Present day visitors to Williamsburg could be forgiven for expecting to encounter high-end condominiums and artisanal food purveyors, rather than arts spaces, during a trip to the now iconic Brooklyn neighborhood. But amidst the clothing boutiques, bars, and restaurants surrounding the Bedford Avenue L stop, there’s still evidence of the art scene that sprung up here in the early 90’s. There have been some high profile departures in recent years, as art spaces like Momenta Art and Nurture Art have relocated in search of cheaper rent. This exodus undoubtedly contributed to the emergence of Bushwick as the new center of gravity for the Brooklyn art scene. That said, Williamsburg is still home to galleries, artist-run spaces, and some uncategorizable gems that are all worth a visit.
Pierogi Gallery, which was founded in 1994, is a stalwart of the Williamsburg arts community. The gallery shows emerging and mid-career artists and holds work by over 750 artists in its flat files. The Boiler, an affiliated space at 191 N. 4th Street, hosts larger exhibitions, installations, and performances. Pierogi’s current exhibition, Idiom 1, features paintings and works on paper selected to showcase the rich visual languages utilized by the featured artists. There’s an emphasis within the exhibition on the suspension of disbelief, though this stated connection is subtle and can be difficult to discern. One clear thread is the influence of surrealism, an unsurprising reference point for an exhibition focused on fantastical imagery.
The works in Idiom 1 are most successful when they integrate this surrealist impulse with more recent influences. Works by J. Fiber and Johan Nobell infuse this nod to art history with a contemporary feel that’s evocative of popular animation; think Dali by way of Ren and Stimpy. Darina Karpov’s works are lush and visually immersive, featuring tightly crafted abstract forms that evoke sea-life, mammalian insides, and dense, potentially threatening, foliage. Two smaller, de-saturated works – Chrysalis and Cones display her aesthetic at its most focused and effective.
Across the neighborhood, the Front Room Gallery presents another group of painters, with an exclusive focus on abstraction as a method for emphasizing form and space. R. Nicholas Kuszyk, one of six artists in the exhibition, also paints large public pieces. Walk around the corner to 349 Metropolitan Avenue and you can’t miss one of his colorful, robot-themed murals. His works on canvas reflect the same influences, but the pieces that are most compelling in the gallery space are those that stray furthest from this approach. The layers and subtle color variations in Untitled Grid display a depth and nuance that overshadows the brasher works in the exhibition. Peter Fox’s impressively crafted canvases of sculpturally applied paint have an appealing materiality. The repetitious and organic surfaces evoke landscapes and bodily forms, but this visceral appreciation wears thin after viewing several pieces crafted with the same technique.
Back towards the center of Williamsburg, The Brooklyn Art Library is tucked into a cozy storefront space just a few doors down from the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory (which, yes, is also open to the public and gives free samples). The Library serves as the permanent home for The Sketchbook Project and, at the end of 2013, had over 29,000 books in its collection. That number is rising daily as the staff processes books submitted for the recent 2014 submission deadline and, according to Assistant Director Jessica Sugerman, they surpassed 30,000 books by the end of January.
Luckily, they’re not kidding about the Library part. In less than two minutes, you can sign up for a library card and search the collection by artist, location, or keyword. A library staff member brings you the book you’ve requested AND a random surprise sketchbook. The formal request process allows the Library to inform an artist every time their book is viewed. Want to see your sketchbook in the library? You can order a book now to participate in the 2015 project.
Further south and east, down Metropolitan Avenue, is another unique Williamsburg spot. The City Reliquary Museum is a find for history buffs, urbanists, and lovers of obscure and entertaining ephemera. Housed in a small storefront space, the Museum has an impressive collection of odds and ends from New York’s past, including a collection of vintage seltzer bottles from various New York bars and core samples from across the five boroughs. The current exhibition, Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut, tracks the history of donut shops in New York City. The museum fits an impressive amount of material into its modest space, so stop in for a quick visit or stay longer to pore over every detail.
Links and Details:
through February 9, 2014
177 North 9th Street Brooklyn, NY
through February 9
Curated by Melissa McCaig-Welles and Kathleen Vance
The Front Room
147 Roebling Street, Brooklyn, NY
Brooklyn Art Library
Ongoing home to the Sketchbook Project
103A North 3rd Street, Brooklyn, NY
City Reliquary Museum
Featuring Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut through February 2014
370 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
Other recommended stops:
The Boiler 191 North 14th Street, Brooklyn, NY
REVERSE 28 Frost Street, Brooklyn, NY
Bunny Cutlet 158 Roebling Street, Brooklyn NY
SOUTHFIRST 60 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY
The Journal Gallery 106 North 1st Street, Brooklyn, NY
Soloway elephant 348 South 4th Street, Brooklyn, NY
Projekt722 722 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
* Author Blair Murphy is a writer, curator, and arts administrator who recently relocated to New York City from Washington, DC. During 8 years in DC, she worked for a number of local arts organizations, including Washington Project for the Arts, DC Arts Center, and Provisions Library. Read more at blairhasablog.blairmurphy.com and follow her @blair_e_murphy.