Brooklyn Historical Society opens first offsite gallery in DUMBO

Shifting Perspectives: Photographs of Brooklyn’s Waterfront Premiers in Empire Stores

May 22, 2017 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams applies maximum force to cut the red ribbon. Eagle photos by Andy Katz
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The Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) celebrated the formal opening of its first off-site location in the Empire Stores building at 55 Water St. in DUMBO with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and inaugural exhibition “Shifting Perspectives: Photographs of Brooklyn’s Waterfront.

“This is such an important exhibit,” said state Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, (D-Brooklyn Heights-DUMBO-Vinegar Hill.) “People don’t realize how important the waterfront has been to the history of Brooklyn.”

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Planned in collaboration with Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation and Midtown Equities, BHS at DUMBO will be the sole cultural institution in the 360,000-square-foot building, which will also include restaurant, retail and office spaces.

“Three years ago, we realized we couldn’t just be a single location, not in such a large and diverse borough as Brooklyn,” BHS board Chairman Jim Rossman explained. “We needed to project ourselves into the community … We had the opportunity to be here by the water where tens of thousands of people are.”

“This is an amazing opportunity to see how we became this great place,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said. “That we are able to co-exist — that is what makes this borough so special.”

Guest curator for Shifting Perspectives was Marilyn Symmes. Formerly director of the Morse Research Center for The Graphic Arts at Rutgers University, Symmes’ published work includes “Impressions of New York: Prints from the New-York Historical Society” (2005). Symmes drew on an impressive collection of 65 images from 25 photographers, including Berenice Abbott, Rudy Burckhardt, Bruce Davidson and Chester Higgins. The earliest images include stereograph shots of Manhattan Beach from 1889 and sepia-toned views of Brooklyn ferry slips with a fin de siècle Manhattan in the background.

Symmes devoted one gallery room to Coney Island, where Robin Michals’ somber view of a post-Superstorm Sandy landscape — the Parachute Jump standing forlorn amid storm-strewn wreckage and against a still-threatening sky — commands the viewer’s immediate attention, while the arrangement of Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao’s “Coney Island Fog” — done just the year before — puts it at a right angle to Michals’ print, offering visual relief to the devastation with soft light and colors muted in night and fog. On the wall farther left are small, monochrome prints of playful beach scenes by Lucille Fornasieri Gold and Anders Goldfarb.

The entire gallery is set within a warehouse and factory space that once formed the core of the Arbuckle Brothers Coffee empire. A giant winch divides the space in two. One of its buttresses served to anchor the red ribbon, which Adams and BHS President Deborah Schwartz finally parted after several tries with a pair of scissors that were plainly more massive than sharp.

Also on hand for the opening were City Councilmember Stephen Levin; State Sen. Daniel Squadron; NYC Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Tom Finkelpearl; President of Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation Eric Landau; Principal of Midtown Equities Jack Cayre; Vice Chair of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation JoAnn Witty; Senior Vice President of Bank of America Connie Verducci; Michael Crane of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy; and entrepreneur Peter Aschkenasy.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy board member Michael Crane recounted growing up in nearby Brooklyn Heights before becoming a DUMBO pioneer: “This whole area used to be completely deserted after dark,” he said, “You couldn’t even get a pizza delivered. We’d call and offer the guy 10 bucks extra. But they’d always say, ‘No way!’”

Shifting Perspectives: Photographs of the Brooklyn Waterfront will be on view until Sept. 10.


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