Beyond the Fence


The narrow, gravel-covered lot at the intersection of Brooklyn’s Columbia and Sackett streets in Carroll Gardens is probably one of the most challenging spaces to hold an art show. Viewers aren’t allowed to go beyond its eight-foot-high chain-link fence. Ugly black rat-bait stations are frequently scattered among the sculptures to keep vermin at bay. And then there’s the lot’s neighbor, a chicken-slaughtering facility, a relic of the waterfront’s pre-gentrification past. The poor birds arrive by truck, packed tightly in crates. Being downwind of them ain’t fun.

Still, the Art Lot—as it’s been known since local property owners kindly donated the space in 1995—has managed to survive as a source of free public art. What’s more, under the recent directorship of sculptor (and Parsons instructor) Jim Osman, it’s positively thriving. Maybe real estate has gotten so bad that artists, ever adaptive to physical limitations, are hatching a new breed of humble yet assertive, site-specific sculpture in order to survive. Call it site-resilient.

This show, underwhelmingly titled “From the Neighborhood,” is full of such inspiring fare. John Monti gamely flies a flag from the lot’s perimeter, emblazoned with a goofy banana-smiley glyph. Anne Burton, whom we wish would venture farther than her Union Street studio (to Chelsea, say?), makes ingenious use of throwaway pieces of liquor-box packing cardboard, placing them on a cinder-block base. The gaps between the blocks, and the slits in the tongue-and-groove arrangement of the cardboard, all work in perfect, linear harmony. Mike Metz makes a banner depicting a local waterfront industrial crane covered with poetic repetitions of the word “change,” and installs it on a movable theatrical scaffold. Best of all, Simino Studio, a local design firm, has sawed off and re-hung that chain-link fence, replacing a large chunk of it with a wall made of massive concrete blocks. It’s a gracious gesture, really: That wall is erected some eight feet deeper into the lot than the original border, allowing viewers to walk past the sidewalk and into the lot. To go—at least for a few feet—where no man has gone before.