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Best of 2019: Our Top 10 Brooklyn Art Shows

Here are our favorite Brooklyn shows of 2019, brought to you by the writers and editors of Hyperallergic.

Installation view of One: Do Ho Suh at the Brooklyn Museum (photo by Jonathan Dorado)

Located in Williamsburg, we at Hyperallergic are always on the hunt for great art in our favorite borough, which is home to the bulk of NYC’s artists and creatives. While the Brooklyn Museum had an exceptional year with its captivating lineup, galleries like Koenig & Clinton and NurtureART also offered stellar, thought-provoking exhibitions. We were also compelled to shout out the carefully curated film retrospectives at the landmark Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Here are our favorite Brooklyn shows of 2019, brought to you by the writers and editors of Hyperallergic.

1. Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall at the Brooklyn Museum

Installation view of Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall (photo by Jonathan Dorado)

May 3–December 8

Curated by Margo Cohen Ristorucci, Lindsay C. Harris, Carmen Hermo, Allie Rickard, and Lauren Argentina Zelaya.

Of all of the exhibitions celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprisings, perhaps one of the best is the Brooklyn Museum’s Nobody Promised You Tomorrow. Thoughtfully curated by a collective from across museum departments and featuring 28 artists and collectives born after 1969, the exhibition considers the legacy of the LGBTQ rights movement and works to counter the erasure of trans and gender non-conforming people and communities of color. Organized around themes of revolt, care, and desire, the exhibition generously honors history and radically imagines futures. —Danilo Machado

2. Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s An Opening at Brooklyn Historical Society

Kameelah Janan Rasheed, “Manage History” (2019), Archival Inkjet Print (courtesy of Brooklyn Historical Society)

September 7, 2019–June 30, 2020

Curated by Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia

Rasheed creates an intimate and personal portrait of the remarkable diversity of Muslims living in Brooklyn by making use of Brooklyn Historical Society’s oral history project on the subject. In An OpeningRasheed creates an immersive aural environment of sound from these multiple storylines, then punctuates the narratives with visual works that pair poetic sentence fragments with cut-outs or collages. The presentation begins with an overview of specific significant historical moments of Muslim history in Brooklyn. Once inside the galleries, cerulean blue walls create the backdrop for Rasheed’s prints, which are viewed while wearing an iPod that “recognizes” a selection of the larger prints while playing an oral history recording chosen by the artist. Scanning the room produces an effect similar to tuning an old fashioned radio dial, wherein the sounds and stories overlap and intersect with one another, as they might have in life. —Laura Raicovich

3. Garry Winogrand: Color at the Brooklyn Museum

Installation view of Garry Winogrand: Color (photo by Jonathan Dorado)

May 3–December 8

Curated by Drew Sawyer with Michael Almereyda and Susan Kismaric

Gary Winogrand’s street photography is almost always visually compelling, a combination of a keen sensibility for composition along with a sense of the decisive moment. But Color is more than that, more even than about the vibrancy of color that contrasts with his better known black and white work. The exhibition provides a way for us to take the measure of ourselves: how we’ve regressed; how we’ve grown; how our values and beliefs have changed, and like a faded tune that was once played often on the radio, how we used to sing along. —Seph Rodney

4. Garrett Bradley’s America: A Journey Through Race and Time at BAM

From America (2019), dir. Garrett Bradley (image courtesy of the filmmaker)

Oct 11–Oct 17

Programmed by Ashley Clark

Deeply invested in archives both lost and extant, Garrett Bradley’s America stuns for numerous reasons; its luminous cinematography, its poetic and superbly acted vignettes, and perhaps most importantly, its commitment to exhuming forgotten or under-celebrated narratives of Black achievement. For these reasons, it was especially exciting to see the film screen as the cornerstone of the filmmaker’s mid-career retrospective, Garrett Bradley’s America: A Journey Through Race and Time. A fascinating program organized by BAM’s Senior Programmer of Cinema Ashley Clark, Garrett Bradley’s America did the rare, special thing of elevating a short film to the level of centerpiece, presenting 7 programs that similarly proposed radical new models for representing Black stories onscreen. Cognizant of the fact that context is everything, Clark smartly presented America alongside films such as Ramell Ross’s Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Julie Dash’s Four Women, and the 1913 archival assembly that inspired it, Lime Kiln Club Field Day. Combined with nightly conversations with directors and eminent scholars such as Saidiya Hartman and Nicole Fleetwood, the series offered audiences a framework that was equal parts instructive and incisive. —Dessane Lopez Cassell

5. The Department of Human and Natural Services at NURTUREart

Installation view of The Department of Human and Natural Services (image courtesy NURTUREart)

April 20–May 19

Curated by Mariel Villeré

The ingenious conceit of The Department of Human and Natural Services, an under-the-radar group show curated by Mariel Villeré at the since-shuttered non-profit NURTUREart, was that the gallery had been transformed into a government bureau to help citizens negotiate climate change’s psychological and logistical challenges. Visitors could discuss their feelings about climate change with Allison Rowe; assist the Environmental Performance Agency in cleaning cement residue from neighborhood plants; watch Nancy Nowacek address bureaucratic stagnation; or peruse Li Sumpter’s Afro-futurist multimedia reading library. The fictitious bureau’s resemblance to Villeré’s actual government office (she works for the New York City Parks Department as Manager for Programs, Art and Grants at Staten Island’s infamous former landfill, Freshkills Park) modeled how eco-art might catalyze imaginative, guerrilla change. —Louis Bury

6. One: Do Ho Suh at the Brooklyn Museum

Installation view of One: Do Ho Suh (photo by Jonathan Dorado)

October 12, 2018–May 5, 2019

Curated by Eugenie Tsai

Do Ho Suh doesn’t live in Chelsea anymore, but he can take his apartment in a suitcase wherever he goes. He faithfully recreated it out of pastel translucent silk, with details down to light fixtures and faucets. Walking through One at the Brooklyn Museum this year was like being confronted with all of New York City’s ghosts. —Ilana Novick

7. Janine Antoni’s I am fertile ground at Green-Wood Cemetery

Janine Antoni, “I unfold, I infold” (2019), mixed media gilded with 24 karat gold leaf (photo by Laura Raicovich for Hyperallergic)

September 21–December 1

Curated by Harry Weil

In I am fertile ground, Antoni presents a series of elaborate photographs of her own body, and those of loved ones as single images, diptychs, and triptychs, within the Catacombs of the Green-Wood Cemetery. Dramatically lit from skylights above the darkened spaces of these historical vaults, the works are reminiscent of medieval reliquaries, Eastern Orthodox icons, or personal devotional objects. Antoni’s project connects mortality, desire, intimacy, and the ways in which absence and longing are a fundamental part of life. —Laura Raicovich

8. Anoka Faruqee and David Driscoll’s Relative Brightness at Koenig & Clinton

Installation view of Anoka Faruqee and David Driscoll, Relative Brightness (image courtesy the artist, Koenig & Clinton, Brooklyn. Photo by Jeffrey Sturges.)

September 6–October 19

With a straightforward palette of desaturated primary and secondary colors, plus a gray or two, Faruqee and Driscoll’s gently spectacular Circle paintings are marvels of chromatic control. By overlaying two or more sets of slim, concentric bands slightly off-register, the artists put interference patterns into play and transform the surface of the canvas into a rippling, luminous field of ever-shifting admixtures of hue — daylight’s double. Fruitful contradictions abound in these stunning paintings, presented in Relative Brightness, among them the illusion of metallic sheen that emanates from their flat matte surfaces. The glitch-ridden precision of the artists’ technique demonstrates the indeterminacy inherent in a seemingly predetermined action. While that uncertainty may be disconcerting in some contexts, in these paintings it is exhilarating. —Stephen Maine

9. American Artist’s I’m Blue (If I Was ▉▉▉▉▉ I Would Die) at Koenig & Clinton

Installation view of I’m Blue (If I Was ▉▉▉▉▉ I Would Die) (image courtesy the artist, Koenig & Clinton, Brooklyn. Photo by Jeffrey Sturges.)

March 1–April 20

In transforming Koenig & Clinton’s gallery space into a classroom whose desks came equipped with sightline-obscuring riot shields, American Artist’s acclaimed exhibition, I’m Blue (If I Was ▉▉▉▉▉ I Would Die), dramatized the defensiveness of the Blue Lives Matter countermovement. The exhibition’s video centerpiece, Blue Life Seminar (2019), portrayed an animated, blue-skinned avatar — a mash-up of Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan and the late former Los Angeles policeman Christopher Dorner — who delivers a distraught monologue about police power’s warping, racialized effects. Aesthetically, Artist’s early career work has been anti-sensationalist, even withdrawn, but, politically, it has grown increasingly, and powerfully, pointed. —Louis Bury

10. Maddy Parrasch & Emma Soucek at Safe Gallery

Maddy Parrasch, “Untitled” (2018), ceramic tiles on wood, 31 x 32 1/2 in. (image courtesy of Safe Gallery)

May 19–July 14

An attempt to meld color, surface, and image was at the heart of this two-person show at Safe Gallery, which framed Maddy Parrasch and Emma Soucek’s practices not so much as intertwined, but as caught in dual gravitational pull. The artists’ canvases and ceramics employed everything from macerated paper pulp to digitally printed gypsum tiles, often yielding abstractions of startling visual joy. The work matched the creative fervor of its disparate inspirations — Legos, Giotto’s frescoes — and offered an important reminder: technology has not put an end to alchemy, it has merely changed its language. —Louis Block

Honorable Mentions

Punks, Poets & Valley Girls: Women Filmmakers in 1980s America at BAM

Smithereens (courtesy the American Genre Film Archive)

Aug 7–Aug 20

Programmed by Jesse Trussell

The freewheeling survey of women directors in the 1980s America, Punks, Poets, and Valley Girls, was one of those counter-narrative exhibitions that are impossible to encapsulate under a single theme. Presenting wildly different styles and sensibilities, it proved an ode to the sheer force and inventiveness of women’s still peripheral voices. From Joyce Chopra’s Smooth Talk with incomparable Laura Dern, to Bette Gordon’s ballsy exploration of sexuality in Variety, to the British experimental feminist filmmaker Maureen Blackwood, this marvel of rep cinema was one more memorable combo. —Ela Bittencourt

Shervone Neckles’s Provenance at Five Myles Gallery

Shervone Neckles, “Domiciliation/Settle” (2019) silk/rayon velvet with silkscreen surface; edition 1of 4, 56 inches x 31 inches (photo by Seph Rodney for Hyperallergic)

June 1–July 7

The majority of the polyester prints displayed in Provenance feature a Black woman’s naked body rendered in silhouette with a two-story house with a gable roof in the place where her head would be (with a small flip of hair in the back). The images suggest that the figure’s head is at her home. It’s not just the artist’s emotional being we are locating in this show; we are finding out her allegiances, her origin story, the chain of custody for her self — because “provenance” refers to both the beginning of someone or something’s existence and the record of ownership of a work of art that indicates its authenticity or quality. Yet, with all this information being clearly conveyed there’s still much that is enigmatic. —Seph Rodney

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