There aren't many opportunities for members of the public to wander through the derelict buildings at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which are shuttered to all but the most intrepid of urban explorers. And as big changes come to the campus—more mixed-use developments, an expanded Steiner Studios, a Wegmans where Admiral's Row once stood—it becomes increasingly harder to imagine what it must have looked like in the Navy Yard's heyday. Tours regularly take curious onlookers around the massive complex, but buildings like the Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital, which was built in the 19th century, are off-limits to most. But thanks to a new art installation, the public is now allowed to go inside the hospital for what may be the last time before redevelopment happens.
German artist Bettina WitteVeen worked with Steiner Studios and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation to bring her new exhibit, "When We Were Soldiers… once and young (WWWS)," to the hospital building. It's the first time that an exhibit has been staged in the building, and her subject matter—war, genocide, and the toll that they take on humanity—is fitting for a structure that was once used to treat soldiers injured in battle. Historic photos are scattered throughout the building so as you walk through, you may encounter images of soldiers on a field displayed above a dilapidated fireplace, or hidden in an old latrine. The photos are placed in chronological order, starting with images from the 19th century (including one of Brooklyn's own Walt Whitman), and ending with photos that depict modern warfare. (Be warned: It's not for the faint of heart.)
And of course, part of the appeal of the exhibit is to see inside the hospital itself. Curbed explored the site several years ago, and while there have been some changes for the exhibit—as Doug Steiner, president of Steiner Studios, told us, it had to be brought up to code so people could enter it—the structure remains eerily empty and decayed. But there was one addition: a wheelchair ramp at the building's entrance, which required the erection of scaffolding on the exterior. It's the only modern addition to a relic from the not-so-distant past.
· "When We Were Soldiers…once and young" [Official]
· Exploring the Eerily Empty Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital [Curbed]
· All Brooklyn Navy Yard Coverage [Curbed]