The New York Times
10 Galleries to Visit in Brooklyn and Queens
by Martha Schwendener
April 16, 2015
The difference between Brooklyn and the city’s other art districts is that a huge number of artists actually live here — ask anyone who’s reviewed applications for grants or fellowships for artists.
As they are everywhere, however, the art neighborhoods are in flux. Williamsburg remains a gallery destination, but it’s also more of a pleasure district now, with people lining up outside beer halls rather than art shows. Bushwick has exploded with artist-run studios, but when the galleries at 17-17 Troutman Street, in the Bushwick/Ridgewood arts community, were forced to close last year, it was a reminder of how tenuous the situation is. While some galleries, like Regina Rex, have moved to the Lower East Side, there are still peaceful pockets, like Greenpoint, that seem to have gotten the mix of art-living, -making and -showing right — for now.
How do you find art spread across an entire borough? It’s actually quite simple. There are printed and online guides like Wagmag and Bushwick Galleries. Most important, talk to people working in the art spaces mentioned below. Many of them are artists who can offer nuanced opinions of the landscape.
A four-story former factory, 56 Bogart Street remains a hub for art viewing and is easily found down the street from the Morgan Avenue stop on the L train. The building includes galleries like Robert Henry Contemporary, Theodore:Art, and Fresh Window and nonprofits like MomentaArt, originally based in Williamsburg, and NurtureArt, a basement gallery showing Ciaran O Dochartaigh, an Irish artist selected through an open call. His quirky mixed-media works feature real-life characters who’ve had brushes with fame, like James Brown’s “Cape Man” (that is, the person who placed the cape on the Godfather of Soul’s shoulders). Video and written texts explore the checkered paths of people who’ve lived, even briefly, in the margins of celebrity.
Still the lone blue-chip franchise in the area, Luhring Augustine uses its Bushwick space for varied and interesting projects. Last year’s included fantastic shows of historical work by Michelangelo Pistoletto and Ragnar Kjartansson and the National’s six-hour video of that band playing a single song, over and over again. The current show of paintings by Philip Taaffe does not disappoint. Although Mr. Taaffe has been exhibiting in New York since the early 1980s, his canvases here are larger than ever before and filled with patterns inspired by Islamic art (and the recent conflict in Syria). Carefully installed — thankfully not overhung — the handful of works here look almost like tapestries instead of paintings.
Just down Knickerbocker Avenue is Interstate Projects, which became a nonprofit this year. The current show of work by Chloe Seibert channels the Bushwick ethos. A notice at the entrance warns viewers to be cautious because the floor is covered with chain-link fencing and is “uneven and potentially hazardous.” Big white masks on the walls, made from joint compound, offer an update on rough “primitive” aesthetics. Ms. Seibert has carved the word “Welcome” into the drywall in the basement, a greeting that feels unsettling in the subterranean space, and after the hazard warning upstairs.
Microscope Gallery, with solid programming, has recently moved into 1329 Willoughby with Transmitter and TSA New York. The current show of Paolo Gioli, who will be among the artists representing Italy at this year’s Venice Biennale, includes two antiquated-looking works based on moving images. One is a 16-millimeter film from 2012 made by slipping image fragments into the aperture of the camera to create a quick flash of textures and pictures. The other, a video originally made with film, merges the faces of Mr. Gioli’s friends with visages from Etruscan sculpture.
On a gritty strip of Johnson Avenue, Signal feels both authentically Bushwickian and vaguely European, with high chapel-like ceilings. But the Viennese-born artist Sophie Hirsch’s black and gray sculptures enhance the industrial aura: they are made from cast objects propped on concrete slabs, or draped with plastic wrap.
At the other end of Bushwick, physically and aesthetically, is 99¢ Plus. This space, across the street from the gallery Outlet, retains both the do-it-yourself quality of earlier East Village and Williamsburg ventures, as well as the look of a cheap storefront. One side of the gallery is occupied by Handjob, which sells artists’ editions. The other is devoted at the moment to Curtis Wallen’s photographs and documentation of his attempt to make an untraceable phone call. The process is intricate and involves modifying one’s behavior in absurd ways — the kind of ritual tailor-made for some artists.
THE KNOCKDOWN CENTER
Just over the Brooklyn border, in Maspeth, Queens — a 10-minute walk from the Jefferson stop on the L train — the Knockdown Center is impressively housed in a former door factory. Weddings and television shoots help pay the bills, but the current show, “Negative Space,” offers a fine selection of art conjuring uncanny domestic spaces. Rachel Higgins’s “Clock” (2014) is a revolving polystyrene and Cerastone disk with no face; Jeremy Coleman Smith’s shed-like structure is built almost entirely from paper; and Lauren Gregory’s video combines animation with a surfing soundtrack. (Through Sunday.)
After Gallery-Hopping, Drinks
FOREST POINT Boasting outdoor and indoor seating of every stripe, a selection of clarified milk punches, and a $7 cheeseburger, this triangular oasis answers nearly every restorative need. 970 Flushing Avenue, near Bogart, Bushwick, Brooklyn. 718-366-2742, forrestpoint.com. With appealing interior and alfresco spaces, THE NARROWS, down the block, offers fine renditions of modern classic cocktails like the Paper Plane (bourbon, amaro, Aperol, lemon juice). 1037 Flushing Avenue, near Morgan Avenue, Bushwick, Brooklyn; 718-303-2047. ROBERT SIMONSON
THE JOURNAL GALLERY
Pierogi is the most-mentioned gallery in Williamsburg because of its longevity and central location. Other galleries deserve notice, like Southfirst, Sideshow, and the nonprofit Smack Mellon. If you want to be impressed by architecture, however, visit the slick space of the Journal Gallery. The current show, “City Limit,” is a creative reframing of landscapes and interiors. It includes funeral home wallpaper re-photographed in Jamaica by Deana Lawson. Michael Galinsky’s “Malls Across America” series features tableaus of sneakers or potted plants outside a J. C. Penney, while Thomas Struth’s photograph captures gaping art viewers in Florence, Italy.
After Gallery-Hopping, Drinks
MAISON PREMIERE If you can get into this perpetually crowded New Orleans-styled bar and restaurant, you’ll find the best oysters and martini service (elegantly mixed for you tableside) in New York. The verdant garden breeds dreamlike idylls. 298 Bedford Avenue, near Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 347-335-0446, maisonpremiere.com. A few blocks away is the less fancy EXTRA FANCY, a friendly, approachable bar with inventive beer-and-shot combos and fine seafood options. 302 Metropolitan Avenue, near Roebling Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 347-422-0939, extrafancybklyn.com.
Founded by an artist in an industrial passageway, Proteus Gowanus describes itself as an “interdisciplinary gallery and reading room.” It offers exhibitions on yearlong themes: water, travel, migration, paradise. This year’s meditation is “commerce” and includes projects like Lauren Cannon’s Institute for Mobile Research, which looks at portable entrepreneurship: everything from mobile libraries to a hair salon on wheels in Staten Island. Art looks rather impoverished in this context, compared with the nationwide explosion of food trucks. (Through May 2.)
First-time visitors are often shocked at the lavishness of the art center Pioneer Works. More like the neighborhood’s Ikea and Fairway than the historic waterfront or nearby housing projects, this former industrial space includes studios for artists’ residencies and, at the moment, a radio station run by the Clocktower, an alternative space founded in 1972. The current shows are also high-production affairs. “Under Construction: New Positions in American Photography” is a collaboration with Foam magazine and includes colorful conceptual work by Jessica Eaton, Sara VanDerBeek and Sara Cwynar. “Living Room Index and Pool” includes performances every Sunday afternoon, choreographed by Lauren Bakst and woven into the scattered landscape of Yuri Masnyj’s sculptures. But the post-punk art-music ethic survives: A class on art and “psychic hygiene” is being taught by pioneering transgender performer Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.
After Gallery-Hopping, Drinks
FORT DEFIANCE More than five years old, this is still the best cocktail game in Red Hook. Both the classics and original drinks are solid, and the Irish coffee is in the running for the best in New York. Ditto on the muffuletta sandwich. 365 Van Brunt Street, at Dikeman Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn; 347-453-6672, fortdefiancebrooklyn.com.
On a quiet residential street corner in Greenpoint, at basement level, JANET KURNATOWSKI is showing a wonderful group of paintings by the Polish-born artist Kazimira Rachfal. Geometric abstractions sanded down to perfection, they’re like something you’d find in nature: weathered stones on the beach or pieces of driftwood. (205 Norman Avenue, at Humboldt Street, through April 26.) REAL FINE ARTS, a fine counterpoint to Kurnatowski, also in Greenpoint, is about hipster aesthetics — but they’ve proven to have traction. The current show includes photo-based wallpaper of the artist Bill Hayden, loitering in vacant landscapes, and a miniature human skeleton curled up in a cardboard box lined with metal junk. (673 Meeker Avenue, through May 10.) LIBRERÍA DONCELES, not far from Pioneer Works in Red Hook, at 360 Van Brunt Street, is a Spanish-language used bookstore set up by the artist Pablo Helguera. Inspired by the observation that very few bookstores cater to Spanish speakers, despite their large numbers in New York, the store also serves as a work of social practice. Staffed by volunteers, stocked with donated books and charging pay-what-you-wish prices, it also includes readings and performances every Thursday night. (Through May.)
Correction: April 16, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the status of Microscope Gallery. It is not a nonprofit. The article also misstated the closing date of an exhibition about commerce at the Proteus Gowanus gallery. It runs through May 2; it does not close on Sunday.