The Bruce High Quality Foundation, Pizzatopia, 2011; Oil paint, flex foam, wood, plexiglass
A little over a year ago, Hurricane Sandy ripped through hundreds of low-lying New York studios, galleries, and storage spaces and dealt a profound blow to the city’s art community. For “Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1,” underwritten by the Dedalus Foundation, Phong Bui, the editor of the The Brooklyn Rail, has amassed a group of over 300 artists to fill 100,000 square feet of Industry City’s newly-renovated space for a show commemorating both the one year anniversary of the storm and the resilience of New York artists.
In addition to those who had their spaces or work destroyed by the hurricane, “Come Together,” on view through December 15, also includes artists who weren’t directly affected by Sandy, and in doing so avoids the provincialism of what could have been an overly benevolent affair—something we scroll past for fear of a flat and tame selection. Eschewing this restrictive narrative, Bui opted instead to muster all manner of influence to bring a diverse and talented cast to the fore.
For the viewer, the show’s experience is on par with the so-called "aesthetic museum," wherein the art is largely left alone to be contemplated, devoid of considerations of context, history, or theory. Spread across four exhibition spaces on multiple floors and a 40,000 square foot sculpture garden in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Industry City’s scale follows the tradition of curating in former manufacturing spaces exemplified by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and Dia:Beacon.
The third floor is commanded by the Vivere Series, thirteen large paintings hung originally as backdrops for a Sandy benefit concert organized by Mexican artist Bosco Sodi. Here James Siena’s Red and Black Spirals, Connected, Mickalene Thomas’s figaro, and Ron Gorchov’s duet (all 2013) are standouts in an arrangement that hangs the length of the north wall.
Many works were chosen for their ties to the subjects of mangled furniture, submersion, flooding, and catastrophe. In Crashing Tables (Moments crashing . . . I underestimated the consequences) (2005), Beth Campbell fabricates a wood table that fractures itself as if time has lapsed throughout the quotidian furniture set. It also seems impossible that her Sink series (2010) can register without calling up our memory of a week without running water. Benjamin Keating’s aluminum cast sculptures are arrangements of blasted out antique furniture in the first floor gallery. These could have been vignettes plucked from the Rockaways, albeit layered with a traditional sculptural finish.
Rackstraw Downes’s photo realistic paintings of cityscapes suddenly take on new meaning. Previously mundane locales such the one depicted in Under the J line at Alabama Avenue (2007) now tempt us to picture the toll of a storm surge on Downes's urban subjects.
Alex Katz, Marine 11, 2000; Oil on linen, 126 x 216.5 inches
It is not uncommon for works to catch your eye and inspire pause regardless of the narrative context. One is delighted to see Nancy Haynes, who since the 1970s has been working in smooth minimalistic color gradations. In her recent work on display she deals in ranges of blue and gray. Her retinal boundary (2012) invigorates our fascination with what now seem like the beloved digital hues of post-internet art. The contributions of Alex Katz are likewise less about inclement weather than they are a testament to the depth and strength of the local scene—what sometimes seems internationalized through historical literature is often still lurking in SoHo, Chelsea, and Redhook.
In 2013, in the midst of Industry City’s ten-year revitalization program, the management announced rent hikes reportedly as high as 50 percent, which drove scores of artist tenants out of their spaces. Certain works in “Come Together” allude to this perpetual struggle for artists to find large industrial spaces at low rent. The Bruce High Quality Foundation’s Pizzatopia (2011) is a model metropolis that emanates from an oversized pizza flanked by two inflatable rats used in union demonstrations.
The mandate of “Come Together” was to relate the enormity of Sandy’s destruction while carrying a celebratory tune. It was a performance to project the collective resilience of the New York art world. The real estate maneuvers on the part of Industry City leave a bad taste in one’s mouth and perhaps portend that the greatest threat to New York’s artistic community isn’t another super storm, but the unrelenting tide of gentrification. Even so, Bui’s curatorial eye has shone through in this ambitious show.
"Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1” opened at Industry City, Brooklyn, NY on October 20 and remains on view through December 15.