Maybe it was the ostentatious elegance of the tables set for the Brooklyn Museum's gala honoring Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner.
(Photos by Adrian Kinloch, except the Gloria Mattera shot. Click to enlarge.)
Maybe it was the parade of limousines and SUVs bringing well-dressed guests--at $500 to $1000 and more a plate--to an event that protesters likely arrived at via the 2/3 subway line. Maybe it was a sense that Forest City Ratner, however stalled in its plans for most of Atlantic Yards, is in the driver's seat, with most elected officials yet to challenge the developer. Maybe it's that demolitions promise increased blight around the Atlantic Yards footprint. Maybe it's just the accumulation of grievances.
But the protest organized by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn last night outside the museum was notably angry, with some 80 people gathering at one point, many chanting "Ratner is a liar" and "Shame on you" at vehicles coming to drop off their passengers. (More people arrived later, as others left, so total attendance probably topped 100.) Taking off from the museum's function, several people carried signs calling Ratner a "con artist."
Lawyer and urban planner Michael White, he of the lengthy open letter to the museum, wore a cape and recited quotes through the ages about "honor." (Sample: "Nobody can acquire honor by doing what is wrong."--Thomas Jefferson.)
A few protesters, including Green Party stalwart Gloria Mattera (left), wore evening dress.
(Here's the Brooklyn Paper's editorial justifying the protest and the contention by Sid Meyer that protesters went too far.)
A long night
The protest started at 6:30, when guests began arriving for the cocktail hour. Tables set in the museum's entry pavilion were joined by art from the museum's Murakami exhibition; projections on brick columns suggested the latticework of the Brooklyn Bridge.
As the night wore on and got colder, the crowd diminished somewhat but remained feisty. Because several still and video camerafolk had been filming, the protesters seemed unsurprised when a well-dressed man approached them and began snapping photos.
"Where are you from?" he was asked, the question implying an affiliation with news media.
"Brooklyn," he responded, and began a testy exchange. Closer inspection revealed he was wearing a laminated ID that said "Security." He continued to take pictures, then returned inside the museum with, likely, documentary evidence of Brooklyn residents never to appear on the museum's short list for the Augustus Graham Medal.
Though some people walking into the gala took protest flyers and others cordially ignored the protesters--heck, many were likely from Manhattan and points distant--not everyone bringing guests to the gala liked what they saw, as the photo shows.
Through the windows
Given the glass walls of the pavilion, speakers at the podium were visible, at least from the back.
The protest dissolved before the guest of honor spoke--he was to be introduced by Atlantic Yards architect Frank Gehry--but protesters did spot Borough President Marty Markowitz at the podium.
"Marty's Ratner's whore," some in the group shouted. That was soon amended to "Marty sucks" and then, more cordially and with more participation, "Marty sold out Brooklyn."
That almost surely was not the sentiment inside the museum. Perhaps not coincidentally, yesterday Crain's New York Business announced a "Business of Arts and Culture" breakfast April 30 on the topic "Dealing with controversy."
One of the three speakers will be Brooklyn Museum head Arnold Lehman, who famously clashed with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over the "Sensation" show in 1999.
Now he has a fresher issue to discuss. After all, as one sign stated, "Elephant dung can be art. Eminent domain abuse can't." Another decried a "'Dung' Deal."