Coney Island: just swim

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Post by Brent Burket

Too often fun in the NYC artworld is limited to getting drunk and having your picture taken at a Bellwether opening. That is very much not the case at The Dreamland Artist Club in Coney Island, an installation brought to us for the second summer in a row by the public arts organization Creative Time and curated by Steve Powers with Alexa Coyne. No. Here the fun is constant and bursting, a spinning thing. In a surreal and beautiful convergence of history, economics, and art The Dreamland Artist Club brings together artists from all over the world to paint the signs, rides, and walls of this iconic American landscape. Where the exhibit stops and the rest of Coney Island starts, nobody knows.

The place to begin sussing it all out is at the Clubhouse on Surf Avenue where maps, project paraphernalia, and a tour (by appt. and S/Su at 3 and 4) are available. The Clubhouse itself is a wondrous jumble of works-in-progress, a nice introduction to the fun close-at-hand. Also, having a storefront presence brings the art closer to the community. I love to think of locals and tourists alike entering such an unexpected doorway. Whether your perception of Coney Island has been formed by the day-to-day or “Under The Boardwalk” this show brings an element of surprise. That surprise doesn’t always come from works that have been made for the installation either. The Dreamland Artist Club enriches and is enriched by the past, a reverse crossover and fade if you will.

Once you’ve visited the clubhouse, I recommend total immersion in the spirit of Coney Island, and the best place to find that is Jones Walk. Around the corner from the Clubhouse, the Walk is an alleyway flanked on both sides by some of the loudest barkers and the flashiest games in the area. This is the perfect place to start submitting to the charms of Coney Island and The Dreamland Artist Club. Soon you’ll find yourself engaging in the timeless tradition of shooting water into the mouth of a clown until the balloon on his head explodes. (And you thought the “surreal” was going to come from the art.) While winning all the velvet monkeys your little heart desires you can also groove to the art of Ryan McGinness, Rita Ackerman, Dana Schutz, and many others. One of my favorite visual moments on Jones Walk is the pairing of Isca Greenfeld-Sanders’ “Happy Landings” with Christa Donner’s “Feed the Clown!” (right, by Ryan McGinness, and below left, by Rita Ackerman).

After the aural and visual gauntlet of Jones Walk it’ll be time for a little wandering. You can always refer back to your map, but I found the confusion of the “artful” and the “decorative” invigorating. In fact, it’s one of the great strengths of the project. Any argument about high and low culture is rendered pointless in a setting this alive. The new murals and signs mix it up with walls tagged late at night and lettering painted decades ago. Enjoy the visual mash-up and ask questions later.

The Dreamland Artist Club creates an organic dialogue between the past and present. Some of the most beautiful colors in the exhibit can be seen in works that were done for last year’s show and are now entering the time-honored tradition of decay. I love decay, especially when it looks this good. You can imagine how much I liked the signage that started it’s immaculate fade in the 80’s.

There is also a lively conversation going on between art and commerce. All art, whether commercial or fine, must attract. Otherwise it’s just a list or a treatise. All of the artists in the exhibition had to consult with their business owners so whether they had free reign or tight restrictions, the reality of what they were doing involved enticement. The two supposedly opposing worlds of the the Artist Club and old school Coney face off dramatically on West 12th Street. Here Dearaindrop’s vibrant mural at the Spider Ride shouts back at the brilliant and blasting spray painted backdrop for the Polar Express (right). King-size hip hop jams blare as a polar bear DJ brings Tupac and Biggie Smalls together in a frigid and dizzying afterlife. (Eternal peace is apparently a cool place.) In the end I’d call it a glorious draw between the two attractions, and I couldn’t begin to say which is more commercial.

Other highlights in the installation are The Basketball Game by Tauba Auerbach, Mimi Gross’s Plaza Mexico USA, Bruno Peinado’s Plaza Latina, and Beatriz Barral’s marquee for Water Racing. The list goes on, but two artists that deserve special attention are Os Gemeos (identical twins, Otavio and Gustavo) and Swoon. Swoon utilizes cutouts, collage, and prints to create visually and emotionally intricate images (see Roberta’s previous mention of her work here). She even nudges the decay forward by pulling and fraying the edges of her pieces. She can’t wait to fall apart, and I already have. Os Gemeos’ storybook mural on Stillwell Avenue (above left and below right) is the first thing that can be seen coming out of the subway station. I’m glad I didn’t take the train, as I might have spent 3 slack-jawed hours in front this enveloping heart-sized wall and missed the rest of the show. I’ll go so far as to say that it’s worth the trip out to Coney Island just to see this piece. It’s that good. (more on Os Gemeos from Burket here)

You wouldn’t need to throw a stone too far or too well to hit an art theorist who would be able make the case for sign painting and graffiti as two of the most important influences in contemporary art. This summer in Coney Island, for a fast nickel, the influence dances quite comfortably with the influenced. Both take the lead at various times without missing a single step. This dance floor, this boardwalk, this ocean of an installation moves in all directions at once, interweaving the currents of both time and space. There’s only one thing to do here. Leave your life preserver at home and just swim.

–Regular contributor Brent Burket also has his own art blog, “Heart As Arena”
powers, steve
coyne, alexa
mcginness, ryan
ackerman, rita
schutz, dana
greenfield-sanders, isca
auerbach, tauba
donner, christa
dearaindrop
gross, mimi
peinado, bruno
barral, beatriz
os gemeos
swoon

Tags

dreamland artist club, features & interviews, reviews, steve powers

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