Dead in August; Alive in Greenpoint

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Recently a friend and I biked to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I had my sunglasses on. The heat built up through the early afternoon and I broke a sweat by the time we arrived. I took my sunglasses off and everything looked a coolish green compared with the totalizing, creamsicle orange of my sunglass lenses. We passed a lone blue police barrier blocking traffic to one end of the block. A black event tent was set up, with people mingling underneath, and others setting things up in the background. The block party for Dead in August, a month-plus long exhibition of rotating visual art, parties, music performances, and movie screenings in Brooklyn was about to start. The premise is to organize a lively collection of cultural and artistic events when the rest of New York is on vacation and most galleries are closed.

Youngblood Magnitude performing at Dead in August’s block party. Photo credit: Paul Winters.

Dead in August–this is its inaugural year–is hosted at the Pentagon. The venue is an elusive “secret space for odd shows” (according to their blogspot). When there isn’t a show, the Pentagon is shared between Susan and Howard Hunt of Snowball’s Chance Productions, Dark Mountain Printing, and the band, Bezoar. Meaghan Kent, the curator of D.I.A, expressed to me multiple times, her exceptional gratitude toward Susan and Howard.

Four or five hula hoops in neon orange and green stood leaning against the bottom portion of an open loading dock outside the building. They were a tableau that could have been part of the installation inside. In fact, a man fiddled nearby on the sidewalk an hour or so later with a tenuous, pyramidal sculpture of long, narrow fluorescent tubes. The geometric, light-art piece spoke directly to the hula hoops.

Installation of Dead in August at the Pentagon, Brooklyn. Photo credit: Cary Whittier

Inside the building, Curator Kent organized a set of visual objects, to be rotated in the space a total of three times throughout the month of August. Also part of the curation were: the block party, with triple chocolate chunk cookies and live music; the closing party on Sept. 13; and the film screening Aug. 24, featuring Nicolas Knight’s Ball Today (included in the exhibition) and other pieces by filmmakers involved with The Pentagon.

Kent, a sprightly, professional woman in her early thirties seems to be saying like the rest of us: “Please do not wane” to the precious long hours of late summer. Her D.I.A. festival celebrates the good weather before the air chills and we must all retreat indoors. Kent’s programming suggests we can appreciate art experientially the way we do the outdoors—with our whole bodies and all of our senses—and that we can have an aesthetic and intellectual appreciation for raw air that is usually reserved for artistic pursuits.

By curating an open-air event as a comparable piece of an exhibition, Kent implies that the sensory fullness we experience when outside is too often missing from viewing art. Thus, fresh air, live music, food, beer, and friends are interspersed with a visual array of objects.

From left to right (top to bottom): Jen Dohne, Mat Bushell, Eddie Chu, and Joshua Abelow

As for the visual portion of D.I.A. (I saw the second of the three installments), it was a mixed bag. The paintings and drawings, a few photographs, sculpture, a video and poetry (tacked loosely to the wall, like sketches) were disparate, although that is not in itself an issue. The hanging of the work hindered pieces that individually displayed promise. Documentation on the D.I.A. website, however, indicates that the first installment–a similar collection of work by the same artists—was sharper. The impression of the second installation was of a community art class that has put on a mandatory end-of-semester viewing.

Adam Henry, Untitled (FS 7), 2011, Synthetic polymers on linen, 19 x 16”

One piece that held my interest is Joshua Abelow’s Ass Licker, a one-shot line drawing of a seductive female licking the buttocks of a hypnotized-looking man. The drawing demonstrates masterful ease. Others I found attention-grabbing are a set of paintings that link to an up-to-date conversation about abstraction: Adam Henry’s Untitled (FS 7), a rainbow bleed suppressed by a colorless texture (Gerhard Richter meets Jules Olitski), Scott Calhoun’s Star and Pan (not shown) a timeless-looking Helen Frankenthaler-like abstraction, and Eddie Chu’s Lookalike, (shown above) a blobby figure’s silhouette produced from an intricate taped pattern of intersecting colored shapes.

Adam Parker Smith, American Totem, 2011, Latex masks, polystyrene, and wood pole, 14’ x 10 x 10”. Photo credit: Cary Whittier.

There are three sculptures in the show. Adam Parker Smith’s American Totem is a floor to ceiling Brancusi tower of rubber portrait masks depicting American politicians, adhered together with Great Stuff foam which pokes out of the subjects’ orifices. The faces grin insincerely at passersby (which made me feel self-conscious). Carolyn Salas’ Untitled sculpture is a person-sized bronze piece—more classically Modernist—of horse-shoe crab parts assembled to create an eyeless face—another mask. (Salas and Parker Smith have previously worked collaboratively). Finally, Joe Graham-Felsen’s Untitled (Block) is a sculptural replication of a parking stop—suburban Minimalism—painted white. It is a civilian take on Robert Morris’ L-Beams from 1965.

Carolyn Salas, Untitled, 2011, Cast bronze 6’ x 12 x 17”. Photo credit: Cary Whittier.

From outside, the artwork is just a piece of a larger event, waiting, but not beckoning, for viewers to come to it. My friend and I, as part of a small audience, watched a stocky man (Youngblood Magnitude) give a sincere and entertaining solo performance on the acoustic guitar. Vendors under the vinyl awning waited for others to arrive as the afternoon developed. Friends drank beer, ate pizza, and cheered each other on. The festivities promised not to disappoint, and the sun continued its overhead arc in the sky.

D.I.A. runs until Sept. 13, when the closing party will take place. There are additional viewing hours on Sept. 7 from noon to 5 pm, and by appointment. Further information can be found on the website: deadinaugust.com. The Pentagon is located at 251 N. Henry St. in Brooklyn.

Setting up
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Adam Henry, adam parker smith, Alexander DeMaria, Brent Birnbaum, carolyn salas, Cary Whittier, Catherine Czacki, Chris Dorland, Christian Gordy, Eddie Chu, Emily Mae Smith, Jacob Hansen, Jason Peters, Jen Dohne, Jesse Lindmar, Joe Graham-Felsen, joshua abelow, Justin Bereman, Louis Cameron, Marina Kappos, Mat Bushell, Maureen Cavanaugh, meaghan kent, Michael Alan, Nicholas Knight, Owen Rundquist, Paul Jacobsen, Salome Oggenfuss, Scott Calhoun, Scott Ogden, Susan Hunt, The Pentagon, Wayne Adams, youngblood magnitude

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