The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks

Gabriel "Specter" Reese, Guerrilla Billboard, via Gothamist

Opening today at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art (MoCADA) in Brooklyn is the group exhibition, The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks. Before it had even officially opened, the show generated a fair amount of controversy. It seems to have created a Brooklyn—and Internet—divided. The exhibition was guest curated by Brooklyn native, Dexter Wimberly, and features 20 artists working in various mediums whose work “investigates the controversial impact of gentrification on the great borough of Brooklyn,” according to the museum. Though MoCADA’s mission seeks to “give a more accurate portrayal of contributions to the historical, artistic and cultural landscape of the world by people of African descent,” Wimberly recently told The Brooklyn Paper, “As a curator, it was important to me to make sure this exhibition was not just an African-American perspective, or a white perspective or an Asian perspective or a Latino perspective.”

Josh Bricker, The Order of Things (partial), courtesy the artist

I talked to Josh Bricker, whose installation piece, The Order of Things, is on display in the exhibition. Bricker, who is an MFA candidate at Parsons The New School for Design, told me that The Order of Things—which is made up of ten Anatex “roller coaster” toys in various stages of manipulation—“confronts a lot of the major issues surrounding gentrification, through a slow process of homogenization and conversion.” Bricker says that the toys “were chosen for their iconic status and place in our memories to allow for a re-contextualization of the mundane, as well as an easy entry point into a much heavier and more serious issue.” The ten roller coaster toys follow a spectrum of visual shifts until the last piece becomes almost unidentifiable from the first. Of his process, Bricker says, “If you know color like most artists do then you realize that while white in light is the presence of all color, it is actually the absence of all color in pigments and, therefore, I felt the perfect representation of homogenization and the loss of individuality.”

Josh Bricker, The Order of Things (partial), courtesy the artist

Not everyone in Brooklyn, and elsewhere, though agrees with the message of the exhibition. A casual post about the show on the popular New York blog, Gothamist, turned into an all-out war of words and ideologies when commenters began discussing (not always eloquently) issues of gentrification, race and class. One commenter replied sarcastically to the image of Gabriel “Specter” Reese’s piece for the show, Guerrilla Billboard, saying, “Oh boy here we go… How dare you try to come in and actually contribute to the quality of life here. How dare you try to come in here and open up business, and create jobs. How dare you try to put a boutique clothing shop in place of the 3rd liquor store on this block. How dare you pay taxes!” Another disagreed by responding, “I don’t necessarily think: 3 starbucks per block plus several overpirced [sic] organic fairtrade coffee emporiums, plus…3x rent increase for the same shitty apartment is an ‘improvement’.”

The artists whose work will be on view in The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks include: Josh Bricker (Installation), Valerie Caesar (Photography), Oasa DuVerney (Drawing), Zachary Fabri (Video), Rosamond S. King (Installation), Irondale Ensemble (Theater Performance), Nathan Kensinger (Photography), Jess Levey (Photography / Video Installation), Christina Massey (Painting), Musa (Sculpture), Tim Okamura (Painting), Kip Omolade (Painting), John Perry (Painting), Adele Pham (Video), Michael Premo / Rachel Falcone (Photography / Multimedia), Gabriel Reese (Painting), Marie Roberts (Painting), Ali Santana (Music Video), Monique Schubert (Mixed-media), Alexandria Smith (Painting), Sarah Nelson Wright (Installation).

Additionally, photos and essays by students at The Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School and The Secondary School for Research will be on display in a vignette representing their study and documentation of the impact of gentrification in their neighborhoods. The exhibition runs through May 16, 2010 and features a roster of public events surrounding the issues it seeks to explore, including talks and documentary screenings.