Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thursday Evening in Downtown Brooklyn: Opening Reception for "We’ve Gotta Have It!: Art Inspired by Spike Lee" at Long Island University

We started off a beautiful evening by returning to our old haunt of Long Island University in downtown Brooklyn, where we taught from the winter of '75 to the summer of '78 and have only the fondest of memories for our early days in the academia racket.

Thanks to our friends at Afro-Punk, we got word about today's 6 p.m. opening reception at LIU's Salena Gallery for "We’ve Gotta Have It!: Art Inspired by Spike Lee," a showcase of
art from participants worldwide in honor of legendary filmmaker Spike Lee. Although Lee is known for his prolific moving images, his work has also influenced a multitude of visuals artists across genre, language and borders. This juried exhibit is an opportunity to showcase artwork and offer a public thank you for his inspiration.

It was the first event of this weekend's tribute to native son Spike Lee, "Where's Mars?: Brooklyn Honors Spike Lee," orchestrated by PlanIt Brooklyn (the filmmaker and his production company are not involved), and a great beginning. It drew a large and enthusiastic crowd, us among them, for a look at some really excellent art.

After getting off the G train at Fulton Street, we walked over to the familiar LIU campus (in all our time working there, we always drove from the other end of Flatbush Avenue and parked either at street meters or at the then-public lot north of Junior's), but when we saw this ghost sign as we walked on Rockwell Place, we couldn't recall rates that low. . .

Nelson George, in his wonderful memoir City Kid (our hold on the book from the Brooklyn Public Library finally brought it to us on Monday and we devoured it by Tuesday), knew Spike Lee before he was Spike Lee back in Fort Greene in the early 1980s. An investor in She's Gotta Have It, writes in his chapter on Spike:
In most successful public careers there are defining moments when that person enters the cultural consciousness. For Spike that was the 1986 Cannes Film Festival. He'd already sold She's to Island Films, after a successful screening at the San Francisco festival, so much of the pressure was off. He came into 19 Willoughby [Nelson's house] with six mock-ups of the poster, including the one that ended up in movie houses around the country. I threw in my two cents on which one I liked (the one he used!), and then gave Spike a couple of hundred dollars to spend in France on himself. It was probably the last time Spike Lee ever needed a loan.

By the time Spike came back from Europe, the game had changed forever. As "the black Woody Allen," he was a media sensation, and was smart enough to use that initial acclaim to build a massive career. Suddenly black nerds were chic. No longer were the only black Amerian role models athletes, musicians, hustlers, or activists. The bookish gal, the scholarly teen, the wannabe historian, the dedicated cinephile, while praised during black history month, had rarely been icons. Spike's visibility changed that. . .

We recall the incredible excitement we felt when we saw She's Gotta Have It at a suburban movie theater in Lauderhill, Florida. It was unlike any movie we'd ever seen, true to a part of Brooklyn and the African-American community we knew but had never been represented in mainstream films.

Obviously a whole generation grew up under Spike Lee's influence and some of the wonderful artists in this show (curated by an eminent panel) owe some debt to Spike for inspiration. Working in varied media and with different sensibilities, they nevertheless showed things in common in this show. It's easy to dismiss an exhibition like this one as a gimmick, but it's not. The work is good, and you should get down to LIU to see it.

Untitled by Jennifer Drinkwater

Our puny cell phone didn't get very good pics of these artworks, and many are unavailable on the web for obvious copyright reasons. And we couldn't post some that we really liked, like the one by Che Kothari (a favorite of ours, we appropriated one of his pic when we ran for Congress in Arizona) called k-os - Do The Right Thing - Love/Hate - Radio Raheem or an untitled photo by Alzo Slade or triple-threat-man Ka-Son Reeves' terrific Block Party painting or Sylvia Maier's haunting Portait of Spencer (Spencer Richards?). But we're posting a few others. . .

Our Story by Layla Sola

Martin Loves Coretta by Paul DEO

Crown Heights' Jen One

Mo Better by Ron Ackins

Joker Sambo by Nelson Caban

View Into A New World by Musa

A Prayer for Red-A Prayer for Malik by Marcus Anderson

We definitely enjoyed this show and are grateful to the artists, the curators Coup d'etat Arts & Raquel Wilson, the jurors, LIU and everyone behind it. And, like everyone, we're especially grateful for Spike.

You can catch We've Gotta Have It! till July 10 at Long Island University's Salena Gallery.

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