By Holland Cotter
ART has always been used to sugarcoat economic power moves. In Manhattan, the arrival of galleries can help make real estate hot, and for a while, art gains from the cachet. In Brooklyn, gentrification seems to have the opposite effect: It kills off the art that helped inspire it. Not long ago, a wave of start-up art spaces was building in Dumbo and Williamsburg, only to die down once property values rose, a dynamic that may now be underway in Bushwick. Whatever the case there, in a once rent-friendly borough, galleries and artists alike are scrambling, a reality that tends to promote resourcefulness in exhibition options and to give at least some art being shown and produced a political edge.
BROOKLYN MUSEUM I’ll start with a museum exhibition that has the fluid, improvisatory sprawl of a giant gallery group show. It’s an international survey called “Agitprop!,” in which politics is loud, clear and polyphonic. The show opened in December at a third its present size, then unfolded in three stages, with earlier artists nominating others for inclusion, a process that has brought outstanding figures like Jelili Atiku, from Nigeria; Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, from Puerto Rico; and Inder Salim, from India, into the picture.
Much of the work is ephemeral, preserved as documentation. But there are some large-scale objects and installations, two of local relevance. One is the four-foot-high bust of the National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward J. Snowden, made by Doyle Trankina and illicitly placed by two other artists, Jeff Greenspan and Andrew Tider, in Fort Greene Park a year ago. The police quickly removed it, but an activist collective called the Illuminator just as quickly replaced it with a photographic projection.
In November, the Illuminator, working with the Crown Heights Tenant Union, made projections specifically to address gentrification and to protest the meeting of the annual borough Real Estate Summit, which rented spaceat the Brooklyn Museum. The museum, after taking heat for accommodating the summit, added to “Agitprop!” a multimedia piece assembled by community advocates and artists, called “A People’s Monument to Anti-Displacement Organizing.” It includes basic information on the city housing crisis; updated news on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans for creating “affordable” units through Brooklyn rezoning; and an artfully rousing video — by Noah Fischer, Betty Yu and Alicia Boyd of the Crown Heights and Flatbush-based Movement to Protect the People — showing resistance in action.