Just a Thesis Show
“I lived in communism until I was 17,” says Hungarian-born Tamas Veszi. “But I never had to experience anything like this. It has really questioned my being in this country.”
On May 3, Tamas Veszi’s interactive installation was removed from the Brooklyn War Memorial along with the work of 18 other artists in a senior thesis show for M.F.A. students at Brooklyn College.
Veszi’s piece, a registration space for a fake company called the Belvedere Cloning Corporation, required the artist to fix a phone line and lay down 350 feet of cable for Internet access; at the opening reception—before the exhibit was ordered closed by Brooklyn parks commissioner Julius Spiegel—20 people registered for future cloning. Plan B, as the exhibit was known, opened on May 3 and was shut down the following day after Spiegel declared the artwork inappropriate for families.
At an artists’ reception in DUMBO on May 24, people mingled over cheese plates and complimentary wine and viewed “Plan B Prevails,” the reopened show of the students’ work. When the exhibit was taken down and removed from the Brooklyn War Memorial the movers ripped out all of Veszi’s cable—the new DUMBO space has no phone line, so the online cloning registrations so central to Veszi’s piece have not been recreated.
When Spiegel first ordered the exhibit closed, the students were denied access to their work for almost a week. When they were finally given the opportunity to assess the damage, many found it irreparable. Some artworks were misplaced and others damaged to such an extreme that that they weren’t on view at the reopening.
“It was just a thesis show,” says Carl James Ferrero, a Plan B artist. “I was just hoping someone would show up and look at it.”
Ferrero went to Italy on the day of the Plan B opening and was later shocked to learn that the exhibit—a student requirement—had been taken down. He says he received no notification about the closing from Brooklyn College; he learned about the incident through e-mails from friends and teachers, and from reading it in the news.
The opening itself went without incident, but at 3:30 on Thursday, May 4, a locksmith arrived at the exhibit and changed the locks. Four of the M.F.A. students were there to witness it, but none of the artists were allowed to take down or even catalogue their work. In the time since the closing, the show and its shutdown has snowballed into a controversy over the right to free speech and the use of public space, culminating in a potential lawsuit against the city of Brooklyn and Brooklyn College.
“When I first found out the doors were locked, I couldn’t imagine why,” says Zoe Cohen, another Plan B artist. “Over the next Thursday and Friday, we heard rumors from the media and our professors. We do know it was [closed because of] works with sexual content, but we never got an official statement from the parks commissioner.”
According to Cohen, Brooklyn College released a statement shortly after the closing claiming that the administration supported its students and would help move their show to an on-campus site. This wholly dissatisfied Cohen and her fellow artists.
“We don’t want to just move our work,” says Cohen. “We want to stand against this. We held a rally on May 6, and that’s when Norman Siegel showed up.”
Norman Siegel, a civil rights and civil liberties lawyer with Democracy for NYC, is working on behalf of the Plan B artists. Cohen hopes the suit will be filed by early June, and she cites the continuing support of Brooklyn College faculty for the students’ cause. “No one is saying we shouldn’t sue,” she says. “The entire faculty passed a resolution condemning the closing.”
Arnold Brooks, a Brooklyn College professor present at Plan B Prevails, called the closing of the original exhibit “disgraceful.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he says. “They confiscated their work, damaged it, put it in a room, and didn’t let them see it. There hasn’t been a lot we can do. It seems like it’s out of everybody’s hands.”
On May 3, Carrie Fucile’s installation—My father’s house/Live Feed—was a 7-by-8-by-10-foot wooden shack with a six minute video loop screened inside. At the DUMBO revival, the remnants of her shack, found on the Brooklyn College loading dock, were stacked in a haphazard pile. Along with her original video are new video clips of the successful May 3 opening reception, the May 4 shutdown and removal, and Fucile’s assessment of the damage to her piece in front of the loading dock heap.
Wood from Fucile’s dismantled installation had been used to package other students’ work: the Brooklyn College facilities department reportedly told staff that Fucile’s destroyed art piece was extra wood for use.
Yukari Rymar is a writer who lives in Brooklyn.