University Exhibit Sparks Interest in New York's "Silent" Waterfront

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A new multimedia exhibit on New York City’s ever-changing waterfront drew art lovers, artists, museum archivists and the campus community to an opening reception at St. John’s University’s Dr. M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery on Thursday, September 19.

Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City’s Forgotten Waterfront depicts the shoreline’s continually shifting relationship with the city. The exhibit, which is open to the public, is on view at the Queens, NY, campus through November 9, 2013. A series of related events—including faculty and artist panels and readings, documentary screenings and outings to waterfront sites like Newtown Creek on the border of Brooklyn and Queens—is also scheduled.

“Presenting this extraordinary exhibit is an extremely effective way for the University to raise community awareness about the importance of the waterfront and the need to address its growing environmental issues,” said Robert Mangione, Ed.D., R.Ph., Provost and Professor of Pharmacy. “In addition to providing an aesthetic and educational experience, we want to inspire visitors, especially students, to volunteer their services to help improve and protect our fragile coastline.”

Curated by artist Elizabeth Albert, Assistant Professor of Core Studies and Art and Design, the show focuses on the city’s forgotten or remote coastline beaches. Albert describes the three-year process of assembling the exhibit as a voyage of discovery. “I learned so much about the interrelationship between the development of the shoreline and changing business, cultural, ecological and sociological trends,” she said.

Albert has combined the work of acclaimed local artists, photographers and videographers with material from such archival sources as the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Public Library and the Hart Island Project.  Their work spotlights sites like Sandy Ground on Staten Island, one of the nation’s first free black settlements; Dead Horse Bay in Brooklyn, once home to horse-rendering plants and now part of the Gateway National Recreational Area; and Hart Island in the Bronx, home to reformatories and prisons and the current site for mass graves of the city’s unclaimed dead.

There are also images of coastline areas affected by Superstorm Sandy, which struck just as Albert was finishing the research for this project.

“This exhibit is amazing,” said Michael De Benedetto ’15C, who is majoring in English. “I am a great fan of history, and it is very exciting to be able to see what our waterfront looked like 100 years ago.”

Ka-seem Allah ’15CPS, a legal studies major, was also enthusiastic. “As someone who is very familiar with the Gowanus Canal,” he said, “I really appreciate these photos of the Canal when it was rural and populated by Native Americans.”

Melinda Hunt, a local artist whose photographs of Hart Island grace one of the walls of the gallery, said, “I am honored to see my work hanging alongside that of so many of the city’s most innovative artists.”

“All of this would not have been possible without the University-wide support I have received,” Albert said. In addition to a research grant from St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, she cites assistance from the Department of Art and Design, the Institute for Core Studies, the Institute for Writing Studies, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Student Development and the Yeh Art Gallery.

Recent graduate Dana Jefferson ’13C, who earned a B.F.A. in Graphic Design and is now a full-time  graphic artist, designed the show’s catalogue as well as other promotional materials.  She said, “Issues like neglected waterfronts, pollution and the environment are very important to me. I was also inspired by the University’s and Professor Albert’s genuine concern for these coastline beachfronts.”