Thursday, August 19, 2010

Walk of art: the best in Brooklyn's public art scene

Brooklyn’s art scene doesn’t leave much to desired, thanks to dozens of galleries that stretch from Greenpoint to Bay Ridge. But why stay cooped up indoors when summer beckons you out into the sun (especially now that it’s a bit cooler) and there’s a mess of new public art all over the place?

“Brooklyn is really a hotbed of outdoor art,” said Jesse Hamerman, a Public Art Fund project manager. “The canvas of Brooklyn is wide open for artistic intervention.”

To help you on your art adventure, here’s a guide to the borough’s outdoor arts scene, from established pieces to the borough’s newest addition — a 0-foot-tall twig playground.

“Humanity Fountain”

McGorlick Park

Fountains are ubiquitous in public spaces, but nothing quite compares to Anne McClain’s “Humanity Fountain.”

A stint volunteering in Mexico led the artist and perfumer to ponder what compassion smells like, so she developed a scent at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in southern France using the lotus, an ancient symbol of purity, as her inspiration.

Water perfumed by her subtle blend runs through a glass heart that sits atop a white, tomb-like stone base, installed last week in McGorlick Park in Greenpoint. The mechanics are powered by solar energy, so your own contemplations on compassion are best experienced when the sun is at its strongest.

The artist plans on holding free lectures and classes on basic perfumery and aromatherapy at the fountain, including a workshop on how to make your own all-natural aromatherapeutic fragrance on Sept. 18 at 3 pm.

“Humanity Fountain” at McGorlick Park (Nassau Avenue and Russell Street in Greenpoint, no phone) through Nov. 5. For info, visit

“Horsing Around the Arrows of Time”

Pearl Street Triangle

In “Horsing Around the Arrows of Time,” a four-piece sculpture by Eleanora Kupencow, Green Mother Earth, the Purple King, the Blue Thinker and the Magenta Acrobats bring movement and energy to the Pearl Street Triangle in DUMBO.

Kupencow, whose 32nd-floor apartment towers above DUMBO triangle where the sculpture stands, created each character for fun as a stand-alone piece, but threw them all together to create a Technicolored homage to DUMBO’s manufacturing and industrial history. Installed last summer, Kupencow’s brightly colored, 2,500-pound steel sculpture is on view until Sept. 2, at which point the artist needs to find a new home for it.

“I would like to see my sculpture at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum or in the playground at Brooklyn Bridge Park,” says Kupencow, who always sees kids climbing on the structures. “It’s a great babysitter.”

“Horsing Around the Arrows of Time” at the Pearl Street Triangle (Pearl and Water streets in DUMBO, no phone) through Sept. 2.

Several pieces

Metrotech Commons

The toiling masses on their lunch break may not even notice the art that surrounds them on the commons in the Metrotech office complex. Scattered throughout the Downtown grounds are handfuls of quirky pieces that will make you pause from your busy day, such as Tony Matelli’s “Stray Dog,” a life-like, life-sized sculpture of a seeing-eye dog that never fails to fool passersby.

“I thought it was real the first time I saw it, and this time, too,” said Park Slope resident Maximo Medrano, who was passing by the dog one recent evening. “From far away, it looks real.”

Permanent pieces like this have been in Metrotech for a decade; newer offerings to explore come courtesy of “Double Take,” a group exhibition of six emerging artists on display now through Sept. 10.

At once playful and provocative, these site-specific pieces make good on the exhibition’s promise, dealing

with illusion. There’s a chain-link fence that dissolves into pixels, giving off the impression of animation in Michael DeLucia’s “Untitled (fences)”; a collapsed lamppost that, implausibly, still functions in Matt Irie and Dominick Talvacchio’s “Lamppost” (pictured); an apparition that haunts the grounds in Johannes VanDerBeek’s “Pilgrim Ghost.”

“Metrotech Commons is a really interesting spot to put work. It’s this unnatural landscape that’s totally maintained and manicured, so the artwork can really respond to the kind of activity surrounding this area,” said Hamerman. “They have this sneaking up on you quality.”

Metrotech Commons [Flatbush Avenue Extension and Myrtle Avenue in Downtown, (718) 488-8200].

“Myrtle Avenue Bird Town”

Fort Greene Park and Person Park

Birdhouses are better associated with technology class than art school, but Daniel Goers and Jennifer Wong bring beauty to the functional feeder.

In “Myrtle Avenue Bird Town,” the two artists employed recycled materials and experimental building techniques and set up dozens of birdhouses around Myrtle Avenue in an effort to encourage people to stop and observe our avian neighbors and their relationship with our urban environment.

The birdhouses are as diverse as the birds themselves, with wooden pieces that more closely resemble wind chimes than feeders, tubular creations with colorful prints that look like presents ripe for unwrapping, and a steel structure th

at has a bionic birdfeeder feel to it.

Through workshops, children and adults can learn more about the local bird species as well as build their own birdhouses, should inspiration strike.

“Myrtle Avenue Bird Town” at Fort Greene Park [enter at Myrtle Avenue and St. Edwards Street, (718) 965-8900] and Person Park (enter at Myrtle Avenue and Carlton Avenue, no phone) through Dec. 10. For info, visit

Several pieces

Pratt Institute

The campus of Clinton Hill’s Pratt Institute is littered with artists — and art.

The college’s outdoor Sculpture Park is the largest in the city, with pieces by Donald Lipski, Mark di Suvero, Robert Indiana, Michael Rosch, Hans Van De Bovenkamp, and many other Very Big Names.

This month saw the collection grow, with the addition of three sculptures by the late world-renowned artist Arman, including “Accord Final” (pictured). Also known as “They Wouldn’t Let Me Play at Carnegie Hall,” the broken bronze-cast piano found adjacent to the Pratt Library speaks to failed musical aspirations everywhere.

Also new to the park are pieces by Jennifer Cecere — a three-piece sculpture of laser-cut and hand-painted vinyl that is suspended in the fountain courtyard between East Hall and Main Building — and Richard Heinrich — a series of three sculptures comprised of welded steel that look like they’re about to topple over, but defy gravity and stay intact.

Sculpture Park at Pratt Institute [200 Willoughby Ave. between Hall Street and Classon Avenue in Clinton Hill, (718) 636-3514].

Several pieces

Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum may draw most of its audience inside to its five floors of exhibitions, but outdoors, its art is larger than life.

The long-term installation in its Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden features a collection of architectural sculptures rescued from city demolition sites, mostly hand-made building ornamentation made between 1880 and 1910.

There aren’t any gargoyles, but a highlight is surely the replica of the Statue of Liberty. The 100-plus-year-old sculpture was a popular fixture of the Upper West Side for more than a century, until the statue was removed in 2002 when the warehouse was sold and renovated. The 30-foot replica soon found a new home in

Brooklyn for all to admire, without a trip to Liberty Island.

Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden at Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. near Washington Avenue, (718) 638-5000]. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Works by Patrick Dougherty

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Swirling towers of willow saplings create sanctuary and inspire play in one of the most ambitious pieces in Brooklyn right now — a site-specific sculpture of fantastical nest houses constructed solely out of tree saplings and branches at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

“It’s a sculpture for feral children and wayward adults,” said artist Patrick Dougherty, who allowed the Garden’s milieu to drive his creative aspirations for the as-yet untitled piece. “It fits the Garden’s air of discovery.”

Dougherty is known throughout the world for his iconic stick works, but this is the artist’s first city installation.

Located in the Garden’s Plant Family Collection area, the sculpture will last for one year, enduring all of Brooklyn’s seasons.

Curious Garden-goers will surely be drawn to the giant nest-like structure and marvel as, for the next three weeks, the artist and a team of local volunteers weave branches into spiraling structures and build the sculpture on site.

Dougherty poses that the 20-foot-tall sculpture’s organic form beckons to man’s primordial propensity for sticks and weaving.

“No one teaches kids how to play with sticks,” said the artist. “They just do. It’s innate.”

Patrick Dougherty sculpture at Brooklyn Botanic Garden [1000 Washington Ave. at Montgomery Street in Crown Heights, (718) 623-7200].

— with Damian Harris-Hernandez


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