Those who are not as greatly impacted by these issues can more easily ignore them. For artists however, the craft has increasingly occupied the space of interpreting the turmoil bubbling beneath the surface.
And that is what the latest exhibition at the Garage Art Center sets out to accomplish. On display through the end of August, John Fekner’s “A Change” is a multimedia mini-retrospective that spins a thread between the past and the present, inviting audiences to reflect on and redefine reality.
Inspired by Sam Cooke’s 1964 track “A Change is Gonna Come,” which itself was a response to an incident of racial injustice the singer experienced, the exhibition showcases a blend of Fekner’s paintings, mixed media sculpture and ephemera.
Comprehensively, the collection represents a 50-year timeline of his pioneering career in urban art.
One piece depicts a crumbling, brick facade stenciled with the exhibition’s title symbolizing the rebuilding of a more inclusive foundation that becomes necessary when the underlying system of society is found to be broken.
Despite being decades old, Fekner’s past work presented in the exhibition is still resoundingly relevant today, perhaps even more urgently so than before.
“The social injustice and environmental issues we face today have roots in the civil rights and protests movements of the 60s,” posits Fekner, who participated in demonstrations against the Vietnam War as an undergraduate student in New York during the time.
Since then, he has forged ahead as a street and multimedia artist, creating hundreds of conceptual intervention works discussing environmental, social and political issues, all created using outdoor spaces as a backdrop.
“Working in abandoned properties, closed storefront windows, non-profit alternative spaces,” he says, “my affinity for public spaces drew me to the Garage Art Center, a few blocks away in my home town.”
Founded by Korean folk artist Stephanie Lee, Garage Art Center in Bayside opened up at the helm of the pandemic’s outbreak in NYC. “A Change” simultaneously seems to fit the gallery’s trajectory of tracing the community’s emotions through this current crisis.
The inaugural exhibition “Friendscape” focused on strong interpersonal connections, which became a source of both strength and longing as the city went into quarantine. It was followed by “Wave Forms,” a study of nature that allowed audiences a sense of calm in the face of uncertainty.
Lee says an upcoming exhibition, set to kick off September 4, is all about expanding cognitive thinking and fostering open mindedness. The showcase is titled “Happily Ever After?” and will include dioramas of well-known fairy tales with reimagined endings that depart from the familiar.
An intimate, locally focused exhibition space constructed in Lee’s actual garage, the Garage Art Center didn’t skip a beat in aligning its mission to pandemic constraints.
The gallery waived opening receptions and is taking appointments for private viewings, in addition to creating virtual platforms for each exhibition.
“From the start, we wanted to provide a platform that is best for the artist and the community,” said Lee. “In the past, major art events were concentrated in Manhattan, now with the pandemic, things became more localized and I'm glad to see the Garage Art Center can be a hub for local artists.”
Garage Art Center has always provided artists with a no-fee exhibition space and the full revenue from sales of their art, an ideal setup within an industry that has become even more difficult to navigate during this time. The gallery also provides videos of installations, artist talks and workshops online for those who can’t make it in person.
Still, Lee expressed disappointment that the venue is still unable to host hands-on art-making experiences for the public to further their connection with the artworks on display.
“Continuing to present a quality solo exhibition alone will be challenging in times like this,” she explained. “We are hoping to continue our journey with what we can, so when the COVID-19 crisis gets settled, we can fully open our door to the community.”