Kota Ezawa, best known for remaking images from popular culture and history, has created a sculptural tribute to Funtown Pier, the Seaside Heights, New Jersey boardwalk amusement park devastated last year by Hurricane Sandy. The piece, titled Boardwalk, can be found on the corner of 3rd and Mission on the 3rd Street courtyard at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Boardwalk gives greater physical presence to the visual language Ezawa has been working with for years, namely stripping culturally charged images down to their core elements, rendering them in planes of flat color to give them a simplified, animated aesthetic. Through cut plywood, paint and metal framework we are invited to examine our relationship with a reduced if not romanticized notion of an American icon, the amusement park.
Ezawa describes his piece as “Visual disaster relief” and began work on it shortly after Sandy destroyed the pier and amusement park. Boardwalk is a strong reminder that people are still in the process of rebuilding so many months after the storm. However the piece, and the artist’s work in general, falls short of making any sort of overt political statement. Boardwalk is about the place it references and the idea of the amusement park. Ezawa’s paring down and remaking gives us space to consider our relationship to iconography and examine the construction of culture without advocating any particular point of view. Thankfully, Boardwalk lacks any reference to the annoying side of Seaside Heights that has recently fist-pumped its way into our collective subconscious. It’s worth noting that amusement parks were established as destinations for working class city-dwellers to escape and have fun during the economic prosperity of the late 1800s through the turn of the century and again during the 1950s after Disneyland was completed. Funtown Pier opened in 1960.
Given that history, Boardwalk suggests an interesting relationship to the museum as institution. Museums, like theme parks, also provide respite for people taking a break from their busy lives. Currently the YBCA offers a wide range of innovative contemporary programming: In the Main Gallery Migrating Identities examines ways in which participating artists’ identities have been transformed by the contemporary confluence of mobility, cultural retention, and personal history. The film Band of Sisters features activist nuns who work as organic farmers, environmental attorneys, peace activists, holistic health care practitioners, podcasters, and more. Throughout the upcoming year, performance artist Dohee Lee will present ARA Gut (Ritual of Ocean) which features a new ritual for the urban environment that is meant to heal the relationship between man and nature. The YBCA is well-known for presenting smart alternative perspectives and, in the right context, funnel cakes and cotton candy would not necessarily be out of place there. Think of it as an amusement park for your brain.
The real boardwalk at Seaside Heights was recently rebuilt, but the amusement park features are still under construction with plans to reopen next summer.
Kota Ezawa’s Boardwalk will be on view at the YBCA through November 15th. You can watch a video about the making of “Boardwalk” here. For more information on upcoming programming and gallery hours at the YBCA visit here.
-Contributed by Kelly Inouye