DEATH TO THE LIVING, Long Live Trash, a critical, provocative look at the ecological impact of capitalism across centuries, connects the history of American maritime art to current themes of environmental justice. The exhibition presents a suite of new works by Brooklyn-based artist Duke Riley (American, born 1972). Many are shown in the Museums seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American period rooms known as the Jan Martense Schenck and Nicholas Schenck houses, which will be open for visitors to step inside for the first time. This immersive display emphasizes the exhibitions historical context and creates a vivid dialogue between past and present environmental devastation. The artist has also selected examples of nineteenth-century scrimshaw from the Brooklyn Museum
s collection to draw further parallels between the whaling and plastics industries, and between the decimation of whale populations and of New Yorks waterways. DEATH TO THE LIVING, Long Live Trash is on view through April 23, 2023.
The presentation opens with video footage of Riley catching several species of fish with a lure made from a used tampon applicator found on the beach. It continues with over 250 new and recent works from Rileys Poly S. Tyrene Memorial Maritime Museum series, which reenvisions traditional New England maritime craftssuch as sailors valentinesthrough the use of bottle caps, syringes, and other plastic beach trash. The series also includes Rileys contemporary interpretation of scrimshaw (ink drawings historically etched into whales teeth), replacing commemorative portraits of whaling captains and shipowners with those of CEOs and lobbyists from the plastic, beverage, and petroleum industries, and swapping the mediums base material of bone with repurposed plastic containers. In addition, two of New York Citys Superfund sites (Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal) are represented in Rileys signature map drawings, accompanied by interviews with his friends from the liveaboard boat communities who have been inhabiting these contaminated waterways for the past two decades.
Rileys practice often tackles political and social issues and examines the relationship between the precarious nature of the waterfront and transgressive culture. The artist works across drawing, printmaking, mosaic, sculpture, performance interventions, and complex multimedia installations, intertwining obscure historical events with populist myths to shine light on social and environmental issues that remain unsolved. From presenting historical reenactments, such as his elaborate recreation of a Revolutionary War submarine mission in After the Battle of Brooklyn (2007), to scouring New York and northeastern beaches for the trash that he transforms into his canvases, Riley seeks to emphasize what nearby communities have at stake in the devastation of their regional ecosystems. As part of the exhibitions call for visitors to assess the impact of their personal consumption of plastic, the Museum is developing partnerships with the New York Aquarium, among other institutions, and grassroots organizations to promote education around green consumer habits and the restoration of New York waterways.
Duke Riley has consistently challenged dominant narratives around important social and political issues through his drawings, installations, and public art projects. Executed with a rollicking mischievous streak, Rileys work in this exhibition offers an exciting opportunity to explore his longtime passion for maritime history as well as contemporary environmental issues, particularly the detrimental impact of pollution and single-use plastics on New Yorks waterfront communities, says Liz St. George, Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts.
DEATH TO THE LIVING, Long Live Trash is on view through April 23, 2023. The exhibition is organized by Duke Riley and Liz St. George, Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts, with Shea Spiller, former Curatorial Assistant, Arts of the Americas and Europe, Brooklyn Museum.