With “Re:Growth”, New York art gallery restarts outdoors

A long-established Chelsea gallery resumes its post-lockdown operations in Riverside Park. We meet curator and gallery owner Karin Bravin.

“I am sitting on a railing right at 66 and riverside boulevard”, emails me curator and gallerist Karin Bravin a few seconds before the time of our scheduled appointment; the day before, she shared a map where she put a circle on the point where we would meet. Riverside Park is a big green area that runs along the Hudson, and meeting here could incur in more misunderstanding than going straight to Chelsea to BravinLee programs, the gallery that Bravin runs with her partner John Post Lee. But this summer, the gallery has moved outdoor to Riverside Park, with an exhibition of 16 site-specific installations and an additional ten flag and banner projects. We have some small talk while we move towards Brooklyn artist Letha Wilson’s installation, Double Arc Leaves and Lava; Bravin notices that the lawn hasn’t been cut around the art piece, “maybe they’re afraid to do that”, she says, and then she adds smiling, “it’s funny to see all this growth”. “Re:Growth” is precisely the title of this outdoor exhibition curated by Karin Bravin, meant to be “a celebration of art, Riverside Park, and the New York spirit”. 

Letha Wilson, Double Arc Leaves and Lava, one of the art pieces that make up Re:Growth

“Ho fatto una mostra simile qui nel 2006”, mi dice, spiegandomi che durante la pandemia, in inverno, camminava nel parco – abita qui vicino – “pensando a come rifarla”. Se nessuno entra in una galleria a causa del Covid, portiamo l’arte fuori, ha pensato. E così inizia a lavorarci, scrive alla conservancy di Riverside Park  per ottenere i permessi, esplora il parco, manda foto agli artisti che non possono essere qui a causa della pandemia. “Era un bel regalo da fare a New York”.

“I did a similar exhibition here in 2006”, she tells me, explainining that during the pandemic, in winter, she walked in the park – she lives nearby – “thinking how to do it again”. If nobody goes inside a gallery, because of Covid, let’s bring art outside, she thought. And so she started working on it, writing to Riverside Park Conservancy to get the permits, exploring the park, sharing pictures with artists who couldn’t check by themselves because of the pandemic. “It was a good gift to give back to New York City”. 

Bravin points out that, for a moment, she feared that the city wasn’t going to be back. That New York City was finished. “We saw signs of that”. Many people left their apartments, and she admits she feared she might have to close the gallery. We take a walk on Pier i, “this is where we had our opening”. Dahlia Eisayed’s flags hang on the pier’s high poles, Chart toward the charms; Bravin shows me Beth Krebs’s banner Same Boat not far away. Proceeding north, you’ll meet Blanka Amezkua’s Happiness is and an augmented reality installation by artist Shuli Sadé, Upstream Downstream. We leave the Hudson behind us, going up the park (and dodging high-speed bikes, that here are a moltitude) and with Bravin we stare at Invasives by Jean Shin, a piece of art entirely made with the bottoms of Mountain Dew’s empty bottles, and Summer Vibe by Sui Park, around which flowers and plants have grown since it was first  installed. The exhibition blends with its natural environment, merges with it; the curator points out that she didn’t want to concentrate all the artworks in just one point, but to spread them all over the park, as if they were a part of it.

A cyclist passes quickly in front of DeWitt Godfrey’s Stuk in Riverside Park

We sit on a bench, there’s still light in this American summer evening, the sun will set in a couple of hours. The air smells good, the city noise feels miles away. Bravin shows me how to reach Stuk by DeWitt Godfrey, the most instagrammed piece of “Re:Growth”. We talk about the relevance of social medias, and how much Instagram is making the fruition of this exhibition different from the one of 2006; about Siena and Venice, where Bravin spent some months as a student; about artists who have left the city; and about this summer, the long-awaited reopening and her fear for the Delta variant, now that wearing a mask indoor is coming back. “A lot of people love to put New York City down”, Bravin says. “They did it after 9/11, they said it’s over because of Covid. But we’re coming back, aren’t we?”.

All photos were taken with a Fujifilm X-Pro 3, kindly loaned by Fujifilm Italy, except where otherwise indicated.

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