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Prof. Michal’s Solo Show Focuses On Brooklyn’s Industrial Past, Toxic Present

Citizens Manufactured Gas Plant operated on 5th & Smith Streets to the Gowanus Canal from about 1860 until 1960. Today, the resulting contamination reaches down into the soil more than 120 feet.

The legacy of Brooklyn’s industrial past and the spectrum of pollution in which we live are captured in City Tech Assistant Professor Robin Michals’ photography exhibition, “Toxi City: Brooklyn’s Brownfields,” at the Brooklyn Lyceum, 227 4th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn, from Sunday, October 25, through Sunday, November 8. The exhibit hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The public is invited free of charge. An artist’s reception will be held Sunday, Oct. 25, 3 to 6 p.m. For more information: visit, e-mail or call 917.509.9516.

The exhibition features 30 photographs of sites in Coney Island, DUMBO, East New York, East Williamsburg, Gowanus, Greenpoint, Red Hook, Sunset Park and Williamsburg where historic uses have saturated the soils and groundwater with a lasting toxicity.

To select the sites she photographed, Michals, a Park Slope resident who teaches in City Tech’s advertising design and graphic arts department, used the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Brownfield Remediation list as a starting point to determine what qualified as a brownfield or toxic site.

In addition, she consulted old maps at the Brooklyn Historical Society. “The alphabet soup of DNAPLs, NAPLs, BTEXs, PAHs, SVOCs, VOCs, TCE, PCE, and PCBs that have been left behind at these sites can never be entirely removed; their dangers can only be better managed,” Michals says. “As we careen towards the greater impacts of climate change, brownfields remind us of the damage we are willing to inflict on the environment for the benefits of industrialism.”

Underscoring that the dichotomy of pristine and polluted is no longer a useful way of thinking, the exhibit will include photographs of sites in all phases of the clean-up process. Photographs of several completed remediation projects such as Pfizer and Lowe’s will be included as well as photographs of several sites undergoing remediation such as the Coney Island and Williamsburg Works manufactured gas plant sites.

In addition, the show will feature photographs of as-yet unremediated sites that once housed gas plants, electrical powerhouses, petroleum facilities and manufacturing operations or were tainted by landfill or dumping. Because Brooklyn is a dense, crowded, place, many of these sites are in use in some form today despite their toxicity.

Michals’ work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Rome Arts in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) Buffalo Arts Studio (Buffalo, NY) and UVM in Burlington, VT, as well as in a two-person show at Venetia Kapernekas Fine Arts in Chelsea (NYC). She has participated in group shows at the New York Hall of Science (Queens), Gigantic Artspace (NYC) and The Front Room, (Williamsburg), among others.

This event is sponsored, in part, by the Greater New York Arts Development Fund of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, administered by the Brooklyn Arts Council, Inc. (BAC), and by grants from the Puffin Foundation and the Professional Staff Congress-City University of New York Research Award Program.

The Brooklyn Lyceum, known formerly as NYC Public Bath No. 7, is a performing arts and cultural center in Park Slope. Reopened in 1994 as the Brooklyn Lyceum, the old bathhouse now plays host to a range of performance events, festivals and cultural activities.


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