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As I toured Bushwick Open Studios last month, many artists I spoke to were moving out, heading to a different neighborhood or converting a spare room in their apartment. A few weeks later in Gowanus, another set of artists told me about the abundance of new studio spaces opening, as real estate developers abandoned their usual startup/co-working offices. From these informal yet informative discussions, Brooklyn’s Sunset Park emerged as an interesting newcomer to the “it” neighborhood conversation. This past weekend was the second iteration of Sunset Park Wide Open, co-presented by NARS Foundation and various other local venues, which opened hundreds of artist studios to the public.
While it was clear that participants are still figuring out how to work with both each other and the local community, the overall vibe from visitors was one of friendly curiosity, even as each studio seemed to be operating on its own schedule and many of the galleries had intentionally unmarked entryways. The artists highlighted below were united by a collective need to challenge assumptions — from materiality to concept — and pushed their work to depths we don’t see often enough during open studios.
I began with the studio of Jeffrey Morabito at Art Cake, which was filled to the literal brim with contemporary iconography — bagels, tennis balls, airplane windows, chain link fencing — and impasto paintings that reveal the inherent menace in everyday objects. Moving around the work, a graffitied gate begins to look more and more like a teasingly lush landscape, while a silhouetted sunset begins to melt, dripping through the venetian blinds obscuring our view. Blurring the line between rural and urban, often using the formal structure of circles and lines, he seductively distorts the landscape of our everyday consumption.
Moving further toward the beautifully grotesque, the forensic paintings of Joshua Nierodzinski at his J&M Studio space functioned in a similar manner, rendering something as benign as a pie-eating contest in visual language that evokes cannibalistic pleasure.
Intimate in size, his series “Under The Hood,” depicts the ritual of consuming Ortolan songbirds, a French delicacy, as an act of delicate gluttony with endless metaphorical associations. As the U.S continues to reckon with its own history (and resurgence) of hiding beneath white hoods, these works challenge the proliferation of excess, ritual, and murder.
A different take on consumption and disposability was on view in the studio of Elena Soterakis at the NARS Foundation, where meticulously collaged seascapes highlighted shorelines full of cheerful waste. Combining watercolor, magazine ads, and actual trash, the result appeared beautiful rather than heavy-handed. Critiquing the wastefulness of U.S. society in works aptly titled “Ecocide,” Soterakis’ work draws easy parallels to the “eco-portraits” released this month by dictators Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, foreshadowing the ecological resource wars to come.
In her NARS studio, Esther Hovers tackled issues of surveillance and migration in understated but probing photographic works. A double-sided, accordion book titled False Positives challenges the behavioral anomalies predicted by surveillance cameras in aerial images of generic public spaces, while in “Structures” she asked groups of teenagers “What is a Visa?” Highlighting the privileges that come from EU citizenship, the work documents architectural sites throughout Europe that allude to tragic histories of displacement. Utilizing the language of a flâneur photographer, she incorporates the centuries old “traveling salesman problem” (a mathematical equation used for projecting movement), in a set of 40 black and white photographs that depict how even a fixed route changes daily.
Shifting from the privilege of movement to issues of identity, I ended my tour inside the studio of Homer Shew. In small-scale gestural works, Shew paints portraits of fellow Asian Americans — everyone from friends and cultural figures to his landlord. While the conversations he describes having with his subjects — exploring ideas of Asian dislocation and the absence of representation in American culture — almost overshadow the portraits themselves, the accumulation of faces offer a fascinating illustration of the multiplicity contained within a single descriptor. In a country where nearly 50% of post-Millennials are nonwhite, Shew’s paintings allude to a future where inclusive representation is simply an accurate depiction of society
Sunset Park Wide Open (Fall Edition) took place at various locations in Sunset Park, Brooklyn on October 18 and October 19. The seasonal event was co-presented by NARS Foundation, J&M Studios, BOCCARA ART Brooklyn, BAF, Art Cake, Target Margin Theater, Tabla Rasa and ChaShaMa.