YO, BROOKLYN IS SPEAKING.
OY/YO and Understanding, the two biggest art installations in Brooklyn Bridge Park this summer, have some striking similarities. To begin with the utterly obvious, both are large-scale outdoor art installations. Both are text pieces, which is rather more unusual. Both works face Manhattan, appearing to confront the island with staunchly declared statements; yet simultaneously, both are ambiguous, their capitalized words remaining unexplained to the viewer.
Most striking, however, is the shared sentiment of both art works. In their neon colors and capital letters, both artworks demand an increased level of cultural recognition and identity from the shores of the oft-overlooked borough. In a summer of racial strife in the larger United States, they also seem to ask for something more profound: an increased acceptance and understanding for the multitude of identities, both cultural and ethnic, that make up New York City.
OY/YO is the work of Brooklyn-based artist Deborah Kass, who melds large-scale installation and small-scale wordplay in the piece. Her first monumental sculpture, OY/YO stands at the foot on the Manhattan Bridge, challenging viewers to pick a side. From one, “YO” recalls both the Spanish term for “I am” and the oft-shouted slang greeting of “Yo!” From the other side, “OY” echoes the common Yiddish word for surprise, woe, dismay, and shock. Kass sees both sides as equally important, reflecting the cultural melting pot of New York City: “That’s the beauty of “YO.”
Down at the other end of the park, Martin Creed’s Understanding appears to answer Kass’s hastily shouted exclamation. Spelled out in ten-foot-tall neon letters on a 50-foot-long steel beam, Understanding rotates 360 degrees, demanding the attention of anyone—and everyone—within range. The beam spins at varying speeds that are determined by a computerized program, pre-set by the artist. The single word is surprisingly ambiguous—does Creed mean to suggest that New York City, perhaps even this Public Park, abound with understanding, or that we severely lack it? Is this word a compliment, a suggestion, or a demand?
As bookends to the Brooklyn Bridge Park, OY/YO and Understanding could mean many things to many different individuals. I choose to believe that Creed and Kass are making a comment on both the diverse population of New York City and the frequent lack of love and care that population shows to it’s many entities. Perhaps, chastised by Brooklyn, we can all be a little more understanding.