Governor’s Island – Overflowing with Art

One of many views from The Hills on Governor's Island

One of many views from The Hills on Governor’s Island

Scholastically speaking, summer may have come to a close, but on the cultural side, it’s still going strong.  Especially on Governor’s Island, which is one of my favorite spaces – you can hang out and take in the spectacular views (be sure to visit The Hills), or, stroll or bike around, and, on the weekends, catch a performance or check out the art.

This year, the art show, which continues every Saturday and Sunday for the next 3 weekends, is spectacular, taking over the buildings along Colonels Row, as well as spaces in Fort Jay and Castle William (both 1812-era forts). The show, organized by 4Heads, contains the work of 100 artists. There’s a lot of variety – paintings, sculpture, video, fibre art – and a lot to like.  Oftentimes the artists are on-site, and they’re very approachable. 

Phenotype, by Mark Lorah, sculpture from recycled boxes

Phenotype, by Mark Lorah, sculpture from recycled boxes

In the eight casements on the upper floor of Castle William  are site-specific pieces, ranging from Charlotte Becket’s  La Mancha Negra, a  motorized soft plastic piece that inflates, stretching and contracting like a sleeping person, to Chaney Trotter’s   Wan(ing, wax)ing light sculpture nestled in its own environment of tree branches, netting and moss.  Environmental concerns are addressed throughout the show, in works like Phenotype,  a joyous spiraling sculpture  by Mark Lorah made from recycled white cardboard boxes, and the wire sculptures of animals by Elizabeth Keithline.

In Fort Jay, you’ll descend to the magazine (a series of decommissioned stone munitions chambers), where there are several videos and installations which make very good use of the rounded spaces.  I especially liked User Experience by Coalfather Industries, an installation and short film in which beings from the future have excavated 20th century earth, and try to explain things like megastores, parking garages, and cemeteries, using archeological terms (the best is when they speculate that landfills may have been used as ceremonial mounds).   In another space are Pablo Garcia Lopez’s  all-white baroque, theatrical sculptures made of silk, fashioned like figures on a wedding cake.

There’s lots going on in the houses on Colonels Row. I’ll just list some of my favorites. (The numbers and letters denote the house’s address) 

Dress by Patrice Yourdon, silver screws

Dress by Patrice Yourdon, silver screws

404 A – Patrice Yourdon has crafted some very delicate dresses from mesh and metal screws, which I know sounds very contradictory; some of them she’s painted, others are their natural colors.  Ethan Minsker has created a memorial to victims of mass shootings with Ghost Gun, in which handguns made from white paper dangle from the ceiling, moving randomly with the breezes and as people pass through. Visitors are encouraged to take selfies with them and post the images on Instagram, with the goal of starting a wide conversation about gun violence in the US.

404 A also has gift shop, where you can find works for sale by the artists in the exhibition.

404 BSam Horowitz, an environmental artist has a lovely piece he fashioned from circular pieces of wood and metal tubes with openings of different widths, that recalls stained glass in the way it lets in light.  Jia Wang has created an amazing installation, which looks like a machine you’d find in an old-fashioned arcade. Inside a glass case are two levels of female swimmers arranged in circles – when it is turned on, the figures not only move in a circle, but also seem to dive from one level to another. And this was just her thesis project.

406 B – Working in both color and black & white,  Michael James Murray  takes panoramic images – of ruins, landscapes, skyscrapers – and compresses them into a sphere, completely altering them, so it’s not until you get up close that you see what the underlying images are.  Check out his website – this description doesn’t do his work justice.

407 A – Mikkel Johnsen  created a series of desolate imaginary landscapes; into each one he’s placed  one very large brutalist/industrial building (that he constructed using a 3-D printer), which he then photographed in black & white.  The resulting large-scale images are strange but beautiful.

Deadly Poppies by Borinquen Gallo, plastic bags, plastic Danger tape, debris netting

Deadly Poppies by Borinquen Gallo, plastic bags, plastic Danger tape, debris netting

407 BBorinquen Gallo’s two pieces, Deadly Poppies, will catch your eye immediately.  Looking very much like evening wear, on closer inspection you’ll see that the artist has taken red plastic bags and that red plastic “Danger” tape you see at construction sites, and woven them through construction debris netting, sometimes very evenly, to create a kind of fabric; in other places she’s pulled the tape through to create poppies.  Fabulous!!   In another room, Sherman Finch   wants you to play with his art that’s full of kinetic energy.  His instrumentalist sculptures have balls which move when you spin the sculpture, much like the game wheels at Coney Island. 

Beaded canvas by Marcy Sperry, seed beads, glitter, glue

Beaded canvas by Marcy Sperry, seed beads, glitter, glue

408 A – You’ll be sure to smile at Marcy Sperrys   wonderful abstract canvases, whose colorful, intricate designs are made entirely from seed beads  and glitter which she’s glued to the surface – a long process which demands a lot of concentration.  Melinda McDaniel has taken unprocessed black & white photographic paper, cut it into strips, bundled them together, and, employing a quilling technique, wrapped them around brad nails. to create highly decorative works.  Over time, as the paper is exposed to light, these sculptures will change color.  Ed Grant has created fabulous water fictions by manipulating photos, so they no longer resemble their original subjects, but rather intensely colorful, fantastical, futuristic waves and water flows.  The Lower East Side Girls Club has created a very imaginative installation that speaks to the issue of mass incarceration.  Using wide pink plastic ribbon, they’ve created a jail cell inside their exhibition room, which gives you a real sense of how small a cell is, even though you can enter and leave it freely.  Against one wall  is You Are the Key to Prison Reform, a series of photographs of metal locks with various inscriptions, including names of people in prison.

Detail of Different Nothings by Julia Bland, linen, velvet wool, silk yarn, oil and acrylic

Detail of Different Nothings by Julia Bland, linen, velvet wool, silk yarn, oil and acrylic

Also along Colonel’s Row is another show, The Tide is High with the work of about 25 artists, organized by Empire Historic Arts and Silvermine Galleries.  Taking up two floors of one of the buildings, it includes some terrific fibre art.  Two of my favorite pieces are Different Nothings, by Julia Bland,  who’s painted abstractions on a background of linen, velvet, wool and silk yarns; and  Color in a Form by Jonathan Cowan, who’s embroidered a rainbow in colored threads on his painted canvas. 

Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian by Michael Richards

Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian by Michael Richards

Over at the Arts Center you’ll find the Lower Manhattan Cultural Councils exhibit  Michael Richards: Winged which features sculptures, drawings, and documentation of his work.  The central piece is Tar Baby vs.St. Sebastian, a gilded cast of his body in the uniform of the Tuskegee Airmen, which is being pierced by miniature airplanes. (African-American pilots in WW2, the Tuskegee Airmen were nonetheless segregated from their white counterparts).  In the center of the room is Air Fall 1 – right below the ceiling is a black cloud made of hair from which 50 small airplanes wrapped in hair are suspended over a mirrored bulls-eye target on the floor.  Against one wall is The Great Black Airmen, composed of 5 pilot helmets with both straightened and kinked hair, placed on pedestals, and arranged as if they were a doo-wop group, causing you to imagine the men who would have worn those helmets.  These works, which invoke airplanes are eerily prescient, when you consider that Richards died while working in  his LMCC studio at the World Trace Center on 9/11. There are many other works by Mr. Richards in this show, which is very relevant for today.  Make time to see it.

Through next weekend, you can visit Swale, a floating sculpture and edible forest (with bee hive) on a  barge docked at Yankee Pier, designed to address the question, What if fresh, healthy food could be a free public service?  This is a project you want to get on board with.

I’ve really only covered a tiny bit of the art that you’ll find in these three shows.  There are other shows on Governor’s Island that I haven’t gotten to – I suggest you plan ahead and leave yourself plenty of time. I’ve posted more photos on my Instagram feed.   

All this wonderful work is FREE!!  You can get to Governor’s Island  by ferry from the Battery in Manhattan or Pier 6 in Brooklyn (for only $2). There’s a lot going on, so be sure to get out there before September 25th!  

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