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The great thing about New York is no matter what you’re looking for, someone knows a lace—especially when it comes to art. Is it High Culture? We have a whole Mile *of (replace's in, then add real estate after Manhattan) Manhattan real estate just for museums. Let’s say you are looking for “important” or expensive art, or the future established anti-establishmentarianism, then Chelsea is the destination for you. But if you are looking for young, hip, edgy, now, why haven’t you been to Williamsburg yet?

Guerre de la Paz Closing Party
At Jack the Pelican
487 Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg

Have No Fear, Brooklyn is Here!

The New York Art Scene Across the Bridge

Written by Erin Mallay
Images courtesy Jack the Pelican

The great thing about New York is no matter what you’re looking for, someone knows a place—especially when it comes to art. Is it High Culture? We have a whole Mile in Manhattan just for museums. Let’s say you are looking for “important” or expensive art, or the future established anti-establishmentarianism, then Chelsea is the destination for you. But if you are looking for young, hip, edgy, now, why haven’t you been to Williamsburg yet?

Artists, traditionally and anthropologically, follow cheap real estate. When the Meat Packing District was called that because meat was actually packed there, and SoHo and Chelsea were nothing but warehouses and factories, artists scoped out the cheap rent and set up shop, establishing some of the most important art neighborhoods in the world.

Today, the grand island of Manhattan itself has little left to offer in the way of affordable living and working space for your standard starving artist, but fret not, because just over the Brooklyn Bridge you will find a new Mecca for Contemporary Artists and Art’s True Believers.

Of course it is not the Williamsburg in which my father grew up some thirty years ago—he would hardly recognize the place. Instead young, post art school art students have found fertile ground offering them exactly what every artist needs—air, light, time and space—without sacrificing the precious proximity to the cultural center of the known universe.

Further, Williamsburg has come to offer some pretty interesting gallery and artist spaces; by coupling the romanticism of industrial architecture with a plethora of work spanning a variety of media and subject matter, Williamsburg makes Chelsea look like Barbara Streisand compared to Bjork.

Take Jack the Pelican on Driggs. Cement floors, varying ceiling height, steel doors—it just oozes grit without being consumed by it. But what makes it really cool is how a visitor gets the feeling that, like an artist making art for art's sake, Jack the Pelican displays art because they believe it should be seen and needs no other reason. And there is no discernable criteron for genre or style; there are galleries with paintings stacked three high and sculptures filling in the space between.

Not all the galleries have quite so many pieces displayed. The front two featured selected work of Cuban collaborative team Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz. As their pseudonym might suggest, Guerre de la Paz uses elements like military uniforms juxtaposed with serene imagery in order to comment on the vicissitude between war and peace—such a poignant subject at this moment in our history. Don’t be taken in by the military fatigues though—their work is more about people, about humanity, conceptually as well as the individual lives of each and every person.

Sometimes you look at a piece and you have nothing to say because, well, it’s just not interesting enough to warrant a reaction. But sometimes you look at something and you have nothing to say because it’s all been said. Right there, in front of you. It didn’t use words, it didn’t say a thing and yet its mere presence has such a gravitational force that it sucks in everything you could possibly say right into the core of it and no words can escape. It’s just that good.

That was what Tribute did to me. Tucked into a further gallery and reigning as an exclusive display in that room, the two ton tore de force took the “found object” to a new place, using quantity as an element on equal footing with color and form, so that it wasn’t “about” any single thing, but many things, everything all at once. The beauty of using found objects in a piece is its power to conjure up all of the past lives of that object before it was transformed by the artist’s hand—every person who held or owned that object before it was placed on the proverbial pedestal is invoked by gentle consideration—and when there are two tons of clothing, all owned or worn or held or touched by countless people and countless lives, well, there is a lot of power in that. Of course that power would dissipate into nothingness rather quickly if the execution of the piece was anything less than what it was; the understanding of aesthetic presence served the piece as it does for all great art: it was the affable diplomat of a good idea.

 


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