New BHS Exhibit – Brooklyn Utopias?


Beginning October 1, The Brooklyn Historical Society presents Brooklyn Utopias an exhibit that will undoubtedly get folks in Brooklyn Heights talking.

It features the work above showing a tower of fire spitting out from a brownstone along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The artist, Grace Graupe-Pillard, describes the work entitled  Brooklyn Homes/Fire:

My photographs involve the subversion of the idea of an imaginary, psychological Brooklyn Utopian place by making visually evident an extreme opposite. I portray a place of chaos and political terrorism resulting from the coercion of the populous into a Utopian totalitarian state.

More from the BHS press release:

The Brooklyn Utopias? project invited both professional artists and emerging teen artists to indentify and respond to the often-conflicting visions of the most livable and sustainable Brooklyn, and/or imagine their own Brooklyn “utopias.”­ The resulting work of over 30 artists and Brooklyn teens will now be on display in a series of three Brooklyn Utopias? exhibits: at BHS, Brooklyn’s Old Stone House, and the nonprofit youth art center Starting Artists, Inc. in Fall 2009. The participating artists at the Brooklyn Historical Society exhibit bring diverse approaches to the Utopias theme. Artists include Triada Samaras with photos of her “Democracy Wall,”—an interactive mural protesting large-scale development in Carroll Gardens. A second category of artworks include Jess Levey’s guerrilla photo projections on condos and Tracy Collins’ photographs of Atlantic Yards construction.
Alongside the contemporary artists’ work, the BHS exhibit will also look at the historic role of artists in envisioning a more ideal Brooklyn, connecting past and present. The exhibit opening is free and open to the public. For more information on this project, please visit

WHEN: Opening, Thursday, October 1, 2009. 5:30-7:30pm. Exhibit dates: October 2 – January 3, 2010.

WHERE: Brooklyn Historical Society; 128 Pierrepont St. (at Clinton St.); Brooklyn, NY 11201

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  • sue

    I portray a place of chaos and political terrorism resulting from the coercion of the populous into a Utopian totalitarian state. — WTF? Grace Graupe Hyphen Pillard, or the curator of this exhibit –a few questions:

    -Were you here on 9/11? And even if you weren’t, don’t you think NY has seen enough chaos and political terrorism so that you a)don’t have to remind us of it and b)certainly don’t have to create it from scratch
    -Why are you hiding behind BS to describe your work — the description lacks clarity and relevance to anyone in Brooklyn, what do you really mean? You think Brooklyn is a utopia? Or no? Or did you just play “PoMo Boggle” and string together as many MFA terms as you could to describe your “art?”
    -When do you go back to Connecticut or Iowa or Ohio and leave the real brooklynites alone? Go portray your parent’s Toll Brothers built house in chaos and political terrorism, thank you

  • bornhere

    I don’t know, Grace — I see a hibachi gone wrong and a man carrying his chair to a restorer. Of course, I probably wouldn’t recognize “chaos and political terrorism resulting from the coercion of the populous into a Utopian totalitarian state” if it bit me on the ass.

  • nina

    The author of the post above represents the regrettable persistence of outmoded vocabularies, vocabularies which themselves perpetuate blindness to the embedded conflicts and uncertainties in any attempt to define *place*. That no one except the privileged and vacuous “populous” (we applaud Grace’s cleverness here in subverting the noun populace into the adjective populous–this could not have been a simple *error* since there is no such thing, of course) who are helping to create this imaginary psychological Brooklyn while they quaff microbrews and hit on their roommate’s girlfriend, are indeed the only ones who find Brooklyn imaginary and psychological is exactly Grace’s point. That non-imaginary people who indeed suffer under literal totalitarian states, and who have endured, or indeed perished in, literal political terrorism, would probably find Brooklyn Heights quite a pleasant change from chaos and totalitarianism, is also, I am sure, essential to Grace’s fine-grained irony. It’s also a *fact* that Brooklyn has its share of non-imaginary poverty and other immiserations far less captivating to all the gifted young people quaffing more microbrews while they discuss imaginary psychologies and whether the band opening for Jason’s band could even be better than Jason’s band.
    Alas for “Sue” above, who is clearly unavailable to the astringent and revealing ironies of Grace’s project, and who clutches, like a drowning person to a straw, to the dead myth that a place where one grew up can be, day to day, a landscape of past and present experience, of feeling, of encounters, of personal and shared histories. Poor Sue, who has not awakened into the consciousness that there is no such thing as BS, there is only hidden tension and contradiction and power waiting to be exposed by……artists.

  • Grace Graupe Pillard

    Thank you Nina for your remarks which expressed far better than I could, my response to the imaginary idea of a Brooklyn UTOPIA. I find any Utopian vision to be frightening.

  • nina

    Oh god help me you thought I was serious. Now I know how Alan Sokal must have felt. Keep on keepin’ on, Ms. Graupe Pillard. You might also want to look up the word utopia unless you are already aware that “imaginary utopia” is redundant.

  • Claude Scales

    Perhaps Grace’s “Thank you” was also meant to be ironic.

  • the banned

    Oy vey!….and you banned me?

  • nina

    Poor old Brooklyn. It used to be one of the least ironic places on earth. Not much art besides the museum, and it was really just the mummy that made an impact when you were in elementary school, and mummies are not so ironic, are they. Bars were places dads went to watch the ballgame and smoke cigarettes and drink whatever beer was for sale. There was nothing under the bridge but the Jehovah’s Witness mothership. Williamsburg was grim and full of people with very little time on their hands for being creative. You could see Norman Mailer and his little mom toodling around the neighborhood. There was Bohacks. It was a place, which is rather the opposite of a utopia, and there was plenty of anger and fear here, but little of the anger and fear was imaginary. Lay the old Brooklyn to rest, and we’ll go see how Jason’s band is doing tonight.

  • Claude Scales

    I love your comment, nina–and I’m not being ironic.

  • Smarty Smarkowitz

    That painting is not accurate. the person shouldn’t be carrying a chair it should be two stolen bicycle wheels.

  • travy

    my buildings on fire!