The Brooklyn Museum hasn’t only been the borough’s leading displayer of art for decades. From the 1940s into the 1980s, it also housed an intensive, semester-based art school that produced and attracted some huge industry names: students such as Robert Kobayashi and Julian Schnabel, and instructors such as Donald Judd and Francis Cunningham. (Jean-Michel Basquiat likely attended some classes too, as a “Junior Member” of the museum.)
In 1985, the program was folded into the Pratt Institute, where it could begin granting degrees. And although the museum has continued to offer art classes, its education center, which hadn’t been renovated since at least the early 1980s, gradually fell into disrepair.
“It was a really depressing space. It was really dark, shabby and it always felt kind of like this disconnect between the incredible Brooklyn audiences that we serve and then the space that felt kind of bootleg, to be honest,” says Adjoa Jones de Almeida, the museum’s deputy director for learning and social impact.
A sparkling new gallery space within the center debuted Saturday with a rainbow clay installation called Artland, by Korean artist Do Ho Suh, which invites visitors to add to the quirky display with their figures and other inventions. (In Artland, a press release reads, “There is no government. Buses don’t have drivers. In Artland, most things are gender neutral — anyone can express themselves however they please!”)
‘Artland’: An Installation by Do Ho Suh and children, 2022 (Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates, London)
The museum is not radically expanding its offerings — which span painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture and more, and cater separately to kids and adults, with occasional curated events for teens. The museum also reaches tens of thousands of Brooklyn public school students through its programs annually, and this year it is launching a mobile museum of sorts, housed in an Airstream trailer, to reach even more.
But for anyone going to classes in the museum’s education center, they will undoubtedly notice the welcomed renovations that had been discussed for at least a decade, according to Jones de Almeida.
“The physical space has transformed and is inviting in light, and just energizing the space and inviting folks in,” says Shamilia McBean Tocruray, the museum’s co-director of education. “It’s also fueling a real vitalization of creativity and pushing for the legacy of this work [of the art school].”
It’s an exciting year for the museum, which is turning 200 this year. Stay tuned for more on its slate of anniversary celebrations.