Brooklyn, USA

July 17, 2015

In your city, how can we tell that we are in the year 2015?

In the way we can map and move ourselves with our smart phones, turning people into a walking GPS. Technology allows us to have real-time control of our transportation, to know exactly when the next subway/bus arrives, or to request a driver for immediate pick up at any location.


What in your city reminds you of the past?

Everything. My apartment, from the crooked wooden stairs to the slanted ceilings; walking the streets, seeing the brownstones and old Victorian houses; the laundromats; the subway; the shipyards at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Red Hook and the Brooklyn Army Terminal; the Hasidic neighborhoods in Williamsburg and Ditmas Park; the remaining industrial buildings in Sunset Park and Greenpoint; the dive bars.


Which building or intersection in the city would make us think that we are in the future?

At the Brooklyn Bridge Park, Jane’s Carousel, encapsulated in a glass box structure designed by architect Jean Nouvel, with the new World Trade Center and Manhattan skyline view as the backdrop.


Where in your city would be the best place to lose track of time, freeze time or gain time?

At the parks; it’s easy to get lost in time in them. One of my favorites is Prospect Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and opened in 1867. It is one of the only places in Brooklyn that offers relief from the density, lack of nature and space in the city. You can wander around through trees and around lakes; discover strange monuments; find parks inside the park; go roller skating or ice skating, or happen upon some amazing musicians practicing in the open air and finally exit from one of its many trails into one of the surrounding neighborhoods to continue the stroll.


What song or local band would you recommend for an everyday play list?

Anything by Lou Reed, the quintessential Brooklynite. For new local bands: Weird Owl, Woodsy Pride, Friend Roulette, Los Crema Paraíso.


Which museum or cultural space is generally omitted from a typical cultural excursion, but is definitely worth visiting?

The list is long, as there are so many great places that are worth visiting. In Dumbo: Smack Mellon, Minus Space. In Fort Greene: BRIC and BAM. In Brooklyn Heights: the Brooklyn Historical Society. In Bushwick (the biggest possible concentration of artist-run spaces): Present Company, TSA, Momenta, Transmitter, Sardine, Outlet, Storefront Ten Eyck. In Williamsburg: The Boiler/Pierogi. In Red Hook: Pioneer Works.


In which bookstore can you find new or second-hand publications on art history, exhibition catalogs, or artist monographs?

For finding something you had no idea you always needed, go to Unnameable Books in Prospect Heights. They have an amazing selection of used books at affordable prices. They don’t necessarily carry art publications, but the Russian bookstores in Brighton Beach are a must. The best variety of art books are at PS Bookstore in Dumbo and Spoonbill in Williamsburg. Almost every neighborhood has a good bookstore; Greenlight, in Fort Greene, is my local spot. My favorite personal purchases, though,have been at flea markets and stoop sales.


What dish most embodies your city, and where would you find it?

It’s easy to say pizza and bagels, but that would be oversimplifying the endless options of different ethnicities and nationalities that co-exist together in Brooklyn. The authentic cuisine usually depends on the neighborhood you are. In Greenpoint the pierogis, in Sunset Park the tacos, in Crown Heights the Caribbean specialties. For pizza, I will go completely out of my way for DiFara, located at a non-tourist area on Avenue J. The pizza is handmade by the one and only De Marco. It will take long (even a couple hours) to be ready. Ingredients brought from Italy; fresh basil cut on the spot.


Where can you find the best coffee?

Caffe Capri, on Graham Street in Williamsburg. Deliciously made and nicely served by the lovely owners. As soon as you compliment them for the espresso and treats, they will try to sell you their place. Drinking your coffee at one of the few tables, while their friends watch Italian TV, you will wonder if they are your unknown Italian grandparents.


What monument reveals a hidden past?

The Theodore Roosevelt stone maybe does not reveal a secret past, but because of its location, very hidden in the middle of Prospect Park, you will most likely never find it, being so simple, small, and beautiful. The text engraved lets us know that it's the surrounding trees that are the monument.


Outdoor or public artwork worth visiting:

Coney Island! The street and sign art are just incredible. The monuments created by the historical Luna Park, the wood structure of the Cyclone (a New York City landmark), Coney Art Walls mural project by Maya Hayuk, the strange mermaid parade, the tropical palm trees on the urban beach. Also, the extraordinary Brooklyn Bridge Park. As you walk through the piers of the 85 acres of this East River waterfront park, there are currently several sculptures by Jeppe Hein, commissioned by The Public Art Fund.


Where would be the best place to view the sunset in your city?

In my studio, because it looks like a Do-It-Yourself James Turrell.


Next Sunday let’s meet at:

Start the day in Fort Greene Park for coffee, followed by biking to Fort Tilden beach, via the scenic Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Ditmas Park, Marine Park. Leave the beach around 4-5 pm to go to Far Rockaway for beers and music on the boardwalk.


What book transports you to your city?

Just Kids by Patty Smith (she and Robert Mapplethorpe used to live a few blocks from my home), and Sunset Park by Paul Auster.


What aspect of your city most inspires you?

The orderly chaos of diversity, abundance, density, people, and ideas, embodied by every neighborhood’s everlasting 99 cents stores, where almost nothing cost less than a dollar anymore.


If you were commissioned to create a work of art “about” this city, briefly describe what your proposal would be.

That would not be an easy task. More than a work of art about the city, I would like to create something that I need from the city. Brooklyn is mostly surrounded by water, yet water is not part of our everyday lives. Lack of space, nature and time are an issue. When we are near the water, the relationship with space, nature and time is different. Space feels vast, nature is present, and for the most part you let time pass. It is said that the waters around Brooklyn are rich with marine life, oysters, lobsters, seals and even whales. I would create an underground maritime observatory with domino tables, a Caffe Capri and a reading room to observe the sea creatures and let time pass. As it is underground, it would remain open during all the seasons, with observatory stations all around the shoreline, stretching from Coney Island to Greenpoint.