Stephen Powers

Surprised By Stephen Powers at the Brooklyn Museum

Whenever I visit The Brooklyn Museum — and it’s not often enough — I’m always reminded that it’s a great place to see art. Located on Eastern Parkway, it is 20 minutes from midtown Manhattan and offers a comprehensive permanent collection that includes ancient Egyptian masterpieces, African art, European painting, and contemporary art. The museum’s special exhibitions also make it an important destination for local and international visitors.

From This Place - Wendy Ewald, At Home, photograph by Amal, Negev Desert 2012

From This Place – Wendy Ewald, At Home, photograph by Amal, Negev Desert 2012

What brought me there recently were two well-publicized exhibits. This Place, (on view through June 5) is an exploration of Israel and the West Bank through the eyes of twelve internationally acclaimed photographers.  I particularly liked Wendy Ewald’s contribution. Ewald gave cameras to 14 groups of diverse people and asked them to capture their lives through their photographs.

From Coney Island - Swoon, Early Evening, Linoleum print on mylar (2005)

From Coney Island – Swoon, Early Evening, Linoleum print on mylar (2005)

The second exhibit I came to see was Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008  (on view through March 13). The exhibit uses Coney Island as a vehicle for examining shifts in artistic styles and national moods through approximately 140 objects. There are photographs, paintings, carousel horses, postcards and film clips, among other representations. My favorite was a three-dimensional installation by Swoon. There are 18 pieces made from linoleum print on mylar and mixed media. The piece makes you feel like you are with the people she has brought to life.


Stephen Powers creating new "sign art" at the Brooklyn Museum

Stephen Powers creating new “sign art” at the Brooklyn Museum

While those exhibits were interesting and comprehensive, I was more surprised and delighted by Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To a Seagull).  Presented in conjunction with Coney Island, Power’s  site-specific installation pays homage to the birth of new public art in Coney Island, and the  unique  “Coney Island style of painting.” In a video shown at the exhibition, Powers describes his fascination with the craft of sign-making.  In his work, he uses logotypes that have a superficially commercial look, combining them with his own text to create messages that have more emotional meaning.

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For this exhibit, Powers has partnered with other artists and sign makers to create the installation on view. He calls it “ICY SIGNS,” a traveling sign shop he first conceived in Coney Island in 2003. It’s visually engaging and lots of fun to read through. But what made the exhibit really special was the artist himself creating new “signs” while we visitors watched. Not only was it interesting to watch his steady hand paint out his messages but he was open to questions and readily engaged in conversation. Powers is there several days a week painting along with one or two other artists. The exhibit is on view until March 13.