Monday, March 11, 2013

Fire and the Pratt Phoenixes

March is proving to be better than February, which was a nasty month for many.
I'm so pleased to be over the February blues that I could put
on a pink tutu and dance in the Union Square subway station.
 Oh, wait, somebody fabulous is already doing that.

The above sight was seen after an event at Parsons The New School for Design NRM Gallery,
on Thursday, March 7th, which I will describe shortly.
But wait, we're not done with February yet, or even January!

One rainy night in late January I went to Pratt to the wonderful
Senior exhibition of one of my former students,
Diana Q. Ngo - the Miss Dingo...

(photo by Cameron Blaylock)

...where I also saw the work of her co-exhibitionist, Anne Hong, 
from whom I received the gift of a fish.
 As you may remember, one of my previous posts was entitled, 
"So Long Pratt, and Thanks For All the Fish"
so, in rather miraculous fashion, this event turned metaphor into reality!  

I was required to sign for my fish and note my religion,  
which I don't really have, having lost my Lutheranism quite a while back.
But I do have a rich spiritual life, which directed my choice of labels.

I really wanted one of the gold fish, but that wasn't allowed.  

I named my white fish after Kaitlin Martin's and my show at Gallery 128,
"Something Something With Fish" --
it is now nestled into my extensive home fish-art collection.

Miss Dingo's show was full of exquisite artwork that combines her love of the natural world
and its creatures with a bemused, biting but always spot-on critique of the ways in which
humans trash and clash with that beauty and wonder. 
See her website HERE.

Then, on February 15th, Dingo posted the following on her Facebook page:

"Woke up this morning to find out that my studio went up in flames last night... I think everything I worked on in the last few years is gone..."

She was right.  The senior art studios on the sixth floor of Pratt Institute's Main Building were gone,
the flames taking all the work from her exhibition,
 including three paintings which had been sold but not yet delivered.
Also destroyed were the artwork, supplies, text books, class assignments, electronic equipment, etc. 
of a number of other Pratt seniors, 
many of whom had not yet had their thesis shows.

(internet photos)
Much of the rest of the building, including classrooms and the offices of the Dean, Provost and President, suffered extensive water damage.
Fortunately, no one was hurt.  They still haven't determined the cause - arson was at first suspected,
but there is no word yet definitively.  They may never find out how it started.

The Main Building in earlier days.

(Pratt archives)

Here are some thoughts from Gerry Hayes, former Assistant Chair of Fine Arts, who had a lot of history with the sixth floor:
I feel so attached to the 5th and 6th floors in the Main Building.
So bad that they were burned and destroyed but I'm very glad no one was hurt.  Students, I'm sure feel sad about losing all or most of their paintings and drawings.

In 1982 the 6th floor was just one big open space on either side of the elevator.  I had been appointed Chair of the Painting Department by Dean Andy Phelan...With Painting Department money I bought materials to create cubicles.  Mr No (Sung Ha No ) was a graduate ( MFA ) student and was paid to oversee the construction.  Mr. No is still employed at Pratt.  This was ad hoc and 'under the radar' but I was determined to have it done. When the Physical plant found out, they were furious but after some time gave us help with labor and made sure we built according to building codes.

Senior cubicles have been changed and rebuilt since then but back then the Seniors at least
had a new semi-private space for their work, instead of dragging paintings and easels around
the huge 6th floor studio when Jack Sonenberg was the previous Chairman of what was then
the Painting Department.  They loved the new designated spaces...a reward after spending 3 years in communal class rooms.

Undergraduate Fine Arts offices were on 4th floor Main where Foundation is now. The Graduate Fine Arts program offices and cubicles were in Higgins Hall. Some years later (1990 ) Grad and UG programs were combined into one department. We moved our offices to South Hall.  Frank Lind as Chair and me as Assistant Chair...since I spent all those years in the Main Building, I do feel attached to it and regret that the fire has destroyed those floors...
Here is a comment by Alex Bird, Pratt Fine Arts alumna:
"I said earlier that the main building is a living thing-it housed us and had teachers that nurtured us. Within its walls, we laughed, cried, fought, hugged, learned, slept, taught and did countless other things and in that sense it has seen it all, and it has been seeing it all for countless students since 1887. I miss my Pratt family and my heart goes out to all the BFA students whose work and studios were lost. It makes me so, so incredibly sad."

Here are some stills from a video from another alumna, Olivia O'Dwyer, taken during her time on the Main Building's sixth floor:

6th Floor Silhouettes - Olivia O'Dwyer

Studio Sun - Olivia O'Dwyer

Long Sun Wall - Olivia O'Dwyer

Sun Stairs - Olivia O'Dwyer

(photo from Juliet Knuth's Facebook page)

Juliet Knuth has set up an Indiegogo fundraising page for victims of the fire.
Please donate to help the students:  HERE.

Information from the fundraising campaign:

"This online fundraising campaign was started for the students who lost their studios in the Pratt Institute Fire. Of the 35 senior painting majors that had their studios on the 6th floor of Pratt's Main building, more than half the studios were completely destroyed. For these students the fire meant more than losing their precious work; it also meant losing the place they had called their creative home.
The money from this account will be used to create new work and to fund a massive group show. Pratt Institute has already received generous donations in supplies and offers for show spaces. However, many students use untraditional and collected materials which cannot be easily donated or bought at art stores. The students do not yet know when or how much they will be compensated for what was lost. This money will help fund not only the supplies needed to execute their wildest artistic endeavors, but also help fund a massive and guaranteed spectacular group show. Any unused funds for this project will be passed onto the Pratt Painting Club, to fund further generations of Fine Arts Shows.
Because of the nature of our loss, and the overwhelming amount of work we now have to make up for, we do not currently have anything material to offer contributors. The immense gratitude and appreciation we have for anyone who can help us will manifest itself in the forms of new works of art.
If you would like to donate supplies to the victims of the fire, please send them to the Pratt Fine Arts Office:
Pratt Institute
Fine Arts Office, South Hall Suite 101
200 Willoughby Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11205
Or contact Dina Weiss, the chair of the department:
Pratt also has it's own support website where you can donate online. Proceeds will help rebuild Pratt's Main building."

(Susan Luss's studio, photo by Sally Novak)
Overnight, the sixth floor changed from a place to work, to hang out, 
to commune with other students, to become an artist...

(photo by Sally Novak)

...into a nightmare of devastation and destruction.

(photo by Fire Department official using Dingo's phone)

(photo by Sally Novak)

Sally Novak's studio, above, in better days;
Jiwon's, below.

(photo by Sally Novak)

Kayla Rivera, Maria de Los Angeles, Milo Wissig, below.

(photo by Sally Novak)

There were many, many post-fire meetings at Pratt, to decide what to do and where to do it.

Pratt gave the affected students generous gift certificates to help replace
lost materials, and started immediately to build new studio space for them to work in.

 (photo by Sally Novak)

(photo by Sally Novak)

(photo by Sally Novak)

Maria managed to salvage Milo's chair from the rubble,
which he showed at an exhibition/fundraising event set up by the students of Parsons
for fire-affected students to help them get back their art-momentum.
Milo fabricated this chair himself to look like a beer-bottle cap,
and it is now a rare and precious survivor of the Pratt fire.

This show takes place at the Parson's NRM Gallery, curated by the BFA students who have studios 
there.  The gallery was founded last year, and named in memory of a student, 
Nicky Ray Muller, who died of a brain tumor:  Link HERE
It is a very kind and generous gesture by these Parsons students to share their space with the Pratt seniors, and to conduct a silent auction for fundraising. 

Above, Fernanda Ferrer stands in front of her figurative work from Frank Lind's class.

Juliet Knuth and myself, above, and
Sally Novak, below with one of her post-fire works.

Floating in the center is a lone, limb-less doll, that seems especially poignant under the circumstances.

Miss Dingo, below, standing by one of her surviving prints, borrowed from a friend, right,
and a collaborative work, left, done by herself and Mick Junco since the fire.
This heartbreaking event will no doubt change the trajectory of many people's ideas and artwork.

Figures falling, one rising triumphant, in Susan Luss's new work.

Photo by Mirela Iverac/WNYC
The photo above was taken for WNYC,
 which posted a story about the show:  Link HERE

There has been a lot of press about the fire and its aftermath.

Here is Art McFarland speaking with Susan on Channel 7 WABC about the
fire and benefit:  Link HERE.

Pratt has made quickly made new temporary studios for the displaced students in the ARC building,
which also is home to the gym - it will be interesting to see how they co-exist.

(photo by Sarah Shebaro)

I guess the true test will be to see how Milo's stool fits in the new space.

The last day to donate is Thursday, March 21st!


  1. Thank you Jeanne for memorializing events of the past few weeks at Pratt. Enjoyed Gerry Haye's recollections of the 6th floor studios during his tenure as Assistant Department Chair of Fine Arts. Was great to see you at the Parsons show.

  2. Thanks, Sally. So sorry to have missed seeing your work before the fire. But look forward to seeing what will be next.

  3. Hi, Jeanne

    This is Jenny from Berkeley.
    I'm interesting you and your art work.
    Hope I can see you again in some where or your show.
    Thanks for showing your art work.