Shirley Fiterman Art Center, Brooklyn Manhattan Community College

Edification value  2/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 17 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Marc Andre Robinson creates graceful, biological forms out of pieces of cast-off furniture, adapting curves that once graced chair and table legs to more organic purpose. “Flight” looks like a giant jellyfish or cephalopod, drifting through the air on some errand of great importance.

Marc Andre Robinson at BMCC's Shirley Fiterman Art Center
Marc Andre Robinson, “Flight,” 2017, reclaimed wood furniture

Shirley Fiterman Art Gallery BMCC CollegeBefore I started this project, I never realized how many of New York’s city-run and community colleges have a space for art somewhere on their campuses. Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) adds another to that list.  BMCC has had its campus in Lower Manhattan since 1983. Fiterman Hall, the college’s flagship building, was severely damaged on September 11, and needed to be entirely rebuilt.

I can only imagine the challenges of fundraising and working through layers of both academic and civic bureaucracy that entailed. However, the college finally prevailed and rebuilt Fiterman Hall, with the new building opening in 2012. Designed by Pei, Cobb, and Partners, the new Fiterman Hall includes the Shirley Fiterman Art Center, a smallish gallery space.

The building’s exterior as a whole is rather bland and stolid, although I respect it for its use of brick in the facade to reflect its academic purpose. The brick is especially nice given that the last thing the World Trade Center area needs is another homogeneous, glassy, faceted, nearly invisible building. And the Fiterman Center, located prominently in the lobby, works quite well.

Shirley Fiterman Art Gallery BMCC College

The space consists of two main galleries, one at the front and the other at the back of the building. A long, slightly curving hallway connects these, and provides additional wall space, as well as views of other interior spaces. The main areas both feature high ceilings and large windows, with the front of the gallery looking south toward the World Trade Center complex. On the day I went, the north gallery windows were covered to create a white box space and more area for hanging work.

Shirley Fiterman Art Gallery BMCC College

The Roaming Eye

Judith Linhares at BMCC's Shirley Fiterman Art Center
Judith Linhares, “Rabbit,” 2005, oil on linen

On the day I visited, I saw an exhibit called “The Roaming Eye.” According to the curators’ statement this show pulls together art focused on “surface, shape, line and color” with an “element of surprise and revelation.” That piques my curiosity about visual art that’s not concerned with surface, shape, line, and color — does it exist?

Given the theme, it surprised me that the curators did not include any artists who use optical illusions or trompe l’oeil effects. No messes of seemingly abstract dots that pop into a three-dimensional cow when you cross your eyes. And nothing digital either, which seems like highly fertile ground for artists pushing the boundaries of surface, etc., these days.  Moreover, a couple of works felt derivative — one resembled a Helen Frankenthaler, another evoked Brice Marden.

On the other hand, and I did like a great deal of the art on display. Interesting and often witty, and the curators made interesting choices contrasting abstract pieces with representational ones. In addition to Marc Andre Robinson’s reclaimed wood sculptures, I also particularly liked the psychedelic bunny above. And a piece featuring overlapped burned and painted canvases stood out as well, managing to be simultaneously calligraphic and almost sculptural.

Kathleen Kucka at BMCC's Shirley Fiterman Art Center
Kathleen Kucka, “Sun Still Tender (9 Panels),” 2017, burns and oil paint on canvas

Should You Visit the Shirley Fiterman Art Center?

Lower Manhattan boasts a good supply of museums, but relatively few art museums. Sure, a fair amount of art livens up dreary corporate plazas and decorates office building lobbies. And you can see Fraunces Tavern’s middlebrow collection of early 1900s patriotic paintings. But the Shirley Fiterman Art Center is fairly unique in the area as a non-profit institution devoted to contemporary art. Like Lehman College’s art gallery, I get the sense that this place programs shows worth seeing. And I’m far more likely to find myself downtown in Manhattan than I am the far reaches of the Bronx.

Anyone interested in contemporary art should definitely have this place on their radar. And I’d also recommend a visit as a short, easy art break for anyone on their way to or from the somber museums of the World Trade Center.

For Reference:

Address Brooklyn Manhattan Community College, 81 Barclay Street, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  Free


2 Replies to “Shirley Fiterman Art Center, Brooklyn Manhattan Community College”

Comments are closed.