Whitehot Magazine

Artists Team Up with ART FOR CHANGE and Prospect Park Alliance for "Park of Dreams" Project

Jon Key, Man in the Violet Dreamscape No. 5, 2019, acrylic on paper, 40 x 52 inches

By STEPHEN WOZNIAK March 5, 2024

“A park is a work of art, as much as a painting or a sculpture. It must have an intrinsic beauty that appeals to the eye, but it must also have a deeper meaning that touches the soul.”

― Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect and designer of Prospect Park

In the late 1800s, after winning the American Civil War, fallen Union military personnel were forever commemorated as artful bronze sculpture atop the triumphal Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza at the northern peak of the borough’s famous scenic Prospect Park. Enjoyed by millions of visitors and residents of greater New York City and nearby neighborhoods, key park features, like the monument, have endured the test of time and other indignities. While the city’s Mayoral Fund has recently injected nearly $9 million for critical restoration, local artists have teamed up with ART FOR CHANGE, Prospect Park Alliance and Assembly Member Brian Cunningham to create a banner of new and recent artwork around the under-construction arch, which celebrates the park’s diverse users, natural beauty and lasting social influence.

ART FOR CHANGE’s Jeanna Masel collaborated with a dozen working New York artists to not only provide a bright spot for park pedestrians to shift their gaze to—away from the tower of scaffolding and flurry of reconstruction activity—but also connect users with the culture that helps to define the park. “Curating and producing this project enables us to leverage our deep relationships with artists and, in turn, shows our respect for a park that’s a vital aspect of the Brooklyn community—and an important ecosystem in itself,” explained Masel. “The social good that the arts and public parks bring to our communities is indisputable," reiterated Council Member Crystal Hudson, stressing their imperative overlaps.  

The Park of Dreams project showcases new contemporary art that focuses on the wondrous worlds and divergent walks of park life. Jon Key’s Man in the Violet Dreamscape No. 5, 2019, presents the central figure of a serene Black man, wrapped in purple geometrically patterned apparel that at once contrasts with the flourishing verdant vegetation and grass blades that sprout beneath him, but also reiterates what looks like symbolic fruits of the surrounding landscape keyed to some of the same shapes and colors. I especially love how this monkish man looks over to his right—out to the beyond—with his long neck craned like the bent branch of a tree to which he is greatly attuned. It seems as if he were destined for his seat in the woods, grown from the ground like the plant life around him. 

Founder Jeanne Masel of ART FOR CHANGE in front of the Park of Dreams banner at Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza. Photo by Javier Romero.

A lovely, refreshing work in this public presentation is that of Cydne Jasmin Coleby, entitled Remembering II, 2020. The central bikini-clad female figure in this collage sits on a beach towel, looks out across a lake and takes in a moment of peace. Her body, like Key’s Man—similarly coordinated in form and color to her surroundings—shows us an inherent connection to the nature nearby. The eye-bouncing contrast of textures—from a dimpled, heavyweight, watercolor paper sky and unbleached rag-as-sandscape to the many marbleized, decorative swirls of skin we see—gives extra life to this otherwise reflective scene for the figures in it.

Kristen Deirup’s Bio Hack, 2021, a dainty and detailed surrealistic painting of park grass, three ripe upright dandelion “puffballs” and two blue silk bows stopped me in my tracks. What is this arrangement, I wondered? A reminder of the prize in life we neglect known as “nature?” A recognition of the gift that fauna and flora provides and keeps giving, dispersing life in flocks, networks and clusters, perhaps? On the upper right side of the piece, one such group—a tiny family of mushrooms—nestles in the grass. They are among the oldest and most persistent, earth-rooted, organic matter on the planet. Here, they seem to show us their quiet strength-in-numbers and whisper to us about the time-honored cycles of birth and death, which are inevitable and beautiful all at once.

Maria Calandra, Time of the Zinnia, 2023, Acrylic on linen, 60 x 45 inches

Maria Calandra’s Time of the Zinnia, 2023, is a true head-spinner. There are none—and I mean zero—straight lines or rectilinear forms in this miraculous painting. Anchored by the bright and burning orange flowers of its namesake, followed by ruddy and spotted pink-petaled friends, this truly twisty-topsy-turvy work takes many eyeball-passes to tour its folding, curly terrain and ingest the inescapable trip that shows us what it means to be of nature and not simply in it. Time of the Zinnia reminds me a wee bit of Jackson Pollock’s early melting farmers, oxen and ploughs-in-action paintings—a ripple-vision take on the work of Thomas Hart Benton and the great 20th-century Mexican muralists. Calandra’s piece, however, is so packed and saturated with floral life, which looks utterly ancient—or even timeless—that it seems so much more profound than those early works. 

ART FOR CHANGE arranged for all twelve of the works reproduced on the Park of Dreams banner to be created as limited-edition prints available for purchase. Half of the proceeds go to the artists for their work, while another portion is earmarked for support of non-profit organizations. It’s interesting to note that ART FOR CHANGE also deliberately works with socially conscious collectors—not art market commodity jugglers and flippers. ART FOR CHANGE also insures proper and reasonable pricing, which keeps the gears of their responsibly motivated machine moving. 

Cydne Jasmin Coleby, Remembering II, 2020, acrylic and collage on paper, 22 13/16 × 30 5/16 inches

Viewing Park of Dreams during the months leading up to the anticipated April completion date of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch restoration, park visitors can enjoy a taste of what it means to experience dedicated natural public areas through the eyes of artists who savor the moments we seek to share but often don’t find a chance to enjoy during our hectic days out.  

Participating artists in the ART FOR CHANGE Park of Dreams installation and print project include Marcus Brutus, Kelly Beeman, Alyssa Klauer, Danielle Orchard, Bianca Nemelc, Kirsten Deirup, Jon Key, Maria Calandra, Jules De Balincourt, Na’ye Perez, Cydne Jasmin Coleby and Amy Lincoln. WM

Stephen Wozniak

Stephen Wozniak is a visual artist, writer, and actor based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in the Bradbury Art Museum, Cameron Art Museum, Leo Castelli Gallery, and Lincoln Center. He has performed principal roles on Star Trek: EnterpriseNCIS: Los Angeles, and the double Emmy Award-nominated Time Machine: Beyond the Da Vinci Code. He co-hosted the performing arts series Center Stage on KXLU radio in Los Angeles and guest hosts Art World: The Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art podcast in New York City. He earned a B.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more, go to: www.stephenwozniakart.com and www.stephenwozniak.com. Follow Stephen on Instagram at @stephenwozniakart and @thestephenwozniak.

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