"REDEFINITIONS: A VIEW FROM BROOKLYN"
by Roberta Carasso
(CSU Fullerton Art Gallery, Orange County) Imagine a community of 5,000 plus artists all living and working close together. What vitality and artistic exchange would be ignited by the sheer mass of creative sparks taking place within a high concentration of artists' studios? The thought is awesome.
In Williamsburg Brooklyn, a subway stop and a bridge away from Manhattan, this unusual occurrence has become a reality. The largest enclave of artists in history has sprung up in this unlikely place. Williamsburg, a very old section of Brooklyn, is notorious for its distinct ethnic groups, who long ago carved out their territory and visible life style. There are Blacks, Orthodox Jews, Puerto Ricans, Italians, and Poles. Over about the last decade, the growing number of artists have entered its ranks, throwing the ethnic balance on its tail.
Looming in the shadows of a 19th-Century bridge, dingy gray brick tenements, the aged neighborhood with its distinct architecture--stoops and debris--evokes a torrent of questions. Is Williamsburg becoming the art center of the 21st Century? Is the phenomenon of a high concentration of artists affecting new trends? Is the massive dose of artistic energy producing a more powerful charge which cannot evolve when artists are scattered and thinly interspersed? And for us in Southern California, we ask, is the art of Brooklyn better or worse, different or the same as art being created on the West Coast?
The curators of the exhibition, Susan Joyce and Wiwan Suittiram, are to be commended. They could only bring a fragment of the Brooklyn milieu to Southern California. They selected 20 artists to show a cross-section of the artistic culture--a mix of the emerging and well established. Hence, the show ranges from naive to highly polished and sophisticated, but always stimu lating works. What is most noticeable is the great diversity of artistic directions and humor that pervades enough of the art to light up the entire exhibition. Also apparent is how many of the artist started life or were trained on the West Coast.
Fred Tomaselli, the most accomplished artist here, provides his dry, slow-burn humor. Two pieces represent this masterful artist. One is a large, layered bronze and red painting, with hormone pills interspersed as if highlighted dots. The next is also large but more humorous. Bug Blotter is a frame of bright red, cartoon-like flames drawing the viewer into the blue sky within. Coming closer, one sees in it a profusion of bugs and flying things, an explosion of the insect world. Tomaselli also focuses on the profusion of escapist drugs. In his art, pills do not enter the blood stream but the eyeballs. The flying insects echo the effects of drugs. They are all dead.
Roxy Paine has invented a device that allows him to dip paintings as if one were dipping waxed candles, layering each with coats of paint, building the canvas rather than applying paint in the traditional manner. Paine turns flat paintings into sculptures, solidifying drips and all.
Daniele Imperiale presents small egg tempera paintings that reveal her masterful skill in illuminated manuscripts. In the guise of the gentle and medieval, Imperiale reveals heartfelt aspects of the human condition. Joseph Amrhein, artist and owner of the noted Williamsburg gallery Pierogi 2000, creates his layered vellum and enameled letters in Circles and Zeroes, along with slides of the gallery and neighborhood. Vincent Gargiulo renders humorous and personal sculptures of intimate objects which evoke shared memories. In Baby Shoe Tooth, the artist combines poignant, but funny memories of childhood. Mery Lynn McCorkle places children's stuffed toys and dolls in transparent boxes to view and protect. Her art deals with the painful and joyous areas of our lives we all experience, but try to overlook. Lastly, Jennifer Weber, an accomplished photographer, tacks her prints of fantastic situations all over a corner of the wall as if creating a wall sculpture from black & white imagery.
To answer some of the questions this exhibition poses: the art world seems to have expanded. Artists in a given community are now aware of art all from over the world. Periodicals, magazines, exhibitions such as these, and especially the World Wide Web have made current art and artistic ideas available to all. Despite this proliferation of information, the artist still must find his/her individual voice. If finding that voice means relocating, all well and good.
Next, artists have always companioned with fellow artists to draw strength and support when sharing ideas. In Williamsburg, there may well be a more concentrated community and an exchange of stimulating ideas. But these are only stimuli on the road to making art. The test is the art itself. No matter the quantity of artists, the proximity to one another, and the exchange of ideas, ultimately, the artist works singlehandedly in a studio, alone. Stimulation, collaboration, support, and friendship are all needed, but they do not guarantee quality art. Therefore, whether looking at art made in Brooklyn or Orange County, one is hard-pressed to detect the locale of origin. To the query "Is the work stimulating?", in this exhibition, the answer is a definite "Yes."