Dumbo Arts Festival: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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dumbo-arts-fest-2009-40-313x470This past weekend was the third installment of the Dumbo Arts Festival, showcasing over 400 artists, 50 plus galleries and at least 100 studios. The Festival might have been bigger than ever but unfortunately not better. Well, what do we expect from a spectacle that draws masses of people who ultimately are there for consumption and entertainment. Nevertheless, Station to Station‘s Jamie Kulhanek and Susanne Boswell ventured out to discover a full range of artistic productions, from the trivial and rather mundane to the unexpected and even sublime. Here are our choices for the three categories.


The Good [JK]: The glowing neon sign “A LOT OF ART IS BORING” by Steven Dobbin at Causey Contemporary is my good selection for setting the tone for the entire fair. The Dumbo Arts Festival is not an avant-garde exhibition that is pushing the arts forward; it is, however, a great festival for families and the community to enjoy the waterfront while looking at a few artworks here and there, then stopping by your favorite food truck for a quick snack or take the kids to make their own art at “kidlot,” which had works overflowing into the neighboring park.

“The Crossing,” video installation by Ginger Andro and Chuck Glicksman

The Good [SB]: We were about to give up on encountering anything that would trigger a reaction beyond boredom when somebody on Water Street handed us a flyer for Fabrika No. 7, a series of site-specific installations by twelve contemporary artists, curated by Aleksandr Razin. Entering the gigantic 30,000 square feet abandoned warehouse in the middle of Dumbo felt like entering the Twilight Zone. Especially, since in recent years the former industrial area has been converted into the next Silicon Alley with real estate prices on par with Manhattan. Not all works we stumbled upon wandering from floor to floor where engaging but the project itself could be considered an amazing Gesamtkunstwerk. One work that especially stood out, was the video installation The Crossing by Ginger Andro and Chuck Glicksman. The piece was originally conceived to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge, combining archival and original footage with wires, reflective mirrors and scent. Although The Crossing had been previously shown at Tabla Rasa Gallery in Brooklyn in 2009, it did make sense to reinstall it for this occasion in close proximity to the Brooklyn Bridge and restored my faith that even at an über-commercial arts festival like this one, there are still interesting artworks to discover.

“The Crossing” from Ginger Andro and Chuck Glicksman on Vimeo.


The Bad [SB]:

Judging from the amount of people who felt compelled to interact or at least be SONY DSCphotographed with a sculpture of inflated macaroons – this saccharine work by artist Daisuke  Kiyomiya was a real crowd pleaser. Fair enough, this work fits in the art historical canon of gigantic food sculptures, first created by Claes Oldenburg in the late 1960s. Then it was a radical gesture, today this infantile pile of confection gives public art a bad rap.

FUBad [JK]: Considering the proliferation of kids running around, Maggie Reilly’s “Read the Fine Print” (2011) was rightly placed in the back of a gallery behind a partitioned wall. While the fine print is a comical “fuck you” – the work relies too much on the moment of discovery and in the end of the day it would have been better as a t-shirt.

The Ugly [JK]: Jonathan Wallbank’s sculptures  at UglyTriangle Arts lack form and craftsmanship, making it my ugly choice for the festival. The execution is shoddy giving the appearance of thrown together scraps, which predominates the work and negating hope of gleaning any intellectual meanings. Leaving the viewer to keep asking “why?”

The Ugly [SB]: Shana Moulton’s exhibition Morphing Essence Syndrome at Smack Mellon feature several new videos of the artist’s alter ego Cynthia. In “Restless Leg Saga” (2012), Cynthia seeks a cure for her Restless Legs Syndrome in televised pharmaceutical ads and the pages of Prevention Magazine.

Shana Moulton, “Restless Leg Saga” (2012).

Moulton’s intentionally cheesy new age aesthetics are horrifically ugly. But even more scary is the fact that her work is mirroring a side of suburban America we in NYC are happy to forget: the shopping channel, soap operas, kitschy home decors – you name it, satire or not it just leaves me depressed…

Honorable mention in the Good category: Kyle Goen work Who’s Chelsea Manning?

Kyle Goen, “Who is Chelsea Manning,” site-specific installation of 1,600 transparent colored flags.

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