Washington Park

The Daily Plant : Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Brooklyn Utopias Exhibition At Old Stone House Of Gowanus Stirs The Senses And Imagination

Image by Rebecca Hackemann

When Sir Thomas More published Utopia in 1516, Brooklyn was not yet even imagined, and surely not as its modern-day mix of urbanism and idealism. A current art exhibition at Washington Park’s Old Stone House of Gowanus (OSH) combines thoughtful and playful artists’ visions of this evolving borough, and explores the meaning and purpose of public parks and open space.

On view through June 24 , Brooklyn Utopias: Park Space, Play Space, “brings together 19 artists and arts groups to address the ideal design, planning and use of public parks.” Since their inception, parks, playgrounds, and other public gathering spaces have served as an antidote to a range of urban ills from neighborhood blight and congestion to poor health and fitness. Brooklyn is home to some of the grandest endeavors, including Olmsted and Vaux’s Fort Greene and Prospect Parks, numerous playgrounds and three massive outdoor pools dating to the era of Robert Moses, and the nascent Brooklyn Bridge Park. From Walt Whitman’s early advocacy to the present day, grassroots efforts have often characterized the transformation and development of the borough’s diverse parks. The artists in the show were invited “to respond to existing notions of “utopian” park design and use, and/or envision their own.” The exhibit coincides with the upcoming unveiling of Washington Park’s newly renovated J.J. Byrne Playground surrounding OSH. Its ribbon cutting is scheduled for Friday, May 11.

The endeavor is part of an ongoing exhibit and event series, conceived and founded in 2009 by artist and curator Katherine Gressel, in which artists, youth, activists, architects, designers and urban theorists consider differing visions of an ideal city through the specific venue of Brooklyn. Kim Maier, Director of OSH--the host institution--embraced this concept as a way of engaging the community’s historic past with contemporary, forward-looking interests.

Located in lower Park Slope, OSH is a “non-profit cultural site and presenting organization dedicated to creating a strong sense of community through history, environmental education and the arts.” It is part of the Historic House Trust of New York City. The house is a Robert Moses-era reconstruction of the Vechte-Cortelyou House, a Dutch farmhouse originally dating to 1699, which was the site of the largest battle of the Revolutionary War – the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776. In the late 1800’s, the surrounding area was the first home field for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team.

The artists in the show provide a striking range of interpretation. Rebecca Hackemann’s 1950s-style architectural drawing imagines an extended Gowanus Canal lapping at the “shores” of Washington Park. Husk, a collaborative of Christina Kelly and Jeff Hutchinson, has delineated a Utopian Bath Park, where repurposed rooftop water tanks are heated through decomposing compost and powered by hyper-active children. Will Pappenheimer’s Sky Mills multi-media presentation (he describes as “augmented-reality visualization”) creates “virtual” fantasy windmills inspired by the Dutch origins of the historic site, and can be accessed through mobile smart phone technology. Bettina Johae’s art project systematically explores the conversion of private property to public use through her map of Brooklyn parks acquired through eminent domain, and the Center for Urban Pedagogy takes a humorous look at the thicket of stakeholders on public works projects. Other artists or arts groups in the show include Lynn Cazabon, Tamara Gayer, Christine Gedeon, Groundswell Community Mural Project, Karen Kaapcke, Jess Levey, Cheryl Molnar, and Marina Zamalin.

The exhibition is on view Thursdays and Fridays from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Old Stone House is located at 336 3rd Street (between 4th and Fifth Avenues) in Brooklyn. An eclectic series of related events and workshops is planned. For further details or to confirm visitor hours, log on to http://brooklynutopias.wordpress.com or call OSH at (718) 768-3195.

Submitted by Jonathan Kuhn, Director, Art & Antiquities (and Brooklyn Utopias artist selection panelist)


“Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.”

Immanuel Kant
(1724 - 1804)

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