The Brooklyn Museum is redecorating

The Brooklyn Paper
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It’s a little slice of history — with an artistic twist.

Don’t be surprised if the Brooklyn Museum’s 18th and 19th century period rooms appear slightly different on Feb. 24 — as part of its “Playing House” exhibit, the museum is allowing its prized, historic digs to be transformed by four contemporary artists.

“It’s called ‘Playing House’ and so it has the silly allusions of young girls playing with a doll house,” said curator, Barry Harwood, “but these are all very serious women artists.”

Betty Woodman, Ann Agee, Mary Lucier and Anne Chu were invited by the museum to tour the period rooms; pick their favorite; and rearrange, redecorate and redefine them using art made specifically for the project — the results have turned the historic chambers inside out.

When Agee, for instance, saw the museum’s upscale, Victorian library and parlor, which are each flush with gaudy, gilded carvings and velvet curtains, she couldn’t resist the urge remake the chambers into something grungier.

“They’re not the prettiest rooms in the museum, but they’re the most interesting,” said Agee. “People of the Victorian era were just obsessed with beauty and with covering things up and those rooms are just dripping with decoration. I wanted to take away that veneer.”

The Victorian rooms are now lined with hand-drawn wallpapers depicting a craftsman’s workshop, complete with ceiling pipes, a work sink, and an electric fan — a far cry from the bourgeois appetites of the room’s original occupants.

Although there is no set criteria for the various “Playing House” projects — which have all manifested themselves in very different ways — the four women were asked to respond to their disparate rooms, and then use their art to express those reactions.

“The theme is that we would respond,” said Woodman. “I think this is something that many museums are interested in doing and they do it in different ways. But I think that the idea was, here are these period room, how can we have artists today interact with them, change the way you see them and change the public who come to see them.”

Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. near Washington Avenue, (718) 638-5000] Open Feb. 24 – Aug. 26. Free with admission. For info, visit

Reach reporter Colin MIxson at or by calling (718) 260-4514.
Posted 9:59 am, February 18, 2012
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