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David Brooks Hits the Pavement

March 31, 2017

Does a skater ever stop being a skater? Coasting along the streets of New York City on his skateboard, artist David Brooks maps his evolution from teen skater to ambitious sculptor, guiding us through pivotal moments of inspiration and seminal projects. Brooks brought his board with him when he moved to New York from rural Indiana in the mid-nineties for college, and used it to explore the city’s dynamic cultural landscape.

Discovering that the artifacts in the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art had a functional aspect—each face embodying a specific individual—was an epiphany for Brooks as he began to understand art as something that could actively engage with the world at large. “When I realized what was behind them,” the artist says of the totems from Papua New Guinea, “it definitely shattered a particular preconceived idea of what art was.” That moment continues to significantly influence his work as the artist utilizes the historical and cultural connections of real world materials, like sprayable concrete in his 2010 installation Preserved Forest at MoMA PS1.

Just a few blocks away at The Explorers Club, a professional society for scientists and explorers, Brooks discusses how the race to the “great firsts” at the turn of the twentieth century reversed itself as we entered the twenty-first. Instead he says, we’ve begun to understand exploration as granular, with life’s beauty hiding in the details that often go overlooked. The artist applies this microscopic lens in the creation of Continuous Service Altered Daily (2016) at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, pulling apart a 1976 John Deere combine harvester into its hundreds of constituent parts to reveal the complex ecosystem of machinery within.

Though Brooks ultimately gave up on skating professionally to become an artist, the connection between skating and his creative process is still a strong one. Not only through his use of materials, but also in the artist’s creative adaptability to and complex understanding of the urban built environment. “There is an infinite number of variations of things one can do with a skateboard,” says the artist, “and it never quite ends so it will always keep going the more you put into it.”

Featuring Romantic-era piano music by composers Edvard Grieg (Lyric Pieces op.12 No. 2) and Franz Schubert (Impromptu No. 4 in A flat major, D. 899).

More information and credits


New York Close Up Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Director: Nick Ravich. Editor: Mary Ann Toman. Cinematography: Tyler Haft. Sound & Production Assistant: Logan Floyd. Design & Graphics: Open & Urosh Perisic. Artwork & Archival Photography Courtesy: David Brooks, Cathy Carver, MoMA PS1, NASA, & Tom Powel Imaging. Music Courtesy: Harris Andersen, Circus Marcus, Museopen, Musicians from Marlboro, & Paul Pitman. Thanks: Lacey Flint, Kevin Murphy, Rebecca Schear, Naomi Takafuchi, The Explorers Club & The Metropolitan Museum of Art. © Art21, Inc. 2017. All rights reserved.

New York Close Up is supported, in part, by The Lambent Foundation; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; VIA Art Fund; Lévy Gorvy; and by individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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David Brooks

David Brooks was born in 1975 in Brazil, Indiana, and lives and works in New York. Brooks’s work is driven by his interest in the ways in which humans interact with natural and built environments. Working as a volunteer with biologists in the Amazon basin, the artist draws parallels between the scientific process and an artistic desire to understand the world. His projects often bring natural elements into an art context.

“It’s the life behind it, and the truth content within it, that is actually really quite extraordinary and goes far beyond what it appears to be.”

David Brooks

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Art Beyond Appearance

Artist David Brooks describes how his experience with artifacts from Papua New Guinea inspired a newfound understanding of art objects existing beyond an aesthetic experience, with the potential to connect to functional, real-world elements. Brooks first encountered these artifacts in the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when he came to New York from Indiana in the 1995 to attend college at the Cooper Union.

Deconstructing the Built Environment

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