Public art installation evokes Flatbush of bygone days

The Brooklyn Paper
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The intersection of past and present can’t be found on any map.

Nonetheless, memory meets a contemporary reflection of itself where Ocean and Parkside Avenues intersect in Flatbush.

A new art installation -- which is described by its creator, Gabriel Reese, as a “patchwork” of recollections culled from interviews with longtime residents of the area -- debuted late last month outside the Parkside Avenue subway station, courtesy of the New York City Department of Transporta­tion’s Urban Art program.

The work’s triangular shape -- it is comprised of three panels connected to each other -- reflects the broad delta of pavement on which it stands, noted Reese, standing next to his composition.

“I wanted a flat side for each angle,” he explained. “It also entices you to explore, to walk around it.”

Circumnavigating the work is a little bit like a voyage of discovery into the past re-imagined. Reese said that each panel reflects the remembrances of one individual with deep roots in the community, interpreting in paint, “Memories that verge on today.” Each of the three panels, he added, is based on anecdotes he was told during hours spent at St. Gabriel’s Senior Center and the Caton Park Nursing Home, as well as walking the community’s streets and engaging older residents in conversation.

“Because the stories were so varied, it’s almost a patchwork of imagery that reflects the community in general,” he noted.

In totality, the work is a nexus of Flatbush icons: A bulging red drape from one of Flatbush Avenue’s long-shuttered cinema palaces;the sexy, lean yet boxy shape of Sears’ Art Deco tower; a solid half-timbered church harking back to the early years of the previous century; signs for May Stores, Korvette’s and Woolworth’s that evoke the shopping Mecca that once was Flatbush Avenue; a crisply modern green Flatbush Avenue placard -- classic American signage -- which functions in the work almost as the key to unlock a storied neighborhood.

With all the architectural images, there are, of course, the local denizens immortalized in paint on the metal panels -- someone drowsing on a green slatted bench, people garbed in the fantastic costumes of Carnival, and the work’s three protagonists, the senior citizens whose memories Reese mined to develop the artwork.

Reese, a Kentucky native, has only lived in Brooklyn for the past year. Creating the work, he said, allowed him to fulfill a strongly-held wish -- “To get a history lesson on Brooklyn. This project especially made me go to soak in the environment a little more and document things. I really couldn’t have had a better history lesson.”

For DOT, the project is a way of reshaping the city’s streets, explained Wendy Feuer, assistant commissioner of urban design & art for the agency.

While DOT’s main charge, she stressed, is to maintain a vast array of infrastructure, Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, said Feuer, wanted to broaden the agency’s mission, and “started a program to integrate art” into the city streetscape, “because she wants to create world-class streets,” a reflection, Feuer added, of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s signature initiative, PlaNYC.

“Even though it’s only a tiny part of the agency, art speaks a lot louder,” Feuer stressed.

The project is one of eight being created for various corners of the city. DOT received about 40 proposals, including the one from a Brooklyn-based not for profit arts organization, International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP), which was executed by Reese.

“We really want to work with the community,” noted Dennis Elliott, the executive director of ISCP. “One of the best ways to work with the community is to do public works.

The installation will remain on view for 11 months.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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