I approached the Brooklyn Museum’s massive GO Brooklyn open studios event with some trepidation. I was unsure about the feeling I had that the museum may be trying to co-opt the borough’s massive visual arts scene in order to give itself a much needed PR boost. Why did Brooklyn’s premiere fine arts museum need to consolidate this DIY tradition into open studio sprawl? Adding to my uncertainty was the notion of checking-in and voting that made the whole affair seem more competitive and trendy.
But before I continue, I have another confession, I was a reluctant convert to open studio events in general. It took me years of a slow-drip approach to inoculate myself from the feverish awkwardness I felt walking into someone’s work space and engaging in small talk, or the weird sensation I felt stepping into a space and being confronted with bad art and its smiling creator who seemed eager for compliments. The truth is I am starting to actually enjoy them.
With 1,800 artists on the menu GO Brooklyn offers a gluttonous feast for the open studio obsessed but nothing more than a limited tasting menu would’ve been truly possible.
The first day of GO, Saturday, I devoted to Bushwick, where only three months before the neighborhood had hosted the large Bushwick Open Studios event. Given the scale of BOS (it is simply impossible to see everything), I took the opportunity provided by GO Brooklyn to visit many of the studio buildings I had missed earlier in the year.
Though there were less studios open in the neighborhood during GO Brooklyn (241) than BOS (500+) there was certainly a great deal to see.
I quickly learned a trick with open studios that has made them far more tolerable. The key is to be selective without being snobbish. You have to take your time to look around and linger when you feel inspired, but also feel comfortable to walk straight through a studio without stopping when you don’t.
Saturday’s highlight was the studio of Björn Meyer-Ebrecht on Flushing Avenue, near Wyckoff. His work consistently plumbs the depths of modernism to get at the essence of its contradictions and its strange hollowness. His latest creations appear to be his most ambitious yet. Constructed of wood and paper, Meyer-Ebrecht has blown up modernist images so they appear like kiosks at some hip science center. The images, which are monotone, feel as distant and foreign as any 18th C. painting but they are tinged with a sense of utopian nostalgia and built like they could’ve been purchased at Ikea — it was an exciting combination.
My other great “find” during my Bushwick travels was Bruce Dow, who transforms vintage Eames chairs (real ones, he assured me) into sculptural mutants. Cutting their fiberglass seats and combining their wire or metal legs, Dow’s creations seem to, like Meyer-Ebrecht’s, comment on modernism but, unlike Meyer-Ebrecht’s, they do so without an ounce of sadness or loss. Dow’s sculptures highlight the ability of fiberglass to almost appear like polished stone or a water-worn pebble.
Walking through the studios of Bushwick, I discovered the colorful world of Matt Richards, who creates dioramas often used as the backdrops for video works, and Don Porcella, who makes sculptures out of pipecleaners, including one of Lucy, the first know human ancestor.
There was Rebecca Goyette‘s lobster porn and Catherine Lepp‘s naked wrestling women. I stopped by Ben Godward‘s studio to relish his colorful chaos, and lingered for over an hour in fellow blogger Sharon Butler‘s studio, where I discover her new work looked better than ever, particularly since she has chucked her stretchers in favor of a layered wall hanging.
Saturday was a satisfying journey though roughly 39 studios over five hours and I was eager for more.
On Sunday, I awoke to discover that according to the GO Brooklyn website Gowanus had the most check-ins the previous day. The Gowanus tally was seven hundred more than Bushwick and 290 more than second place finisher Red Hook. It was surprising to me so I rallied my GO Brooklyn companions and headed down to Gowanus to see what all the fuss was about. Boy was I disappointed.
Sure I saw the lovely stripped paintings and prints by Emily Berger, carefully constructed sculptural flourishes by Boris Curatolo Rasines, the large boxing self-portraits of Krasso Mihaylov, the boxy abstract works of Gabriel Phipps, and the pop culture mania of Casper Smith, but most of what I encountered was hardly worth a glance.
One of the strangest experiences occurred when I walked into a studio and an older man closed the door behind me and turned off the lights without saying a word. I stood with a friend in a dark room staring at paintings partly created with glow-in-the-dark paint. The experience was a little chilling, particularly since he never spoke during our entire visit.
I was scratching my head how it was possible that Gowanus was the most popular site on the GO Brooklyn site until I realized that spaces like Brooklyn Art Space, which was one of the worst aesthetic offenders, had 30+ artists in one large space and visitors could easily rack up 30 check-ins during a 15 minute walk through the space. I had had enough.
To remedy the aesthetic horrors I had witnessed in Gowanus, I headed north to the safelands of Greenpoint, where I scurried into The Greepoint Terminal Building on Water Street. The whole structure, which was once a very raw industrial space on the waterfront, is undergoing a major renovation and it seemed an ideal place to reconnect with art.
If there was one work that stood out for me in Greenpoint, it was George Terry’s “The Contest” (2012). Built on cinder blocks, his white classical forms have a wonky stylization that reminded me of 1920s and 30s Italian art. A horse head on mannequin legs is absurdly framed by a thin column and an arch. Standing in front of it the forms had a dream-like halo, as if the fog machine in my imagination wanted to consume it in white clouds creeping along the floor.
Next door to Terry, Gabriela Salazar‘s refuse sculptures were subtle without feeling pretentious. And across the way Brett Windham’s “Wing Mountain” (2009) was a contemporary take on classic surrealism, even if the real bird wings attached to the egg-like form were a little unsettling.
Fowler Collective, which is located in the same massive complex, had a wide assortment of artists working in all types of mediums and styles. James Vanderberg abstract paintings exuded a raw sensuality, Elizabeth Grammaticas‘ paintings of classic Hollywood divas and teen stars were charming and off-putting, Rebecca Senn‘s rough painted images seemed to oscillate between comedy and pathos, and I even delighted in Guillaume Légaré‘s practice which appeareed to be comprised of creating art works at one residency after another
After I left Fowler, I spotted Nancy Baker‘s obsessive collages that made them almost feel like paintings and Hanly Gunn‘s ambitious — if unfocused — installation of canvas, paintings, sculptures (including a tombstone) and wall/drapes.
I walked back home to Williamsburg from Greenpoint and relished the weekend experience as a whole. The borough-wide celebration of open studios was unexpectedly rich with peaks and valleys but also with a relaxed energy I didn’t expect. It pushed me to travel further afield than I thought I would (127 check-ins in four neighborhoods) and I smiled whenever I spotted a fellow traveler searching for the green GO Brooklyn studio signs at every turn. I loved the feeling of that I was sharing in this massive festival that stretched into every corner of the borough. It was an amazing thing to stare at the app or physical map and see that from almost anywhere I was only a few minutes to another art venue. Some days you’re reminded why you fell in love with the place you live and last weekend was certainly one of those times.
GO Brooklyn Open Studio Weekend was September 8 to 9, 2012.