Art Slope Festival Review: Brooklyn’s Big Tent Show At ShapeShifter Lab

Big Tent Show
Brooklyn’s Big Tent Show was part of Art Slope’s Opening Night Party at ShapeShifter Lab. (Photo by Mishele Begun)

Is Brooklyn too big to play host to a small-town art festival? Not if Art Slope has anything to say about it. Last weekend kicked off the 9-day art and culture festival with an opening night party featuring Brooklyn’s Big Tent Show.

The opening bash began at ShapeShifter Lab, tucked away on a side street (18 Whitwell Place) in Brooklyn’s favorite industrial hub turned Saturday-night-haunt, Gowanus.

Ten years earlier the location might have seemed intrepid, but on this Friday night it was hard to tell the difference between the Brooklyn Boulders crowd, the micro-brew aficionados in search of Threes Brewing and the art scene gang. Art Slope, despite its name (how many Park Slope malapropisms must we put up with?) started off with a bang.

The theme of the evening was a Big Tent Show and the diverse works of art provided an education in the view points, the knowledge and the unique stories of over 30 artists.

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The tent show is a staple of Americana; a tradition that carried cosmopolitan wonders to the furthest reaches of our vast, young country. True to form, this Big Tent Show captured the carnivalesque nature of our large and diverse borough.

The mission was accomplished in part through its theme, but to an even greater degree in the sampling of graphic prowess, technical capability and conceptual skill that is available in just a small cross-section of Brooklyn.

The high, bare-raftered roof of Shapeshifter Lab, adorned simply with incandescent orbs, lent itself to the feeling of a dutifully, if not hastily, erected space. Jonathan Blum, the evening’s co-curator, contributor and ringmaster of carnival spirit, said that in true tent show fashion “we were setting this place up right until the minute we opened.”

The show was curated by the aforementioned Blum, as well as Dara Oshin, another Brooklyn based visual artist, with installation help from Eric Wolf.

When the live music played groups gamboled along on the dance floor to the folksy, fitting tunes of Misery Loves Company. There wasn’t a single suit in sight as the mostly Park Slope crowd let gravity pull them down past 4th Avenue.

The assembly was alternately boisterous and introspective, roughhousing in the perpetual spillover outside the Whitwell Place entrance and double-parked densely (in true Slope fashion) around the eye-level art placed sparingly.

sean qualls and jonathan blum
Artist, Illustrator, and Author Sean Qualls [left] with artist and curator Jonathan Blum. (Photo by Mishele Begun)
One piece that garnered perpetual attention had two creators, two years of history and the apt title “Friends Make Flowers.” Jonathan Blum and Sean Qualls, both successful local artists and obvious pals, stood beneath their collaboration and talked about it. They passed the canvas back and forth, uncertain what would come of the piece, as months turned to years and they continued to embellish on the work, adding their signature characters to the mix.

The result was a touching and synchronous piece of art where you can feel the kinship between the two friends even as it reveals duality in technique and artist experience. Touching base with artist Blum after the show he said: “I have never had a piece of art make such a big splash before.”

Brooklyn is renowned for its art scene and its unique neighborhood cultures but compared to many smaller towns we are lacking in the kind of local, interactive and immersive art festivals that help define destination upstate getaways and revival European villages.

Art Slope, the brain child of Gilly Youner and the Park Slope Civic Council, succeeds in creating a collaborative and creative 9-day event that brings together Brooklyn’s art scene using the neighborhood, its venues and Prospect Park to display diverse works of art and facilitate conversation and community.

If you weren’t able to attend this worthwhile opening, don’t despair. Take advantage of daily Art Slope events every day through Sunday, September 25 and embrace an event that is helping define Brooklyn’s art culture.

The Art Slope website provides a search by venue, search by artist, and the full venue map.

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