David Schafer: Plaza of the First Reader

About the Exhibition

Plaza of the First Reader by David Schafer (b.1955, Kansas City, MO) explores the connection between language and identity in the arena of public art. Multiple genres of exterior life resonate throughout Schafer’s work, which commingles commemoration with entertainment, evoking carnivals, boardwalks and circuses in the center of the Brooklyn plaza.

The imposing physicality of Schafer’s tent-like superstructure recalls both the circus big top and the heroic scale of the 19th-century monument. The letters “B-e” firmly address and advise the viewer. Still, even this measure of ironic didacticism is disrupted in two ways: by the interjection of an alternate reading of the monument as entertainment and by the placement of the lettering. The letter “B” is elevated far above, up in the tree branches, and the letter “e” can be seen on a platform on the ground. Comprehension of the artwork’s message demands the active participation of the reader, creating meaning from apparently random distinct elements—creating words from letters.

Similarly, a sign that spells out “S-E-E” and a telescope-like structure that can be read as “S-A-Y” also engage the viewer. Like the advertisements and telescopes found in public places, these items organize the act of looking, instructing the viewer as to what is significant in the field of vision. Schafer’s work also addresses the viewer as consumer—through written language one is instructed to participate in prescribed activities: see, say, be. As in previous works by Schafer, the role of language in the articulation of the self is important. The title “First Reader,” along with the structure of the installation, is reminiscent of early childhood books.



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