A lot of times we Manhattanites forget that right across the river, there is a land called Brooklyn, and it is filled with a hipper population than in our beloved borough. People associate “New York City” with the Empire State Building and Central Park when those main attractions are just in one borough out of the five that make up NYC. Sure, Central Park is a quintessential New York destination to check off the bucket list, but most of the time it’s the overlooked spots that are doing some pretty awesome projects. Brooklyn Bridge Park and the DUMBO area do get an influx of tourists, but everyone holed up in their favorite borough should come out to see these (free!!!) visiting structures scattered parkwide.
The Public Art Fund of the Brooklyn Bridge Park has been decorating the paths and lawns with contemporary, experimental sculptures and projects. This past summer, Danish artist Jeppe Hein installed Please Touch the Art, involving playful sculptures specifically intended for public interaction. The two main components, which will be on view through April 17, 2016, were his Mirror Labyrinth and Modified Social Benches that captured people’s attention. These structures are simplistic, yet changed the landscape of the park as well as the view of Manhattan. BBP continues this visual experience with the Brooklyn developer Two Trees Management Co.’s commission of OY/YO by Deborah Kass.
Located on the newly renovated Main Street Lawn, Deborah Kass’ monumental letters scream OY to Manhattan, and from the Manhattan side, YO shouts right back to Brooklyn. Blunt exclamations are a part of New York daily life, so now the landscape of the city will mimic its residents and tourists. Overlooking the iconic bridges of Brooklyn’s waterfront and visible from either side of the river, this is an apt location for Kass’ audacious appropriation of this urban slang.
OY/YO is the first of its size from Kass, but these phrases were originally two entities of their own. An important thing to know about Deborah Kass is that she explores the confluences of pop culture, art history, and the self. She also mimics and reworks signature styles of iconic male artists of the 20th century; Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock ring any bells?
OY was first created as a painting in 2011, giving tribute to Edward Ruscha’s 1962 painting, OOF. The 2011 painting transformed into prints and sculptures (Kass works with mixed media), and YO was added as a separate painting at a friend’s suggestion. This was all leading up to this concept’s larger-than-life presence in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Why these expressions? In interviews, Kass has provided some insights, but says that the sculpture acts as “an open-ended question that people need to answer for themselves”. Kass has stated that the sculpture is relevant to any diverse setting in America but remarked on how fine a home Brooklyn makes for this piece.
In the 1950s, Jews constituted about a quarter of the city’s population, with a majority of families residing in Brooklyn. Needless to say, the Yiddish phrase “oy (oy vey, oy gevalt, etc.)”, expressing exasperation or incredulity, would be well-known within this community. This sculpture can be viewed as the older residents expressing their irritation or aggravation toward the neighboring borough. ~oy~
“Yo” has become a popular slang interjection thanks to Philadelphia’s Italian-American population in the 1940s, but dates back to the 15th century when it was used in Middle English! Apparently, though, “yo” had a different meaning, deriving from the Old English word for “yes”. If our ancestors could just see us now…
Deborah Kass’ sculpture is made of simple aluminum and paint but makes a grand mark on the Brooklyn scenery with its bold yellow letters. This work is completely reminiscent of Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” sculpture. For the use of such small words, there are multiple impactful interpretations, whatever your take on Kass’ riveting sculpture may be.
My suggestion to get the most out of your viewing pleasure is to take the 6 to the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop so you can walk along the water to see the sites from the Manhattan side, then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and make your way to the Main Street Lawn, so you can see the full effect of Kass’ work. Especially with the weather being as wonderfully warm as it has been, a trip to see this in December is completely plausible! But there’s no need to rush: OY/YO will be on display through August 2016.
Want more of Deborah Kass? Her current exhibition, No Kidding, at the Paul Kasmin Gallery is on view until January 23, 2016, where she incorporates neon lights into her paintings to spell out puns and phrases bearing pop cultural references.
*If you’re saying to yourself, this sounds awfully familiar, and you’ve seen Season 2, Episode 22 of Gilmore Girls, then you’re correct in assuming I’ve taken inspiration for the title of this article from the nonsensical, magical words of Lorelai Gilmore.