Recession-Inspired Art Grows in Brooklyn

The recession has touched nearly every corner of the economy, and an exhibit on display in Brooklyn, N.Y.—entitled Plan B—explores how artists are being creatively and financially affected by the downturn.

"I was curious to see how emerging artists, who are a community that typically works with few resources, were responding to all the changes and decreased resources that all of society was adapting to," said curator Krista Saunders.

Jess Levey's "Paint it Black"
Photo: Jess Levey
Jess Levey's "Paint it Black"

Through her research, which included interviews with dozens of artists around New York City, Saunders found that emerging artists were recreating their current circumstances instead of trying to fix what had worked in the past and was no longer viable.

"There was a really optimistic spirit that came along with the challenges, and they really seized the moment to generate new works, new styles of working and really more sustained networks for each other," added Saunders.

Multimedia artist Jess Levey was inspired after being laid off last fall by Hearst Magazines, where she had worked for 10 years. In the two weeks she and her colleagues were given to pack up their belongings, Levey created a photo series documenting the process. The photos include shots of boxes piled on top of one another and empty office spaces. Levey also filmed herself blacking out a large photo of her former office building—the Hearst Tower in New York.

"It was helpful for me to share what I was going through," said Levey about her artwork. "I thought it would be very liberating to be laid off, but instead I went through an identity crisis and a questioning of my own self worth...and it made me think a lot about this emphasis we put on work for our own identity."

Sculptor Mark Stafford exhibited two works at the Plan B show. One was a sculpture made entirely from discarded circuit boards, which Stafford said are part of the "garbage economy." His second work, entitled The Sunday Painter, is an easel for artists who lost their studios and relocated their work spaces to their apartments.

"The idea behind The Sunday Painter is to create an easel that can be stored in your room if you're renting or you only have one room and you've been kicked out of your studio due to financial concerns," explained Stafford. "What happens to a lot of artists in New York is they don't make art anymore, and then they're stuck in this crappy job where they're not really happy but they can't earn enough money to rent a studio to make more art, so I'm trying to offer them a solution."

Painter and self-proclaimed social sculpture artist Tattfoo Tan decided to make artistic lemonade out of lemons. He took all of his unsold paintings and created a teepee with the canvases. The teepee - entitled Teapi - featured at the exhibit was a Valentine's gift to Tan's wife and serves as a creative thinking space for the couple and their friends.

Tattfoo Tan

"My paintings have changed from a commodity that's very precious and worth a lot of money to something that's not precious and is being used as a sort of attraction," said Tan. "They attract people to come in and activate the space, and the space and activity are more powerful and more precious right now to me than the painting itself."

Saunders says she hopes those who come to see the exhibit are inspired by the creativity that can materialize despite the lack of resources.

"There can be a plan B, an optimistic outcome to what might seem detrimental or negative or apocalyptic, such as the economic recession," she concluded.

The Plan B exhibit is on display at the NURTUREart Gallery in Brooklyn, New York through Oct. 24. For more information visit

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