Thursday, January 22, 2009

Brooklyn Artists' Colony

New York is a finite space. It's a city composed of three islands. This is key to understanding New York's greatness. If there is anything that makes my stomach churn its sprawl (eww, sprawl) and New York has none of it. It can't. So instead of building outward, it must build on top of itself. And, to quote someone whom I know absolutely nothing about, necessity is the mother of invention.

Manhattan is done. Each inch is coveted and claimed and from here until eternity it will rebuild itself like a phoenix rising in flames. Re-birth, not birth. Stores will become cafes and cafes will become apartments and apartments will become showrooms and showrooms will become studios and studios will become historic landmarks until we conclude that history is less important than present and the landmarks will turn back into stores. It's fluid, changing, and transient. And this is what makes it great.

The art world was born on the Upper East Side, in small galleries with gilded gold frames and velvet curtains. It slowly trickled downtown via Midtown where Warhol set up his Factory, and settled in Soho in the late 70s. Everyone fled from Soho in the early 90s, and poured into old warehouses in Chelsea where they currently preside in perfectly stacked white boxes. There are over 500 galleries within 7 blocks and 2 avenues of Chelsea, but most people can't find a gallery if they try. I'm serious... this happened again this week, didn't it Annie?

The past few years (like, the past three years) have started pushing galleries and studios further downtown to the Lower East Side and Chinatown, and across the river to Brooklyn. When real estate increases in value, artists leave for somewhere cheaper. But the reason the prices went up in the first place is because artists were there and made it cool.

This is a point of great pride and great annoyance to all New York artists, I hear about it constantly. They don't actually want to be in the 'in', they want to be on the brink of the new 'in'. I watch it happen everyday at work. Which brings me to my point. Brooklyn still has undiscovered territory. It, unlike Manhattan, isn't done yet.

We are in the golden age of discovery and proclamation (will New York eventually turn into Target's and Costco's and Cheesecake Factories like the rest of the world? I think about this often and am so glad I am living now and not then.) There is still land to be tilled. And by 'land' I mean abandoned factories and dark streets and industrial linings.

Artists LOVE finding spots like this. They LOVE big, empty buildings with a dirty past like meatpacking or fish sorting. They like really old wooden floors and concrete walls that can be whitewashed and divided into little cells. I've visited a few artist colonies (how great is it that they are still called 'colonies') in Dumbo and Red Hook. They are some of the most depressing and inspiring spaces I've ever breathed in. Depressing because the artists all look bogged down, and inspiring because they're not.

A new colony of artists just stretched its arms in Sunset Park right by the water. It's coveted yet accessible and its surely going to start pumping out a little inspiration soon. But the best part is that it smells like vanilla.

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