Building history: Historical Society shows off its new spot • Brooklyn Paper

Building history: Historical Society shows off its new spot

Shiny and new: The Brooklyn Historical Society has opened its new museum location in Dumbo with an exhibit celebrating the Brooklyn waterfront.
Philip Greenberg

Take a new look at an old building!

The Brooklyn Historical Society has opened a second location on the Brooklyn waterfront with an exhibit of photos celebrating its new home. “Shifting Perspectives: Photographs of Brooklyn’s Waterfront,” now on display at the Society’s new exhibit space in Dumbo, features historic images of the building that houses the show, as well as a wide selection of the borough’s seaside spots, said the president of the museum.

“We were hoping for an exhibition that represented the broad sweep of Brooklyn’s waterfront locations and range of sensibilities from the perspective of different artists,” said Deborah Schwartz.

The exhibit features 68 photographs taken over the last 150 years, including work by well-known photographers Harvey Stein and Bernice Abbott, alongside work by unknown artists from the past. The images not only provide a look into history, but they demonstrate how different artistic eyes can interpret the same locations, said Schwartz.

“Some of them are historical and some them are very contemporary — the photographers look at the waterfront in so many different ways,” she said. “There are images that are almost abstract, and some images are iconic of these industrial areas. The show is very evocative and gives a sense of Coney Island, Newtown Creek, the Gowanus Canal, and any and everything that related to the Brooklyn waterfront.”

Because its new building looks out over the water, the Society wanted the first exhibit in the space to reflect its setting.

“The entire focus of that space for us is really the Brooklyn waterfront and we’re excited to be focusing on the history of the waterfront,” said Schwartz.

And the huge, historic Empire Stores building is the perfect match for a historical society, said Schwartz.

“It’s a very fun and clean and industrial and with an almost modern feeling, even though we’re sitting in what was the middle of 19th century warehouse building,” she said. “The developers have done a beautiful job of retaining a lot of the original building so you really get a feel for what the original warehouse was like.”

The Society has big plans to expand in its new space — the photo display will end in early September, to be followed by a multi-media exhibit focusing on the history of the Brooklyn waterfront, said Schwartz, and the museum is planning more interactive activities that appeal to children.

“In December, we’ll have an interactive exhibit with objects, artifacts, documents, and also lots of digital components,” she said. “There will even be lots of installations for children. Our education staff is working on programs for kids, like treasure hunts to get them to look at photos in this exhibit.”

Brooklyn Historical Society Dumbo [55 Water St. between New Dock and Main streets in Dumbo, (718) 222–4111, www.brooklynhistory.org/dumbo]. Open Mon–Fri, noon–6 pm; Sat, Sun, 10 am–7 pm. $10 suggested donation.

Snap of the past: This photo by Bernice Abbot shows the Empire Stores Warehouse in 1936.
Bernice Abbott

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