Exclusive: Q&A With the Re:Construction Initiative’s Karin Bravin


photo courtesy of Lauren Van Haaften-Schick

Lower Manhattan is full of construction projects, and as development slows due to the economic crisis temporary eyesores have become permanent fixtures. This is the reason why the The Alliance for Downtown New York came up with The Re:Construction Initiative, a project which recasts construction sites as canvases for public art. They’ve commissioned several projects over the next few years to beautify lower Manhattan, including four new art installations at construction sites which they hope will “bring color, movement and scenic beauty to downtown streetscapes.” Brought in to curate this exciting new project is BravinLee Programs, the brainchild of partners Karin Bravin and John Lee, who run their namesake gallery in Chelsea full time. We spoke with Bravin about this new project, and why she wants to make downtown a little bit prettier to walk through.

Flavorpill: Why did you want to be part of this project, and what did you feel you have to offer?

Karin Bravin: As an arts professional, I want to expose as many people as possible to contemporary art by bringing it out of the gallery into the public arena. I enjoy that we are giving life to spaces that one might never even notice by taking difficult construction zones and turning them into something thought provoking and beautiful. As a native New Yorker, I want to give something back to my community

FP: Did the Downtown Alliance approach you or did you approach them about the project?

KB: The Downtown Alliance approached several arts professionals with Requests for Proposals (RFP) for this job with the intention of selecting four of us.

FP: How did you choose which artists from your roster should take part in the project?

KB: This project will take place over three years, so I will not simply be selecting artists from our roster. Rachel Hayes is not an artist who we have shown. Nina Bovasso is. Not every artist’s work lends itself to public art. I am looking for the best artists for the project. Artists who will find innovative ways to create art for the construction sites; artists who find creative ways to bypass difficult situations; artists who can be innovative, accommodating when necessary, and produce interesting, beautiful and provocative public art.

FP: What does this project mean to you as the curator? What would you like to see come of it in terms of changing the landscape of the city?

KB: I am committed to helping insure that art is experienced beyond the confines of galleries and museums. By making art available and accessible we hope we are doing positive things for culture and for the community. Ideally, I would like to see that instead of hurrying by a construction site, viewers will stop and take the time to consider their surroundings and experience something new.

FP: What has been involved in bringing this project to fruition?

KB: It started by my sending some artists pictures of various construction sites. They responded in turn with their ideas and mock ups and from that point we researched materials. When you are considering making art that will be outdoors there are many factors you have to consider that relate to durability, and safety.

Nina’s work has huge appeal for it’s extreme use of color and dense imagery. Her dynamic compositions always appear to burst off the paper, and they reveal more complexity over time. Her intertwining of geometric and floral forms speaks to the endless tension between organic and architectural growth or sprawl. This relationship is most present at a construction site — particularly one for a park, such as this site — where the urban drive to build is in action, working in opposition to the natural growth that would occur without intervention. These elements of Nina’s artwork made it perfect for this public installation series, as it answers the need for a bold graphic and offers a conceptual response to the site.

FP: How do you think the recession will affect publicly funded projects like Re:Construction? Additionally, how does the Downtown Alliance receive their funding?

KB: This project is Lower Manhattan Development Corporation funded through Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 2007 the Downtown Alliance applied for community enhancement grants. The arts are part of what make New York attractive. Of course some corporate funding will and has tightened up, but historically it has been shown that public art can be an important and powerful force for renewal in hard times. I am so grateful to the LMDC and HUD and The Downtown Alliance for having this opportunity.

FP: What other exciting projects does BravinLee have planned?

KB: BravinLee programs will be working on Re:Construction for three years and we have some pretty exciting public art projects to come that we are still finalizing. At the same time I am very excited about our upcoming fall schedule which includes Sebastiaan Bremer and Charles Ritchie, and BRAVINLEE RUGS, a series of hand-knotted rugs inspired by contemporary artists produced in limited editions of fifteen featuring Nina Bovasso, James Welling, and James Siena‘s original designs.