DUMBO Arts Festival 2012

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

DUMBO Arts Festival 2012

Postby NYC_Correspondent-tm » Sun Sep 30, 2012 5:23 pm

For another year, the DUMBO Arts Festival has taken over the formerly industrial, once artist infiltrated, and now professional/family haven beneath and around the Manhattan Bridge on the East River. Such is the current mixed state of the hood that now reflects and defines the annual DUMBO Arts Festival.

The neighborhood itself is a riverside collage of giant clumped spacious boxy buildings repurposed from industrial origins situated on sloped cobblestone and battered streets. Cars fight for navigational space in the narrow alleyways between former shipping docks and open to junctures of streets and alleys that inevitably lead down to the river. The noiresque of the old industrial by the river, under the bridge feel has formed the backdrop of numerous films and television shows. The area is bordered by Vinegar Hill to the north, the newly made-over Brooklyn Bridge Park and ferry landing to the south, and the BQE to the east. Ground floor specialty food stores, boutiques, restaurants and galleries throughout the hood attract the usual set of weekender and European pedestrians. But the area is still home to a strong artistic presence with many of the buildings housing numerous artist studios, as well as mainstays such as Powerhouse Books, and the performance spaces St. Ann's Warehouse and Galapagos Art Space.

This year's event feels vastly more crowded, commercialized and family-oriented than the past two years that I've attended. The crowd was less European and artsy than the past -in part, possibly due to the Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 on the same days. But really, the crowd seemed like another stop-motion frame in the ever gentrifying new Brooklyn - primarily, white middle-aged and younger families. Although a number of installations appear throughout various points, those felt more isolated than the past, diluted by commercial aspirations of installations by Toyota and Chase credit cards, retail clothing sales, and the now ubiquitous craft food stalls usually found in droves at marketplaces such as Smorgasburg and the Brooklyn Flea. The archway under the Manhattan Bridge exemplified the transformation - in the past it was used entirely as installation and projection points, but now it contained picnic tables and four food stalls. The Festival itself mostly lacked the DIY aesthetic and more clean edge of the past. There were less random creations popping up guerrilla-style that appeared in surprising corners, the excellent film center on the first floor of a warehouse, and in the past containing some of the most creative and risky works has simply evaporated. An exception was a small loading dock that featured numerous musical groups throughout the day and evening - at one point screeching noise psychedelia screamed for blocks, at another point, lovely melodies from a female folk/traditional guitar-violin duo softly graced the immediate region.

The installations I saw were fair to good, especially the superhero photo project tacked along the sides of the archway of the bridge that showed a set of different artist takes on superheros juxtaposed on identities of ordinary/extraordinary lives, and the foto/pods - small trailers with photo exhibits that have also appeared in the past. There were still numerous open studios of local artists, and the recently transformed tobacco warehouse contained a few events. The galleries on Water Street, also home to the DUMBO Arts Center were packed in the afternoon. In some ways, the event was more dense, but also more diluted.

Unfortunately, I see this event becoming ever more commercialized. In some ways, that works to bring more people in and create greater exposure rather than having yet another arts event catering to a cloistered community. But hopefully the event organizers allow enough space for the type of dynamic and exuberant wash of creativity that originally brought attention to the event, rather than getting overly concerned with the financial bottom-line and risk being another has-been of evolving Brooklyn.
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