Deborah Kass’s “OY/YO” Sculpture Unveiled in Brooklyn Bridge Park
On November 9, 2015, “OY/YO,” a sculpture by artist Deborah Kass, was installed on Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Main Street Lawn, where it remained until August 2016. Viewers of the sculpture, which measured 8 x 17 x 5ft, could read the word “OY” from Manhattan and the word “YO” from Brooklyn. By bringing together the Yiddish word “oy” with “yo,” which is both the Spanish word for “I am” and a more general interjection, Kass fondly alluded to New York’s overlapping ethnic communities.
Kass was born in San Antonio, TX, in 1952, to Jewish parents. She received a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University before studying at the Whitney Independent Study Program and the Arts student League in New York. She then began a successful career as an artist. Kass’ work uses appropriation, or the slight modification of existing imagery, to offer feminist critiques of male postwar artists such as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Ed Ruscha, and Frank Stella.
Kass is perhaps best known for her “Warhol Project,” a series of appropriation works that she began in 1992. Pieces in the Warhol Project challenged the exclusion inherent in much of Warhol’s work; she replaced the figures depicted in Warhol’s famous paintings with people such as Barbra Streisand, Gertrude Stein, and other female artists, including herself. In doing so, she offered what the Metropolitan Museum of Art called an “alternate canon, one that celebrated artistic achievement and denied connotations of victimhood embodied by Warhol’s often tragic muses.” Her Warhol Project was honored in a mid-career retrospective in 2013 at the Andy Warhol Museum, entitled Deborah Kass: Before and Happily Ever After.
"OY/YO” began as an appropriation painting, too. In 2011, Kass painted the word “OY” as a reference to Ed Ruscha’s OOF word painting (1962), inserting Jewish identity into her reading of twentieth-century male artists just as she had done by swapping Warhol’s muses with women like Barbra Streisand. After a friend’s suggestion, Kass began to include the word “yo” in later renditions of the piece, including a two-sided billboard. Turning the painting “OY” into the sculpture “OY/YO” expanded both the depth of art-historical reference and the breadth of inclusivity injected into her appropriation of earlier works. “OY/YO” became not only a reference to OOF, but also to Pablo Picasso’s self-portrait entitled “Yo, Picasso” (1901) and Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” sculpture. It also came to evoke New York’s ethnic diversity, speaking to the historic and continued overlap between Jewish, Black, and Latinx communities—which Kass calls the “heart and soul of this country” in New York and beyond.
Bromwich, Jonah Engel. “Oy or Yo? Sculpture with Something to Say Lands at Brooklyn Bridge.” The New York Times, November 10, 2015, sec. New York. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/11/nyregion/a-sculpture-with-something-to-say-lands-in-brooklyn-bridge-park.html.
Cascone, Sarah. “Deborah Kass’s First Monumental Sculpture.” Artnet News, November 11, 2015. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/deborah-kass-oy-yo-brooklyn-sculpture-359534.
“Deborah Kass | Artnet.” Accessed May 23, 2022. http://www.artnet.com/artists/deborah-kass/.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Deborah Kass | Blue Deb.” Accessed May 23, 2022. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/687414.
“OY/YO by Deborah Kass Is Here!,” November 10, 2015. https://dumbo.is/blogging/two-trees-management-company-presents-deborah-kass-oyyo.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Deborah Kass’s “OY/YO” Sculpture Unveiled in Brooklyn Bridge Park." (Viewed on August 17, 2022) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/nov/09/2015/deborah-kasss-oyyo-sculpture-unveiled-brooklyn-bridge-park>.