If ever there was an argument for me to get over my fear of biking in Brooklyn, it was Saturday’s Brooklyn Open Studios, held in conjunction with the 2011 Celeste Prize exhibition at the Invisible Dog. The 35 participating artists were sprawled across the borough, from Sunset Park to Bushwick and from Brooklyn Heights to Crown Heights (map here), and I was trying to navigate it all by rail and foot, with some MTA weekend service changes thrown in to add some mental exercise to the physical. It seemed like everyone else I ran into was traveling from studio to studio on their bike with ease in the warm fall weather. But even if it was exhausting, it did take me to neighborhoods that are a little off the beaten path in terms of Brooklyn studios.
The artist studios included some Celeste Prize artists, but most were selected by four New York-based curators: Nathalie Angles of Residency Unlimited, Benjamin Sutton of L Magazine, Melanie Kress, Resident Curator with Recession Art and independent curator Risa Shoup. (Full disclaimer: I know both Kress and Shoup from doing communications work at Recession Art and exhibits at the Invisible Dog.)
I started in Crown Heights at R. Justin Stewart‘s studio, where his map-driven work was lit from a window that faced the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. The twisty tie sculptures positioned on colorful panels directly match the drawings on the wall, much like scientific drawings representing a plant cross section. All of the artist studios I would visit had some sort of scientific system or nature-oriented influence.
Covering the walls was Justin’s more recent project: a heavily researched map of the story of the Messiah in Judaism, for which he has plans to turn a section of it into a sculptural installation project.
After a failed stop in Bed-Stuy (the studio seemed to be closed), I traveled to downtown Brooklyn to the live-in studio of Paloma Crousillat, which she shares with her boyfriend Jeremy Sheaffer. Their bright work space was split between Paloma’s meticulous drawings of telescopes and spacecrafts, and Jeremy’s vibrant, frenetic paintings.
While telescopes have been the center of Paloma’s recent work, she has moved to other space-related structures, including a drawing of the last shuttle launch and a drawing of Project Daedalus, a nuclear fusion rocket designed (but not yet built) for powering extended space travel. The telescopes and the spacecrafts all represent different levels of belief systems to Paloma: the belief in structure, the belief in science.
I then walked to Brooklyn Heights, where I saw the work of Francesco Vizzini, who actually has his larger studio in Sunset Park. Like Paloma, he is interested in systems, specifically geometric or scientific systems that “attempt to dominate nature.” He also has a series of photographs where he placed a second lens over his camera to create distorting blur, sort of an anti-system, that results in some feral-looking nudes.
Francesco is a Celeste Prize Selected Artist and works as a set designer in addition to his visual art. I was most interested in his notebooks which he fills with ideas for larger pieces or just experimentations and reminded me of nature journals where someone might collect leaves or draw birds. From Francesco’s studio in Brooklyn Heights, I walked off the open studios path to the Invisible Dog in Boerum Hill to see the Celeste Prize exhibits.
The Celeste Prize revolves around the Celeste online network of artists, and this past weekend the Invisible Dog in Brooklyn was exhibiting a showcase of Celeste Prize finalists, as well as a separate show that included Celeste artists, but was about Producing Censorship. Most of the two-dimensional work in the exhibits at the Invisible Dog was underwhelming for me (which was interesting, considering all of this was submitted online and I would expect that the two-dimensional work would be more competitive in a two-dimensional online image world), but the installation and video art was overall interesting.
In the middle of the third floor gallery, Stefan Schwabe‘s “Troblion” was rolling through red sand, building up a layer of grime on its spherical form that would eventually stop it in its path. Then it would shed its sand skin in a “shelling” stage. These “behavior cycles” were all carefully timed out, and I think I was catching the end of its active cycle; it was just slightly shaking in the sand. This installation at the gallery exhibit fit in well with the nature and systems theme that had been threading through the studios.
I was also drawn to JeongHo Park‘s piece, where videos of people in apartments were stacked. Judging from the Reactable symbols on the backs of the boxes, it looked like you should be able to move them around and change their interaction with the projection and each other.
On the first floor of the Invisible Dog, along with more Celeste Prize finalists, was the Producing Censorship exhibit, where artists active in the Celeste network were invited to show work on the theme of censorship. Earlier in the day when I was at Paloma Crousillat’s studio, I’d gotten to talk to Petra Valdimarsdóttir, who created the most striking piece of the exhibit. Her installation “Come & Go” covered one wall with envelopes, each marked with the last word a prisoner had said before execution.
Visitors could flip the envelopes to see the full last sentences on the other side, and sealed inaccessibly inside was personal information about the prisoner and their mug shot. The envelopes were arranged chronologically, starting in 1982 and going to the present. Petra is continuing to add envelopes for new executions in the United States and is planning on a book for 2012.
I left the Invisible Dog for Crown Heights for my final stop of the day, where I visited the Concrete Utopia Project Space, which is directed by Melanie Kress, one of the open studios curators, and houses the Shoestring Press in its basement.
Concrete Utopia is a residential art space, meaning the exhibits are staged in a place where several people are living. At Concrete Utopia’s last apartment space in Williamsburg, art was exhibited on every wall, from the kitchen to the bedrooms. I admire anyone who is brave enough to allow not only strangers, but artists of all types, into their normally private spaces.
The Shoestring Press, originally founded by Lane Sell in Florida before its relocation to Brooklyn, has a small membership of printers that work in every manner of printmaking. They also have a daily fee ($30) for other artists who want to use the facility. The press is the production arm of Concrete Utopia, making it possible for artists to create and exhibit in one location while encouraging interaction and experimentation through the developing community of artists that move through the space. Concrete Utopia’s next opening is November 19 for Under Pressure, a solo show of prints by Nancy Woods. The plans for the show include a dancefloor that will double as a printmaking device, as visitors press paper under their feet into paint, and the floor itself will later be turned into woodblocks by the Shoestring Press.
Although I was completely burned out from my art travels by the end of the day, I am still glad I dragged myself all over the borough to see the Celeste Prize exhibits at the Invisible Dog and Brooklyn Open Studios, forcing me to get off the easy loop of Chelsea, North Brooklyn and museums to see what’s going on in some other neighborhoods. It was a bit of an unwieldy event (I didn’t even attempt to see the performances, curator talks and awards ceremony), and the studio visits were lightly populated, but hopefully it will continue to be better organized as it goes into its fourth year.
The 2011 Celeste Prize exhibits were November 11-13 at the Invisible Dog in Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Open Studios were November 12.