Portraits of 200 Brooklynites on view at Industry City

February 15, 2024

All photos courtesy of the Free Portrait Project

The portraits and stories of 200 South Brooklyn residents will be on display in Sunset Park later this month as part of the Free Portrait Project. During a year-long residency at Industry City that began in January 2023, artist Rusty Zimmerman selected Brooklynites to be the subjects of oil paintings and share their oral histories. The portraits, which will be given to participants for free, will be on view from Saturday, February 24 through March 25.

On February 24, the exhibition begins with a parade from Sunset Park to the opening reception at Industry City, where all 200 portraits and oral histories will be presented together for the first and only time. Zimmerman has invited all depicted Brooklynites and their friends, families, and neighbors to march in the procession, which will be led by a marching band and NYPD escort.

After the 30-day exhibition, the portraits will return to the individuals depicted in them, and their oral histories sent to the Brooklyn Public Library’s Center for Brooklyn History’s review board for inclusion in the permanent collection of oral histories of Brooklyn. Until now, the paintings have been displayed at nine concurrent exhibitions, including seven Brooklyn Public Library branches.

The Free Portrait Project was founded in 2015 when Zimmerman painted 200 portraits of Crown Heights residents to create a physical record of the community. The project goes against the traditional norms of portrait painting, giving subjects from all walks of life and economic backgrounds a free painting in an art style historically reserved for the wealthy.

“The whole thing is an elaborate trick to get neighbors to say hi to each other,” Zimmerman said. “We upend the tradition of portraiture reserved for a wealthy few by making these paintings free.”

The Free Portrait Project will be on display at 900 3rd Avenue, Building 8 in Industry City from February 24 through March 25 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.


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