Norman Rockwell and Lorna Simpson at the Brooklyn Museum

Exterior view of the Brooklyn Museum in New York a regal concrete building with 6 columns and a sprawling architecture

There's always a lot to like about the Brooklyn Museum in New York, from its recently freshened facade–a striking, wholly contemporary glass-and-steel entranceway that works beautifully with the grand old Beaux-Arts building–to its welcoming plaza complete with crowd-pleasing, "choreographed" fountain, to its manageable size, its community spirit, and its suggested admission price. In fact, the only issue we have the museum in Brooklyn is, let's be frank, its lack of consistently engaging exhibitions. We went to the Brooklyn Museum last weekend to see what's new and, while it was certainly a pleasant way to spend an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon, we left less than satisfied, art-viewing-wise. 

 

Giant fabric mushrooms with lights inside create a lampshade effect inside the Brooklyn Museum of Art

One interesting new addition here is via Situ Studio, and the creative shop's transformation of the Brooklyn Museum's soaring, open space on the ground floor–called, appropriately enough, the Great Hall–into what appears to be a forest of giant, fabric mushrooms. Growing out at jaunty angles and reaching impossible heights, the sculptural fungi of "reOrder" create a warm, slightly trippy environment that, if nothing else, will definitely complement the always-a-blast Target First Saturdays dance party. 

Fabric with lighting inside looks like a huge mushroom structure inside the museum in Brooklyn

Norman Rockwell art photography stills of children set next to the resulting painting of groups of kids staring at each other

Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera was the Brooklyn Museum's big winter show, and will only be around for another two weekends, closing April 10. The premise here is pretty neato: Norman Rockwell, whose beloved (or sneered-at, depending) Saturday Evening Post art covers depicted a highly-idealized vision of small-town America, "researched" each of his illustrations by staging elaborate photo shoots and then using the resulting photographs as his models.  

A Norman Rockwell art triptych depicting a sailor in a chair side profile, a tattoo artist from behind in color andin black and white

And so, for Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, we get an enlargement of one of the artist's images of Americana–the Visit to the Family Doctor, say, or the Salesman in the Swimming Hole, or New Kids in the Neighborhood, below–paired with the photographs he art directed for each, both of human models (which were often his friends and neighbors) as well as still-life prop set-ups. There's definitely a lot of behind-the-curtain interest at the Brooklyn Museum, and spending some time with Rockwell's iconic illustrations is always weirdly nostalgic, and in some ways Rockwell is presaging the likes of Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall… but once you get it, you get it, and, for us, the exhibition quickly yielded decidedly diminishing returns.   

A salon style wall of Lorna Simpson art photographs of woman posing for the camera

Finally, we were excited to see that the usually-excellent Lorna Simpson had a show on the Brooklyn Museum's third floor, titled "Gathered". We really liked both of the pieces here, including the newish May June July August, '57/'09, for which the artist has assembled 123 photographs of African Americans, mostly women, mostly in pin-up poses, mostly vintage-1950s shots she purchased on eBay, and combined them with a fair number of mimicky self-portraits. Found images such as these are always intriguing–who are these people? what did they do with their lives? What became of them after this shot, their hope and dreams?–and by hanging so many of them together, and setting herself into their midst, Simpson gets maximum mileage out of our instinctive curiosity and voyeuristic tendencies.    

A huge wall of salon style Lorna Simpson photographs of African woman in pin-up poses

A wall of small photographs from Lorna Simpson on display at the Brooklyn Museum in New York

Even better, on the opposite wall, Lorna Simpson recombines several past installations–including Please Remind Me Of Who I Am, and Instantaneous–all of which use Jim Crow-era photobooth shots, sunken into small bronze frames and paired with splotchy ink drawings as well as frames flipped around, showing their backs. We loved the way this piece looked as a whole; we loved getting close, and studying the faces of these people we will never know. Really, our only complaint about Gathered is that there's not enough of it. To all New York City art galleries and museums: more Lorna Simpson, please. Thanks. 

 A wall of photobooth style images from Lorna Simpson in bronze frames at the museum in Brooklyn

Norman Rockwell and Lorna Simpson at the Brooklyn Museum Details 

Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera will be at the Brooklyn Museum in New York until April 10; Lorna Simpson: Gathered will be up through August 21. The Brooklyn Museum is located at 200 Eastern Parkway–the 2 or 3 train stops directly in front of the museum–next to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park, right up the street from Grand Army Plaza. The Brooklyn Museum is open on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., and on Thursday and Friday until 10:00 p.m. Closed on Monday and Tuesday. For lots more information, please see the Brooklyn Museum website

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