True grit at the museum: New sculptures pay tribute to Williamsburg Murals of ’30s - Brooklyn Paper

True grit at the museum: New sculptures pay tribute to Williamsburg Murals of ’30s

Crawling up the walls: Artist Marela Zacarias’s sculptures at the Brooklyn Museum were inspired by the Williamsburg Murals, a set of paintings almost lost to time.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

When the going gets tough, the tough get sculpting.

In “Supple Beat” — an exhibition of four new pieces opening at the Brooklyn Museum on Feb. 1 — artist Marela Zacarias pays homage to an old-fashioned New York trait: grit.

The Gowanus-based artist’s vivid sculptures were inspired by the Williamsburg Murals, New Deal-era cultural treasures created for the earliest residents of Williamsburg Houses. The stubborn wall paintings, nearly lost to neglect, were found in the late ’80s under coats of glue and paint, and are now on long-term loan to the Museum from the New York City Housing Authority.

“As objects, they’ve had a life of their own,” Zacarias said of the murals. “Nobody liked abstract work in the ’30s — it was all representational — so it was an exception that they were created. And then they were painted over and forgotten about, but in the ’80s someone finds them and now they’re here.”

Zacarias’s sculptures share with the original murals a commanding use of sharp lines and bright colors.

“I’m a collector of patterns and colors,” she said.

Like much of Zacarias’s work, the sculptures are meant to interact with the architecture of a specific communal space — the pieces, resembling huge, living blankets, seem to have just finished crawling the walls and balconies of the museum’s cavernous entrance lobby.

Defying the stereotype of the holed-up, sun-shy artist, Zacarias relishes the opportunity to engage the public through art.

“I was always interested in both art and the public, in art and social change,” she said. “I thought it would be good to have the pieces in the public part of the museum – nobody needs to pay to see them.”

This public-mindedness leads Zacarias to an uncomfortable conclusion about how far we’ve come since the days of FDR, especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and its impact in neighborhoods like Red Hook.

“The Williamsburg Murals were created during the Depression, for workers to look at after coming back from the docks and the factories,” she said. “I couldn’t help but see the disparity between then and now. Then, it was like, ‘Let’s make art for workers,’ and today, it’s ‘Let’s leave them for two weeks without water.’ ”

Ultimately, Zacarias’s striking new work is a tribute to the strength shown by Sandy victims and Depression survivors alike.

“These pieces are about resilience,” she said. “Resilience and then triumph at the end. It’s a good metaphor for all of us, how we bounce back and prevail.”

“Raw, Cooked: Marela Zacarias” at the Brooklyn Museum [200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 638–5000]. Opens Feb 1. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

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