City Life Org – Brooklyn Abstraction: Four Artists, Four Walls

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Installation view, Brooklyn Abstraction: Four Artists, Four Walls, Brooklyn Museum, on view August 12, 2022 – August 6, 2023. (Photo: Danny Perez, Brooklyn Museum)

On display in the museum’s Beaux-Arts Court

Featuring works by Maya Hayuk, José Parlá, Kennedy Yanko, and the late Leon Polk Smith, four artists with strong Brooklyn ties, this exhibition transforms the iconic architecture of the museum’s Beaux Arts Court through four distinct, visually immersive installations. Each of these artists, three of whom now work in the borough and the fourth has an important connection to the Brooklyn Museum as the site of his career retrospective, explores approaches to abstraction in a distinctive and personal way. Brooklyn Abstraction includes newly created, monumental works by Hayuk, Parlá and Yanko, as well as a grouping of the museum’s sizeable collection of paintings by Smith that inspired the installation.

With a diverse practice as a muralist, painter, photographer, gallery founder and member of several artist collectives, Ukrainian-American artist Maya Hayuk (born 1969) has worked internationally to bring vibrancy and movement to urban and exhibition spaces. Inspired by her Ukrainian-American heritage, immediate surroundings, popular culture, and the current geopolitical climate, Hayuk’s paintings often confront the paradoxes of harmony and dissonance, optimism and hopelessness. Her new work, Frontline Flashpoints Facing East, Ukraine, 2022, expresses abstracted physical and psychological landscapes of the frontline of war in Ukraine, simulating the flashpoints of explosions intersecting with the hope of sunrise.

In his immersive, monumental compositions, José Parlá (b. 1973) layers and scrapes color to obscure, reveal, and abstract both text and narrative. The textured, gestural sky, interwoven with a unique script code, reveals new horizons with a universal line. Parlá’s abstracted lyrics are visually reminiscent of subterranean mycelial formations, complex and mysterious communication networks of fungi that connect everything on earth through a web of life. The five newly created paintings relate to his youth as a Cuban-American in Miami in the 1980s, his world travels, his near-fatal battle with COVID-19 in 2021, and his survival and recovery.

Kennedy Yanko (born 1988) lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn and uses scrap metal from discarded vehicles and shipping containers to create vibrant, large-scale sculptural paintings. She uses “skins of paint,” or thin layers of poured paint, to create works that question and blur the boundaries of painting and sculpture. By using her materials to explore the limits of optical vision, she underscores opportunities we miss when we only see with our eyes. Her methods reflect a dual abstract-expressionist-surrealist approach that focuses on the visible and invisible factors that influence, contribute to, and moderate human experience.

The museum held a major retrospective of Leon Polk Smith (1906–1996) in 1995 and, following the artist’s death, became the beneficiary of eighteen major works, nine of which are featured in this presentation. Known for his spare geometric canvases, often featuring only two sharply defined colors, Smith is considered one of the leading exponents of the “hard edge” minimalist painting style. Through a limited palette, simple forms, and flat painted surfaces, Smith created tension, synergy, and refinement in his paintings.

Brooklyn Abstraction: Four Artists, Four Walls is organized by Catherine Chuck, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Senior Curator, Decorative Arts, and Erika Umali, Assistant Curator, Collections, Brooklyn Museum.

Presented by Dior.

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