Library Art Exhibits Appeal To Our Sense of Nostalgia

January 9, 2012 By Carl Blumenthal Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Brooklyn Street Scenes, Details of Famous Buildings

BROOKLYN — Like other cultural institutions, The Brooklyn Public Library has exhibitions — works of art and culture in the display cases around the Central Library. And the works of the current group of artists, which will be on display through Feb. 18, appeal to the child in all of us.

“Brooklyn Views” by Giuseppe Luciani, “The Other Bushwick” by Bob Rothstein, Leslie Sutcliffe’s “Reading Images” and Isabel Hill’s “Building Stories” offer different visual languages to understand their world views.

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On the right wall, as you enter the library, are four colorful gouaches on paper by Luciani. “Myrtle Avenue,” “Playground,” “Pigeon Keeper” and “Fort Greene Park” depict quintessential Brooklyn scenes. In the accompanying bio, Luciani describes them as everyday portraits of beauty and blight.

His folksy style suggests that all is right with the world, but he includes elements of tension: the closed shop next to the neighborhood fixture, threatening graffiti on a fence behind boys playing soccer, pigeons flying free and cooped up, and impersonal housing projects peeking through a thicket of trees. These are straightforward and workmanlike efforts.

On the left side of the foyer are Rothstein’s splendid collages, fashioned from colorful pieces of magazine pages. Here are a mix of childhood memories and current scenes from his old Bushwick neighborhood.

Such titles as “Summer Fun,” “Aunt Blanche’s House,” “Bushwick Skyline,” “Under the Broadway El,”’ and “946 Bushwick Avenue” are the building blocks of a young life and a retrospective vision. With his rough-hewn method of patching together the pieces of his world, he manages the details of traffic lights, trees, mail trucks, windows, doors, etc., while creating a jumble of cockeyed buildings, streets and cars. The effect is riveting.

On the second-floor balcony, Sutcliffe’s “Reading Images” is cerebral and ironic. It requires a more leisurely approach than just passing by. Consisting of oil, graphite and screen printing on wood panels, her black-on-white images look like they were stamped out on an old printing press.

As she says in her bio, her antiquarian approach is a challenge to cyberspace. For instance, “Game Theory” seems like a bunch of 19th-century anthropological flash cards, with men’s faces from around the world on one side and their nationalities printed on the back. “Index: A to Annoy” shows her fondness for old ways of organizing information, as with illustrations in encyclopedias.

Unlike Luciani and Rothstein, for whom what you see is what you get, Sutcliffe wonders about what we are losing as the internet changes our perceptions of reality.

Isabel Hill’s “Building Stories,” based on her book by the same name, is also concerned with what we’re missing, but the games she plays with reality are more fun. Arrayed under glass on the right wall as you turn into the Youth Wing are photographic long views of buildings and close-ups of the sculptural elements that adorn their sides and rooflines.

The connections between the near and far, the present and past, are explicated in rhymes, such as “Look for the characters in each storyline/People or animals in the building’s design.”

Examples of Brooklyn building icons are the yellow pencils on the side of the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, musical instruments on BAM’s exterior, an open book above P.S. 124, and cow murals on the walls of the Empire State Dairy, (aka Borden’s Milk), for which there is a mini-exhibit of old photographs that trace the production and distribution of milk in glass bottles from the early 20th century.

The pride in human enterprise that the symbols in “Building Stories” represent can be shared by the young and old alike.

All four artists play with the effects of nostalgia on our perceptions of time and place.

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