§ Lilkool & Brooklyn Street Art

LilKool's partnerUsually I traum about these posts and as a result they take forevah. Draft after draft after….you get the idea. But I’m writing about street art and street art can happen on a dime. So….

I was walking around Sunday taking pictures of, well, just stuff….a Gowanus Canal bridge, people, the canal and….lots of street art and some graffiti. I came across two guys working on a wall. I liked what I saw so we started chatting. The designer/artist goes by LilKool (also @Lilkool on Instagram) and he’s prolific and talented. I’m sorry I don’t remember his partner’s name. Anyway here’s a few shots of the unfinished work. Hint: there’ll be black lining to the color shapes though I’ll admit to liking the cloud-like look too. Below I’ll also included a couple of LK’s paintings. The art is at the corner of Sackett and Bond in Gowanus. By the way, they really, really need a scissor lift to finish the top half so if you have one…Click below for a screen show.

There was a lot of other interesting and elaborate work in Gowanus, much more than I’ve seen in the Slope. I’m not really drawn to the Dungeons/Dragons look of many of these works but the skill is undeniable. All this work is in a small area bound by 3rd St, Bond, Butler, and 3rd Ave with most on or just off Bond and Nevins on the other (East) side of the canal. Check these out too. I’ll add some artist identifiers when I have a chance. You, though, just need to take a tour of Gowanus!

§ The Whitney’s “Human Interest: Portraits from the Collection”

Thru February 2017

Before we start, let me say that I often find big exhibitions a bit unnerving and overwhelming. They’re like Chinese restaurant buffets – you leave stuffed, bloated and not remembering what you ate. I started a couple of years ago forcing myself to, in effect, avoid sweet & sour pork, beef with garlic sauce, and the General Tso’s Chicken and stick to a few, strategic dishes. No more browsing and instead more focus. My mantra now: choose a few pieces and sit with them for an extended period. I began with this method at the lovely (and free!) NC Museum of Art  with a Wyeth, a Sergeant, and a Jacob Lawrence that I described here. (Not bad choices!)

3pieces

So without further adieu…..

The Whitney‘s Meatpacking District location is still new when it comes to museums. Its architecture is interesting, the outdoor spaces have fabulous views of the city and beyond, and the exhibit spaces are practical if also pretty forgettable, but that leaves the focus on the art. Its location next to the High Line along with the outdoor platform views makes it a great introduction for the visitor to New York City. And its inventory makes it a natural top-end art venue.

View north to High Line
Whitney-view - 1
View south to new World Trade Center

So Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection is basically a must-see simply because of the gems in the collection. Putting my amateur art critic hat on I’d say that the exhibition is very good but not always riveting. Basically I find the schticks they use in the various spaces hit-and-miss. Those spaces that are less thematic are mostly where I found myself spending my time including revisiting a number of pieces. I’m a huge Susan Payton and Alice Neel fan so I focused on the Payton and the two Neel’s. The Barkley Hendricks? Oh yeah. Henry Taylor’s Huey Newton? Ditto. The visually floating men in the board room of Howard Kanovitz New Yorkers1 look like more interesting versions of the characters from the Mad Men.

But there were other pieces that I really looked at. I’ll start with the Joan Semmel piece Touch from 1975. I didn’t know her work. The story of its apparent controversy is quite an eye opener from the perspective of 2016. It’s a erotic view from Semmel herself with her lover pre or post sex. It’s about touch, feeling flesh, and I’m guessing sounds, smells, and the cool feel of sweat drying on her skin. She was trying to create sensual erortic art for women that was explictly political and feminist.

The controversy was less about pushback for eroticism from a female standpoint than about other feminists who attacked Semmel for objectifying women. The story is interesting, but I was stunned by the piece before I knew all that. Basically I found the angle of the bodies gorgeous (and technically beyond my skills!) but it’s so sensual, so rich, that I imagined I could feel the sheets, and hear their breaths slowing. It envelops the viewer and I, at least, felt I real sense of voyeurism as if I was watching through an uncovered window. An amazing immersive experience that is not about objectivitizating but about the transformative joy of human sexual experience.

Joan Semmell Touch from 1975
Joan Semmell Touch from 1975

Next up, Charles Henry Alston and Arshile Gorky…….

Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky
Charles Henry Alston
Charles Henry Alston

§ Gowanus Canal Brooklyn Graffiti

This week Karen and I took a fascinating water tour with the Working Harbor Committee led by Captain Margaret Flanagan and Joseph Alexiou, tour guide and author of Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal. The Hidden Harbor Tour of Gowanus Bay left from Wall Street Pier 11 and headed over Brooklyn way. We toured through the working port facilities along the shore, went into the Erie Basin (location of the Brooklyn Ikea), then back out to the Red Hook Basin and Gowanus Bay and finally headed into the Gowanus Canal. Map below, right.

Tour map showing graffiti area
Tour map showing graffiti area

Old, abandoned, and decaying warehouses and buildings line the water as you enter the Gowanus Canal. They present quite a canvas for the city’s graffiti artists even if it’s a bit hard to get to (both for the artists and those wanting to see the work). As you’ll see, some of the spots chosen make you scratch your head as to how the artists got there. The photos were taken from port side (left) of the boat and are in order of time taken.

We can argue about the value of these works and graffiti in general. I personally put graffiti, street art, and Public Art (with a capital P&A) in the same genus but different species. Certainly any number of graffiti and street artists end up as “real painters” or public artists and some like Banksy hit the big time. In this case there is no defacing, no harm, no foul. In fact it improves the visual environment. We can have a discussion about this over a beer.

One last thing, the captain was able to talk the drawbridge operator at Hamilton Bridge into letting us through (see the third image in the slideshow). It was very, very cool. Oh and I appreciate the chutzpah of the family in the canoes. Their sanity though……

NOTE: The day was very cloudy and it was getting late. I tried to manipulate and lighten the the images some but also wanted to present the art in a realistic way.

Click on any photo for a slideshow.