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OUTSPOKEN ART

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Where the female’s torso would be, there is a zigzag cutout, reminiscent of a puzzle piece, or maybe half a bear trap. The claw-like shape rests on curvaceous legs, twisted in a half crouch and flexing a naked derriere. Beneath the imposing posterior lies another cutout: the smaller, missing half of the puzzle/trap, from which a male hand reaches upward, yearning toward the towering bronze buttocks above.

A group of local women chuckle and joke with one another as they walk past Soapbox Gallery’s storefront-style display window at dusk. The shopping-bag-toting ladies seem more amused than shocked by the whimsical sculpture illuminated within.

"I see an ass!" said one of the women with gusto.

Sculptor and gallery-owner Jimmy Greenfield was pleased. "It looks like we’re getting a reaction," he said. "That’s great!"

When the gallery officially opens on June 30, the public will be in for more controversial imagery than the forlorn vision of lost love spelled out by Greenfield’s quirky bronze nude.

"The point of Soapbox Gallery is to impose art onto the street," says Greenfield. "I wanted to challenge the community with a gallery space that’s integrated into the public landscape."

Greenfield has carved a piece out of his Prospect Heights studio and built a white box, 10-feet-high, 10-feet-wide and 7-feet-deep. The box sits just inside the large glass double doors that open onto the street from the ground floor space, forming a large display case at street level. Greenfield’s goal: to display controversial, "political" art that might not otherwise be seen by the public.

Greenfield says he got the idea for Soapbox Gallery when it became apparent that many in this industrial neighborhood, where artists like Louise Bourgeois have lived and worked for decades, would be displaced by Bruce Ratner’s planned Nets arena complex. Plans for the block will result in the construction of a luxury housing and retail complex right across the street from the building Greenfield owns.

"I wanted Brooklyn artists to have a way of speaking out against the displacement of so many artists in the area," said Greenfield. "They’ve already declared one of the buildings over there ’unfit for habitation’ - which it’s not - and the tenants were forced out. I figured, since I’m going to stay here through all these changes, why not give a voice to the community out of this space, where it will be seen by everyone walking by?"

Greenfield is delighted at the way his plan is shaping up. The clean, well-lit display area is ready to house changing exhibitions that will go up every two weeks. But Greenfield says that he’s not limiting the gallery to neighborhood artists or local issues.

"It doesn’t just have to be Ratner stuff. Anyone anywhere in the world can submit their work [for considerat­ion]," he says. "I’m open to all kinds of political work: art that makes a radical, controversial statement or something uplifting or more abstract." Greenfield is hoping to attract video and multimedia installations to the space, as well as more traditional media. He even has plans in the works to use a pioneering audio broadcasting device, called "hypersonic sound."

"My friend Woody Norris developed this thing, that allows you to direct the sound with pinpoint accuracy," says Greenfield. "It’s perfect for things like museum displays, because the viewer can listen to the audio at each station without using headphones.

[With hypersonic sound], passers-by would be able to hear the sound only while standing directly in front of the window." Greenfield has arranged to borrow the hypersonic sound system.

Borrowing things is a major tactic for Greenfield, who is financing Soapbox Gallery out of his own pocket, with the help of friends and fellow artists. A former carpenter who now devotes his time to creating large-scale sculpture, Greenfield has more surprises up his sleeve. Tucked away in the back half of his large studio space, behind a massive double door, is the series of bronzes and mixed media sculptures he’s been working on for five years.

In one piece, an array of monumental arms performs the "sieg heil" in perfect military formation. Somewhere in the midst of the up-thrusting arms, a small hand is holding up a rudely defiant finger. In another piece, a pair of gesticulating arms battle one another in a small barbed-wire enclosure that’s part prison, part boxing ring. All told, there are at least a dozen major works that the sculptor has been keeping under wraps until the big day comes.

"About 20 people have seen these up till now," according to Greenfield. The bronzes will debut at the gallery’s grand opening reception, along with works by Wanda Acosta, John Arruda, Jeremy Eagle, Mark Hurwitt, Sandy Osip, Tim Slowinski, James Stuart and Jeramy Turner. In addition, there will be performances by singer-songwriter Judy Gorman, poet Pam Sneed and the Yippy Skippy Puppet Theatre.

"I’m going to put the Nazi salute sculpture in the window for the opening, as soon as I build a stand for it," says Greenfield.

The soft-spoken sculptor admits that he’s a bit nervous about having his first one-man show.

"I hope people don’t laugh at me," says Greenfield, only half-joking. Behind him, the disembodied arms he’s fashioned are gathered, like ghosts pleading wordlessly to be heard.


Soapbox Gallery’s grand opening reception will be June 30 at 7 pm at 636 Dean St. between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues in Prospect Heights. Admission is free. For more information, call (718) 875-3326 or visit www.soapboxgallery.org.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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