Gail Biederman, Sonya Blesofsky, Heide Fasnacht, Monika Goetz, Ken Landauer, Steven Millar, Kirsten Nelson, Anne Peabody, Mia Pearlman, Gelah Penn, Bryony Romer, Anne Thulin
Smack Mellon is pleased to present Site 92: Phase II. In this incarnation of Site 92, an exhibition series that focuses on installation art, artists once again respond to Smack Mellon’s unique home at 92 Plymouth Street.
92 Plymouth Street, once known as the Gair Boiler Building, provided steam heat and power for neighboring buildings owned by Robert Gair in the early 1900’s. Today the remarkable industrial space provides artists with a distinctive point of departure for their site-specific installations. Situated on the park between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, Smack Mellon’s home is an exciting space full of history and architectural details: a 75-foot long coal trough braced to the ceiling by seventeen 18-foot high concrete and metal pillars running through the center of the gallery, two levels of 8-foot tall windows providing a dramatic view of Manhattan and the East River, as well as 6,000 square feet of gallery space and a 35-foot soaring ceiling. Combined, these elements provide opportunity for artistic exploration on an unparalleled scale.
Study for Gair Boiler by Sonya Blesofsky draws directly from the building’s history. Constructed entirely from brown packaging paper, cardboard, packing tape, and string, this piece uses ephemeral materials to mimic the sturdy industrial boiler machines once housed at 92 Plymouth. The chosen materials reference the paper and cardboard empire built by Robert Gair, but also address the fragility of a history that exists within a rapidly evolving landscape. Playing off the history of 92 Plymouth as well as the neighborhood’s shipping port past, Anne Peabody employs the craft of chain carving, a popular 19th and early 20th century pastime of sailors, to create Coal Chain, a 20-foot ship chain carved completely out of wood. Hanging from one of the coal trough’s chute caps, the chain suspends a coal-dusted anchor that lodges into the gallery floor. Etched with images depicting the area’s vibrant history, the chain recalls scrimshaw and sailors’ tattoos.
Responding to recent developments in Dumbo, Bryony Romer sites miniature luxury condominium developments in narrow, remote nooks within Smack Mellon’s waterfront gallery. The Lofts at Smack Mellon, constructed from photographs and architects’ renderings of actual developments in Dumbo and neighboring areas of Brooklyn, stand in for the larger cultural and economic changes in Dumbo and beyond, as previously undesirable industrial zones are rapaciously converted into luxury real estate. In Interiors, Kirsten Nelson uses common construction and building materials such as drywall, wood, trim and latex paint to blend her alterations into the existing space. Finely crafted intimate fragments paradoxically merge into the walls and stand out as misplaced, uncanny moments in the large raw space. The surface layers create an uncertainty as to what belongs, what previously existed, and what may have been removed from the site in the past.
Steven Millar and Gail Biederman both work from a multitude of neighborhood maps. Millar’s Overlay is an abstracted topography, composed of thousands of small blocks that simulate buildings, while exploring the changeability of urban space: the adaptations, erasures, and collisions of construction. Millar captures the strange poignancy of both the gallery and its urban neighborhood, sites continuously built and rebuilt. Here to there and back again, by Gail Biederman, also references Brooklyn’s urban plan. Biederman’s 24-foot high wall drawing is formed by yards of various yarns stretched taut over a myriad of nails. While the piece is foremost an exploration of an urban landscape, the proliferating lines also suggest diverse growth systems, evoking a sense of both the order and disorder of a complex world.
Working with collected photos of the gallery during its early renovation phase, Heide Fasnacht’s Table of Contents affixes a flat yet illusory 3-D image directly onto the gallery’s 24-foot high wall and concrete floor using black tape. As viewers walk around the installation, an image of broken windows, piles of construction materials and debris is revealed from certain viewpoints. A snapshot of a moment in time, the piece highlights the fleeting nature of the construction process, perception and memory. Also working with the linear language of drawing in three-dimensional space, Gelah Penn delineates the complexities of visual noise. Plunder Road employs colored monofilament and other tendril-like materials, constructing a kind of substantive ephemerality. Insinuating a flowing, even tortuous, movement through the commanding architecture of the space, improvisation plays a significant role in Penn’s process.
Anne Thulin’s large white cubes inflate and deflate, expanding from the gallery’s window frames. In a state of constant flux, the cubes create a soft white “room” that contrasts with the hard brick walls that in turn contrast with the raw industrial space. Mia Pearlman focuses on the view from the gallery’s windows in MAELSTROM, a giant multilevel mobile, 12 feet in diameter with a 360° rotation. Consisting of six circular layers of cut paper hanging from an aluminum armature, it hovers just above the heads of its viewers. A whorl of delicate but menacing cut-paper clouds, MAELSTROM evokes nature’s duality, both perfectly sublime and supremely destructive. Its form echoes not only the East River currents and the cloud formations visible through the gallery windows, but also the memory of clouds of smoke swallowing New York City streets and the sense of sudden, catastrophic destruction from above.
Ken Landauer’s installation of oversized family room furniture elicits childlike wonder as its proportions correspond to the gallery’s massive scale. Inviting viewers to climb up and sit on its oversized cushions, it recalls an age when adult furniture was hazardous and adult concerns and conversations were mysterious. The large-scale environment creates a visceral sensation of being small and vulnerable within the imposing architecture of the gallery. By pinpointing the gallery’s exact location on the surface of the earth, Monika Goetz places the gallery into universal perspective, altering our perception of human scale. Using a small plaque with three coordinates that specify every location on the planet—latitude, longitude and elevation—40° 42’ 14” N, 73° 59’ 23” W, elev 11 ft transforms Smack Mellon’s gigantic gallery into an almost invisible dot in the universe.