Volk

  (excerpts from the article)      

...Manhattan market tends to encourage and perhaps compel artists to continue working in defined territory. Early John Currin paintings of grotesque women are not all that different from recent John Currin paintings of grotesque women. He may have developed, but there have been no radical shifts in substance or style. The same goes for Elizabeth Peyton, the lauded portraitist, who has been making similar works for the last decade or so; and I'd also say it is true, too, of Matthew Barney. The "Cremaster" cycle can be seen as a kind of niche art in extremis.

By contrast, in the early 1990s, Roxy Paine, a dropout from Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, made a ketchup-flinging device at Brand Name Damages and, at the short-lived but influential Herron Test Site, a column of soap that, when dripped on from a leaking pipe overhead, left an oily film of scum on the floor. Within a few years, such devices had morphed into Paine's acclaimed painting-making and sculpture-producing machines. He was also creating installations of meticulously painted synthetic fungi and plants; and more recently he has produced a series of gleaming metal trees
. In the mid-1990s, Ward Shelley was building, among other things, a series of kinetic sculptures incorporating household items. Now in his 50s, Shelley has since made sculptures doubling as living environments, including Mir (2001), a rickety rendition of the Russian space station made of found materials, presented at Smack Mellon (a nonprofit exhibition space that also runs a studio program for artists) in the DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) neighborhood; and he continues to escalate his risks, as in a recent installation at Pierogi, where he lived for a month behind the walls, "like a mouse," as he said...

...Ward Shelley was represented by a colorful vendor's cart from which he and his collaborators have dispensed Rice Krispies Treats in the streets of Williamsburg (Vendor, 2004). The Plexglas-paneled cart is fitted with, among other things, wooden toys,kitchen implements, red and yellow neon lights, and several videos chronicaling its sojourn in the streets. On view elsewhere was Shelley's Williamsburg Timeline (2002), a lithograph charting the evolution of the neighborhood's art scene in loving detail....

Even Fred Tomaselli, who is probably the preeminent painter to have emerged from Brooklyn, has gone through his own changes. In the late '80s he was making offbeat installations, including one on the floor in the basement at P.S. 1, in which Styrofoam cups strung on threads and blown by two fans looked like ocean whitecaps. When he returned to painting, his works were often highly patterned, incorporating over-the-counter and prescription pills (for instance, columns of aspirins) neatly sealed behind layers of highly polished resin. This became a signature style for several years. Today, his intricate collages are wide-ranging: teeming landscapes and abstractions, figures composed of representations of packed-together body parts, nature vignettes suggesting 19th-century folk art. He also creates conceptual works involving the juxtaposition of systems of information.

Many of the best artists to emerge from Brooklyn display this tendency toward diversity....Eve Sussman, for example, whose video 89 Seconds at Alcazar, an in-motion tableau vivant of Veldzquez's Las Meninas, was highly regarded at this year's Whitney Biennial. Yet Sussman has long been engaged, as well, with architectural interventions and experimental, decidedly nontheatrical videos. A sense of more or less permanent discovery is integral to art-making in Brooklyn and is a big reason for the "vibrancy" of its "scruffy"and "alternative" scene.