BWAC at Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park

Matt Johnson, Empire State, 2003.

The 21st annual Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC) sculpture show took place over the summer at the Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, which is located directly north of the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. The park space, flanked by large warehouses, a number of which have been given over to art activities, was a nice space in which to have a show, with its spectacular views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and downtown Manhattan skyline across the East River. Viewers strolled from one outdoor work to the next in the grassy park; the day this writer visited the show, there was a group of plein-air painters carefully rendering what they observed on site. Generally speaking, this group show, which encompassed the work of some 30 artists, had little in common stylistically beyond a beguiling funkiness, offset by the proletarian surroundings of the area.

Because all the works were shown outdoors, materials were sturdy, with a decided inclination toward the industrial. BWAC itself is a decidedly democratic affiliation, its one requirement for membership being a Brooklyn studio. As for the exhibition, curated by participating artists Ursula Clark and Richard Brachman, it was entirely a labor of love, with the artists themselves doing all the work installing and removing the sculptures. The range of expression was very broad, from Brachman’s Drums of War (all entries date from 2003), with its steel drums covered with rawhide and their connection with the Iraq war and occupation, to Clark’s Archeological Rhythm, with its branches and natural ephemera (eggs and bones) making a plea for the fragility of nature. Linda Cunningham’s Structural Transformations—abstract trees made of twisted-steel I-beams and 150-year-old wood—joins a historical sense of materials to the high industry of New York’s constant construction and reconstruction. Ana Golici’s Without Words, a tree trunk and bench made of slender wooden poles, emphasized the contrast between the natural and the manmade at a site where both are in evidence, with the river flowing past the city skyline.

Robert Winkler, Back Again, 2003.

The stacks of vinyl records in Entropy by David Popple rose up from the sand, creating black towers seemingly without a function. In the sculpture Perception of Absence by Steve Dolbin, a block of cement with a figure hollowed out lies just underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, treating absence in a poetic manner. Gnosis, a group of variously colored figurines made of ceramic and steel, by Renee Iacone and Trudy Solin, was established against a wall of a warehouse abutting the park; there was something moving, and also slightly disconcerting, about the presence of these figures, who mutely looked onto the park. One of the more accomplished, and more recognizable, sculptures was Matt Johnson’s wooden version of the Empire State Building; set against the backdrop of the East River and Manhattan’s skyline. It seemed to poke fun at the size and monumentality of its surroundings even as it offered for apotheosis one of the city’s best known and most loved buildings. Legged, by Lisa Beckner, consisted of five legs made from shopping bags; the legs hung from a steel frame and looked positively absurd in the middle of the site; that of course, was part of its idiosyncrasy as sculpture. Brooklyn Bridge/Mayakovsky by Alastair Noble, consisted of five doorlike screens angling out from a single point, so that the screens’ edges circumscribed a half circle; the markings on the screens reference the great Russian modernist poet Mayakovsky’s ode to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The energy and rough wit of the exhibition made it engaging; there was a directness and a spontaneity to the art, unlike the studied trendiness of a lot of gallery work on show in the city. In a way, the venue itself made the show—it is hard to find a more attractive spot, visually speaking, than the Empire Fulton Ferry State Park. In a show like this, inclusion of different styles is one of the inevitable effects of the show’s openness, which is for the most part a good thing. The intellectual honesty of the art was repeated in the artists’ truth to materials, which gave a funky cast to the overall experience. Now that the annual exhibition is more than 20 years old, there is even a bit of tradition behind the sculptures. Now that there is a generation’s worth of democratic effort and expression, the efforts of the artists in the 21st edition of the exhibition may be seen in the light of an ongoing effort to make local artists’ work available to a curious public.