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Long Island City show releases tension with soothing art

Artists and borough residents celebrated National Relaxation Day at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City Sunday with an exhibit that explored the idea of rest, including a piece that was slowly melting and another made with flowers that are typically placed at grave sites.

Thirteen artists from throughout the city, and one from San Francisco, exhibited works at the second-annual Sculpture Sabbath, a one-day celebration of the holiday that encourages people to kick back and relax. The first Sculpture Sabbath was shown at Peter Cooper Park in Manhattan.

The celebration is the brainchild of Jory Rabinovitz, the show’s co-curator, who said the exhibit gives artists a chance to show their work in a different setting than usual: an outdoor space framed by Manhattan’s skyline across the water.

“There’s this dichotomy playing out with public sculpture,” said Rabinovitz, a sculptor from Bushwick. “On the one hand, it has given this role to culture or to affect the public viewer.”

On the other hand, Rabinovitz said the sculptures will not necessarily be viewed as art but as something more functional, such as something on which to rest or play.

“It also serves as a chair for an old man, something to be climbed for a child or a makeout spot for a teen,” he said. “It’s asked to be both at once.”

Rabinovitz is one of 18 recipients of Socrates’ 2010 Emerging Artist Fellowship. The fellows will show their works at an exhibit that opens Sept. 12.

By having a one-day exhibit outdoors, the show gave artists a chance to use materials they may not have used in a gallery setting, said co-curator Bridget Donahue.

“It can be hard to find a public space to have an exhibit, so it was great to have it here and let artists get the opportunity to realize what it means to work outdoors,” said Donahue, who lives in the East Village.

Riley Hooker, for example, was able to employ ice for his piece that explored relaxation as something that is almost nerve-wracking because the individual who hopes to relax knows his or her time to kick back is dwindling — as represented by the melting ice. The sculpture was of a chair that had a back made of ice and a seat of wood. There was a large rock placed in the seat.

“During relaxation, it can seem like time is always ticking,” said Hooker, a Greenpoint-based sculptor with a background in design.

Tatiana Kronberg, an artist originally from Russia who now lives in Williamsburg, spelled out “rest” in white silk flowers usually used for funerals or placed by tombstones.

“The idea behind it is what’s going on when you’re resting,” Kronberg said. “Are you dead? In the city, rest can be seen as a negative thing. It’s judged. As an artist, you’re always supposed to be moving. You’re a shark.”

Kronberg said she hopes those who come to the exhibit will think about what rest means to them. “What is rest?” Kronberg asked. “What is eternal rest vs. a moment of rest in this park?”

Long Island City resident Maria Blacque-Belair said she really enjoyed the exhibit and regularly comes to Socrates Sculpture Park.

“It’s great,” she said. “Every time there’s something new, and it’s a space where everyone can run free. It’s a special place for the community.”

Omar Karim, also of Long Island City, agreed.

“We come here a lot to bring our dogs and we’ll talk a walk around to see the art,” Karim said. “They always have a lot going on. It brings a lot to the area.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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