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The Brooklyn Museum is out to prove that its beauty goes much farther than skin deep. Beyond its facelift - a new front entrance and glass-enclosed pavilion to be unveiled April 17 with a weekend-long celebration called "Open!" - the museum will simultaneously reveal three new exhibitions.

In addition to a completely revamped Hall of the Americas with its re-installation of native arts of North, Central and South America, there will be a first-time-ever retrospective of influential fashion designer Patrick Kelly’s gowns and personal artifacts, as well as the mind-boggling exhibit, "Open House," featuring the works of nearly 200 Brooklyn artists.

This week, GO Brooklyn took a behind-the-scenes tour of the new Brooklyn Museum (which lopped off "of Art" from its name on March 12). Our insider’s glimpse revealed a buzzing hive of activity in and around the institution.

Inside the grand, colonnaded Hall of the Americas on the first floor, chief exhibition designer Matthew Yokobosky has daringly chosen not only to paint vibrant murals - of an erupting volcano and mountain range, a forest and a condor silhouetted against the moon - on the walls of the exhibition space, but to paint the enormous hall’s columns, which are scattered throughout the center of the space.

The effect of the wide stripes of paint, which run lengthwise, up and down the columns, is nothing short of Oscar-worthy. Visitors standing in the center of the room who slowly spin around will notice a change in the quality of light as their eyes pan over golden-yellow columns, then deep twilight purple and dark blue. It truly feels as though the sun is rising and setting.

"I wanted to evoke the natural environment to give a sense of mood and time of day," Yokobosky explained of his 3-D mural effect.

Under the direction of Nancy Rosoff, the Andrew W. Mellon curator and chair of Arts of the Americas, this hall will house "Living Legacies: The Arts of the Americas" a reorganization and thematic (as opposed to chronological) reinstallation of the museum’s collection of art from the northwest coast (including newly conserved totem poles from Canada’s Queen Charlotte Islands) and Andean textiles, including the famed "Paracas textile."

"The Paracas textile is a big draw," explained museum spokesman Adam Husted. "A lot of scholars come to the museum to study that."

Some of the works will also be easier to examine than in the past, as many of them will be in stand-alone glass cases, which visitors can circle for a 360-degree view.

Last but not least, one of the murals in this hall is full of traditional glyphs, handprints of the museum’s employees.

"It’s symbolic of the individual and how he fits into the community," explained Husted, who placed his own green handprint on the wall, too. "It makes you feel part of something. It’s historic."

The museum employees are clearly leaving a lasting impression, because, as Yokobosky pointed out, the last time the Hall of the Americas was redecorated was 50 years ago.

Also on the first floor, Patrick Kelly, a designer who achieved widespread notoriety in the late 1980s for his form-fitting gowns embellished with vibrantly colored buttons, will be honored with a retrospective. Yokobosky has displayed Kelly’s dresses on dress forms and also on hangers from clotheslines - many of them near the items that inspired their creation from the artist’s own enormous collection of black dolls, golliwogs, Josephine Baker memorabilia and other collectibles, giving insight into his creative process.

The Kelly exhibit is being organized by guest curator Thelma Golden, deputy director for exhibitions and programs at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Just a glimpse of the exhibit, which was still being installed, exuded the colorful, high-energy, utterly whimsical visual feast to come, which itself feeds off the designer’s own electric, optimistic palette of colors. Video monitors will offer interviews with the artist. Already-hung portraits show the handsome, smiling Kelly surrounded by a bevy of his models, before his tragic death from AIDS in 1990 at age 35.

Finally, Charlotta Kotik, chairwoman of the museum’s Department of Contemporary Art, was busily directing an installation on two floors of the museum of more than 300 works of art by nearly 200 Brooklyn artists. For this exhibition, "Open House: Working in Brooklyn," Kotik estimates that she and assistant curator Tumelo Mosaka have considered for inclusion the works of nearly 1,000 artists, sometimes visiting three studios a day.

While Kotik doesn’t believe that the works of Brooklyn artists have any similarities based on their geographical location, she has observed a common personality trait.

"Their generosity!" said Kotik. "We found out about the names and addresses of artists through artists. It is very refreshing how open and sharing they are. In spite of the fact that us seeing this next artist’s work could mean excluding theirs, because everyone could not be included, they are extremely forthcoming. There is a camaraderie there."

Kotik said "Open House" artworks will also be placed throughout the museum and there will be a map to guide visitors to those works. A soft sculpture artwork even runs down the center of a spiral staircase.

Amidst the scatter of squares of foam, cardboard and ladders, museum employees and the artists themselves worked to install the paintings, sculptures and installations.

Williamsburg artist Lorenzo Pace took time out from lettering his multimedia work, "Jalani and the Lock Family History Tree" (2004), an installation inspired by his inheritance - a padlock that once chained his enslaved great-great-grandfather, to talk about "Open House."

"It’s something special to be acknowledged in your hometown and home borough," said Pace, who, as he worked in the gallery enjoyed the companionship the all-Brooklyn show provided.

"Artists don’t get to see and talk to each other," he said, motioning to the proximity of fellow artist David Brody, at work on his mural "Fragment of a Much Larger Thing: LATTERDAYS."

Kotik said Brooklyn is home to New York City’s greatest concentration of visual artists, and that she suspects our borough has the greatest concentration of artists in the world. She has already curated a series of exhibitions showcasing art from Brooklyn (also titled "Working in Brooklyn") and she hopes to continue mining our local talent for future exhibitions.

Said Kotik, "The most important project to me will always be the next one."

 

"Open House: Working in Brooklyn," "Living Legacies: The Arts of the Americas" and "Patrick Kelly: A Retrospective" will open at the newly refurbished Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, on April 17. Admission is free April 17, from 11 am to 11 pm, and April 18, from 11 am to 6 pm. For more information about the "Open!" weekend of festivities, visit the museum’s Web site at www.brooklynmuseum.org or call (718) 638-5000.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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