Nestled Into Red Hook, The Art Lot Perseveres Without Emphasis on Funding

Brooklyn:The Borough

November 2010

Last month the Art Lot in Red Hook opened its most recent show, Media Mix x 4. The collaborative amalgam of painting, architecture, photography and textile includes work by local artists Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo, Babs Reingold, John Roach and Mary Schiliro.

Media Mix’s most compelling piece is undoubtedly the brainchild of artist John Roach. Roach’s Dr. Seussian [untitled] wooden piece extends across the frontal section of the lot, and is awkwardly anthropomorphic, like a giraffe in a cage. All of his building materials were found at Astoria’s Build It Green re-cyclery and read as architectural patchwork.

Outwardly unrelated to Roach’s piece is an untitled installation by Babs Reingold. Reingold’s ‘clothesline’ is designed to air flaccid, soiled ‘skins.’ Like Roach’s more rigid structure, Reingold’s clothesline reads as a patchwork of materials – cloth, steel, and wood. Her work is vaguely reminiscent of the late French-American sculptor, Louise Bourgeois.

Sans art, the lot looks more like a dog kennel than a space to showcase the work of Brooklyn’s and Greater New York City’s sculptors. Its gravel floor sprawls across the lot on the corner of Columbia and Sackett Streets where chain link fencing defines its perimeter.

In addition to its varied exhibition history, the Art Lot itself has had a colorful history. The lot, gravel and all, has been home to a unique outdoor sculpture program for nearly two decades. In the early 1990s, owners Jim and Bobbi Vaughan donated the lot to the start-up of the Art Lot program. The curatorial buck for the Art Lot has been passed several times since then, and is now in the hands of neighborhood artist, Jim Osman (pictured). Osman, who also curates for Melville House Publishing in Dumbo, is in his eighth year as curator. Media Mix x 4 is Osman’s 23rd show.

Nestled into the tight knit community of Red Hook – a Brooklyn neighborhood that juts into the harbor but is remote in its own county – the space is fostered by neighborhood participation which makes it a viable exhibition space for artists. Residents come out, rain or shine for openings, and they vocalize their opinions about the work via online blogs like The Word On Columbia Street. The featured work is consequentially subjected to the critical eyes and voices of the area’s eclectic mix of bankers and academics, musicians and blue-collar workers. Red Hook residents can often be found engaged in conversation with their fellow neighbors and with the artists themselves.

Seated at Mazzat – a nearby and very delightful Mediterranean restaurant – last week, Osman tells me, “I can’t presuppose what the neighborhood is going to like. I just find good work. Some people are suspect – they demand meaning. But everyone talks to you through their own lens.”

The lot requires little upkeep and runs as a relatively self-sustaining grass roots organization, to which the Brooklyn Arts Council has consistently granted funds. The financial support has been funneled towards promotional material and provided small stipends to participants. Artists can also self-fund their work or seek out alternative funding sources. Such is the case of John Roach, a professor at Parsons. Roach was awarded a faculty development grant for his piece currently on view. Regardless of funding, or the lack thereof, the Art Lot perseveres.

One of the most exciting features of the Art Lot is that it gives artists an opportunity work in the public realm as well as exhibit outside of the commercialism of the gallery system. “The emphasis is not on selling,” Osman tells me. “In fact, the value of art seems to diminish when work is displayed outside.”

The Art Lot is located at 206 Columbia Street at Sackett Street in Red Hook. The exhibition is on view 24/7. For directions, submissions and further information contact Jim Osman at cohnosman[at] Media Mix x 4 is on view through January 9, 2011.

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Jim Osman