Nobutaka Aozaki, Smiley Bag Portrait, 2011, participatory performance. Courtesy the artist. Photo Yuriko Katori.

 

On a cloudy recent afternoon, Eugenie Tsai, the Brooklyn Museum's curator of contemporary art, and assistant curator Rujeko Hockley showed off the Project EATS grocery stand that appears every Thursday in the plaza in front of the museum's main entrance. It sells produce and flowers grown at farmsteads in Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Brownsville, Brighton Beach and East New York. The market, conceived by documentary filmmaker Linda Goode Bryant, is a project launched in anticipation of the exhibition "Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond" (Oct. 3, 2014-Jan. 4, 2015).

The greenmarket follows in the tradition of relational aesthetics, melded with ecologically concerned art and the locavore trend. It reflects what Tsai and Hockley refer to as the "impulse" shared by the 35 artists and collectives included in the show. "We were looking at people who have a more expansive practice," Hockley told A.i.A., "who think of themselves in relation to the wider world, whether literally or in terms of sympathies, as opposed to a more inwardly focused studio practice." The one unifying criterion was that each of the artists included have some sort of relationship to Brooklyn-most live and work in the borough, though some have studios in Manhattan, such as David Horvitz, who is represented by Let Us Keep Our Own Noon (2013), an installation of 47 bronze bells made from the metal of a melted French bell dating from 1742.

The show includes a wide range of ages and ethnicities, reflecting the borough's dizzying demographic diversity. The show's artists are equally varied, having achieved different levels of professional success and displaying divergent approaches to their work. "We realized there's a spectrum of ways that artists engage with the world," said Tsai. "Project EATS is at one end. Its involvement with the community is very direct. It exists completely outside of any art market or art-world system." At the other end is I love you more than one more day (2013), a series of 365 paintings of the sky, one for each day of the year, by Prospect Heights-based Cynthia Daignault, originally hung in a 2013 exhibition at Lisa Cooley Gallery, on Manhattan's Lower East Side. "It's the most painting-y of paintings," Hockley said.

It hangs alongside works ranging from abstraction to environmentally themed performance and art about art. Park Slope-based Lisa Sigal's Hinged Painting (Halleck Street, Brooklyn), a 2013 mixed-medium work, combines a digital print and acrylic paint on paper mounted on a birch panel along with a spray-painted window screen to explore formal echoes. Floating a Boulder (2012) is a photograph of a row boat filled with trash bags by Greenpoint-based Mary Mattingly, whose works call attention to human exploitation and destruction of the environment. In her witty "Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style," Boerum Hill-based Nina Katchadourian imitates the headdresses worn by women in 15th-century Flemish portraits using airplane-bathroom toilet paper.

It's not only museum visitors that Tsai, Hockley and the artists want to reach out to. For his performance Smiley Bag Portrait (2011), Japanese-born artist Nobutaka Aozaki (whose studio is in Sunset Park) will set up stands throughout the borough and paint portraits of passersby on plastic shopping bags, often adorned with smiley faces. Yours truly (2nd correspondence), 2010-14, by Bahamian-born, Park Slope-based Janine Antoni, is a series of love letters written from the perspective of an artwork and slipped into visitors' belongings at the coat check-art that continues to speak to the viewer after the museum visit. Miguel Luciano will be traveling around Brooklyn with Pimp My Piragua (2009), a cart equipped with speakers, video monitors and LED underbody lights, from which he will serve shaved ice flavored with sweet syrups. The piece pays tribute to the innovations of Latino street vendors, who often transform such objects into one-man entertainment centers.

Given that Brooklyn is home to many artists, Tsai and Hockley were faced with the task of filtering down a selection from the 100 studio visits they went on. Although Hockley admits that Brooklyn is no longer the artistic haven it was even 10 years ago, thanks to rising real estate prices. But even still, artists stay.

"We certainly weren't setting up to do a comprehensive show of everything that's happening in Brooklyn because it's impossible," says Tsai.

"But we hope it will provoke people in a compelling and positive way," added Hockley. They had been standing together next to the fountain on the plaza before the museum entrance, in which children soaked themselves joyfully despite the dropping temperatures. At the Project EATS stand, a visitor bought a bundle of wildflowers and tomatoes and sampled ground grapes, a curious yellow fruit wrapped in a parchment-like covering.

"Good, right?" Hockley said.

"I'll have to stop by here after work," said Tsai.