Even under a sky darkened by clouds heavy
with rain, they’ll arrest your attention and keep you lingering
longer than you should. More than two dozen sculptures by Brooklyn
artists are now ensconced in Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park on
the East River as part of the 21st annual Brooklyn Waterfront
Artists Coalition sculpture show, "What’s Going On."
When you arrive at the park entrance, it’s hard to know where to look first. The park is framed by the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, the East River and the Manhattan skyline beyond, and the large, brick Empire Stores warehouse walls with their arched windows. Within these awe-inspiring boundaries, a sculpture has a formidable job just to catch a visitor’s eye.
These works of art, curated by Ursula Clark and Richard Brachman, are created from a variety of media: wood, cement, metals, plastic sheeting, plastic grocery bags, tree branches and screens.
The curators chose "What’s Going On" as its theme "as a way of encapsulating a broad range of artistic thoughts and expressions about the world we live in today." And because of the surrounding urban landscape, many are necessarily larger than life.
"What’s Going On," on display through Sept. 14, has overtly political works such as Brachman’s own "Drums of War," a tower of black oil drums with painted skins tied to their ends. Some of the skins trumpet anti-war quotations, such as Simon Weil’s (1909-1943): "What a country calls its economic interests are not the things which enable it to make war. Petrol is more likely than wheat to be a cause of international conflict." Other skins are painted in imitation of Native American textiles, a reminder of a whole race of people wiped out by aggressors. The seven drums are bolted together and reach skyward like an undulating plume of smoke.
Margaret Roleke’s "Fortified Home" brilliantly captures the paranoia-fueled claustrophobia of post-Sept. 11 Brooklyn. She has built a small white house, complete with brick welcome mat, an American flag in the window, and "Beware of Dog" sign in another, and then covered the entire structure in plastic sheeting secured with duct tape.
All entrances and exits, doors and windows, are sealed behind the sheeting, almost comically answering the question we all had when officials advised us to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape: how will we get out of our homes?
In a large clearing surrounded by picnic benches - the better to take a seat and ponder difficult questions - are two sculptures that address the role of religion in society. Kasra Paydavousi’s "Prayer" is full of contradictions. From afar, the sculpture looks like a man collapsed on his hands and knees in anguish, with his head bent low.
On one hand, it is wrought from an organic material - flat, inch-thick wood strips - and yet it is spray-painted with unnaturally bright colors. His larger-than-life-size makes him appear formidable, but the gaps between the thin strips imply vulnerability and fragility.
Then, a large boat, visible through the sculpture, passes up the East River and a squirrel startled by this visitor scurries away.
Nearby, Miggy Buck’s optimistic work, "Victory Dance," makes me laugh out loud with its merry, diminutive figures cast in cement. The heavy religious symbols - a cross, crescent and Star of David - have metal arms and legs much like the animated California Raisins. They are frozen in lighthearted mid-jig, with their arms raised and legs kicking up in joyful unity. If only.
Renee Iacone and Trudy Solin’s "Gnosis" (the intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths, an esoteric form of knowledge sought by Gnostics) places 26 anthropomorphous sculptures, impaled on metal poles anchored in rocks. The sheer number of them, decorated in an array of rich colors and lush materials, lined up in tiers between a chain link fence and the brick wall, stops the viewer in her tracks. One is covered in dozens of closely spaced nails, giving the effect of a nightmarish human pincushion.
Other sculptures are more abstract and blend more easily in the park setting. Nicolae Golici’s "History Repeats" is a spiral of unpainted wood boards, bolted and glued into circles, undulating up and down with its ends yawning open. Large enough to crawl through, Golici’s sculpture offers a tunnel vision of a picnic table on one end and emergency vehicles out the other end.
Clark’s "Archeological Rhythm" is a perfect marriage of sculpture and placement. Her tree, formed from leaf-less twigs, from which mobiles of bones, shells and beads hang, is placed in a spot where the river’s waves lap at the rocky shoreline. Her silent wind chimes sway on the breeze. It seems that here the visitor is far from the hustle and bustle of urban life, and the constant whooshing of bridge traffic could be the sound of the ocean crashing on the beach. The combined effect is entrancing.
And those are just a few of the highlights of this 21st edition of the BWAC Outdoor Sculpture Show. It’s a pity it comes just once a year.
The Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition’s sculpture show, "What’s Going On?" will be on display from 8:30 am to 8:30 pm, daily, through Sept. 14 at Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, on Water Street between New Dock and Main streets in Fulton Ferry. The show is free. For more information, call (718) 596-2507 or visit the Web site at www.bwac.org.