Spirits of Hip-Hop Cypher Exhibit Debuts at Socrates Sculpture Park in LIC

By Lore Croghan

Thank you, Mark di Suvero.

Because of you, Queens residents have a free outdoor museum on the East River’s shoreline instead of a landfill.

The distinguished sculptor led a coalition of artists and community members that created Socrates Sculpture Park in 1986 on 4.5 acres of wasteland. The park, at 32-01 Vernon Blvd. in Long Island City, is open every day of the year from 9 a.m. until sunset.

New Yorkers are familiar with di Suvero’s work even if they’re not students of art history.

His 70-foot-tall red-painted steel sculpture, “Joie de Vivre,” stands at Zuccotti Park near the World Trade Center. When Occupy Wall Street protesters camped out at the park in 2011, images of the sculpture appeared in news coverage day after day, week after week.

Di Suvero has been supportive of fellow artists throughout his lengthy career. So it’s only fitting that the Long Island City sculpture park he launched three decades ago has a summer fellowship program that provides outdoor studio space and stipends to emerging artists.

The work this year’s fellows created is on display through March 10 in an exhibition called the Socrates Annual.

Brooklynites, if you want to show your support for our borough’s artists, several of them are 2018 Socrates Sculpture Park fellows.

A Skinny 'Peddler' and a Pink Tower

If you’re in the mood for a water-borne adventure, the NYC Ferry’s Astoria dock is a five-minute walk from Socrates Sculpture Park. Just be sure to check the ferry schedule if you’re planning a weekend visit because boats stop there far less frequently than they do on weekdays. Or you can take the N train to the park.

One of the most eye-catching works in the Socrates Annual is “Free Peddler,” a larger-than-life human figure with spaghetti-thin limbs by Brooklyn-based artist Antone Konst.

Instead of carrying a traditional pack, this sculptural traveling salesperson totes a set of shelves stocked with small items. Signs posted on the shelves say they’re spaces for “free exchange” and encourage visitors to bring objects to leave behind and take things they want.

Konst has a bachelor’s degree from the California Institute of the Arts and a master’s degree from Yale School of Art.

Nearby, there’s “Fort-Dress,” a pink, 12-foot-tall tower made of plexiglass, resin and steel by Brooklyn-based artist Amy Brener.

You can stand inside this sculpture — as though you're taking shelter within a tiny fortress or putting on a giant dress.

“My pieces are artifacts from an imagined future,” Brener said in a 2014 story published in Sight Unseen, an online magazine about design and the visual arts.

Brener earned a bachelor’s degree in studio arts at the University of British Columbia and a master of fine arts degree from Hunter College.

Info about these sculptures’ dimensions and the materials with which they were made comes from a printed map of the exhibition that’s available at the sculpture park. Info about the artists’ education comes from brief biographies posted on Socrates Sculpture Park’s website.

Art Made With Crushed Beer Cans

A sculpture by Brooklyn-based artist Leander Mienardus Knust called “Re-Material Wall” is a science experiment – a collection of electrified jars filled with bright blue liquid and copper piping.

He got a bachelor of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

One of Socrates Sculpture Park’s 2018 fellowship winners, Brooklyn-based artist Ronen Gamil, is the Prospect Park Alliance’s horticulture supervisor.

His art installation at Socrates Sculpture Park, which is called “Home(-) and Garden,” consists of clusters of miniature tents surrounded by plants.

The tiny tents are covered with flattened aluminum beer and soda cans. Don’t be fooled by their bright, cheerful colors. When you read the exhibition map, you find out that they’re mini replicas of homeless encampments.

Gamil earned a master of urban planning degree at City College of New York.

Hip-Hop Homage

Brooklyn-based sculptor Nicholas Missel’s work at Socrates Sculpture Park is called “The Real Deal: Soft Touch & a Gentle Push.”

It consists of two giant mounds of dirt-encrusted silicone rubber that look like they’ve partly melted into the ground.

Missel made casts of actual machinery, namely a compact loader and a bulldozer.

He has a bachelor’s degree from Kansas City Art Institute and a master of fine arts degree from Rhode Island School of Design.

The exhibition has a soundtrack. It comes from speakers embedded in the pedestals of sculptures by Astoria-based artist Sherwin Banfield.

It’s the music of hip-hop greats Jam Master Jay, Phife Dawg and Prodigy, whose portrait busts stand atop the pedestals.

Banfield’s work is called “A Cypher in Queens.”

He has a bachelor of fine arts degree from Parsons School of Design.

Other intriguing pieces in the exhibition include a sculpture called “Tropticon” by artist Joiri Minaya.

It’s a greenhouse whose windows are covered with perforated vinyl decorated with designs depicting lush foliage. When you step inside, there are no plants growing. And the windows look like plain, transparent glass.