concrete utopia

neighborhood: williamsburg | space type: gallery | active: 2010–2011 | links: website, facebook

I love apartment galleries. I’m always struck by the neat intimacy of leaning on someone’s bed or sitting at their kitchen table while looking at art.

Experimental apartment gallery Concrete Utopia ran for a year, showcasing a diverse array of art in different media. The show “Spork Used as Knife” featured video art, photography, and installations. “I’m Not a Good Enough Feminist” was an ambitious undertaking that included twenty-four artists and a companion book of interviews, historical and contemporary texts, artistic pieces, and images.

all photos by Maximus Comissar

Q&A with Melanie, Concrete Utopia’s founder, director, and chief curator

brooklyn spaces: How did you pick the name?
Melanie: I was doing a curatorial fellowship in Philadelphia last year, and it came from one of these curatorial statements I was looking at when I was learning about different kinds of spaces around the world. It’s from a man named Ernst Bloch, the director of the MAK Center in Vienna, which is devoted to contemporary making and is a also museum, so it’s both art and design. They’re really devoted to not just showing things that are past, but making possibilities for new things to be made for museums, which is something I’m really interested in, giving people I love a reason to make things. I was seeing so much stagnation of so many people whose work I thought was amazing, and I wanted to encourage them to start making things again. So “concrete utopia” as I reformalize it is a perpetual state of being actualized, or deciding that utopia is where we are right now, it’s not something to be made in the future. It’s about being a certain age when you’re like, “Wait a second, I get to take life by the balls! How do I want to do that?”

brooklyn spaces: How many shows have you had?
Melanie: We had “MANIFEST-O” in October, and then we had a night of performance in November, “Food Party,” featuring a storyteller and the proverbial campfire, which was really sweet. And then we did “An-Architecture,” which was a collaboration with Recession Art, a young organization that does shows at the Invisible Dog. It was a two-person show with Caroline England and Ian Trask.

brooklyn spaces: How long does it take you to put a show together?
Melanie: It depends on the scope of the project. “An-Architecture” took three months. The storytelling show, since it was just a one-night event, was really a month or two. This show I put together in a month, although I should have given it more time. We’ve been working on “I’m Not a Good Enough Feminist” for a really long time now; we were planning on putting it up in January, and then March, and then at our first staff meeting—I am lucky enough to have some amazing, amazing, amazing women who decided to help me out—we realized we still needed more time for it. In the end that one is going to take almost six months to put together.

brooklyn spaces: Do the pieces stay up when the gallery isn’t open?
Melanie: Yeah, each show stays up pretty much until the next one. I’m really lucky because it’s kind of like I’m renting art for free.

brooklyn spaces: Why did you pick this neighborhood?
Melanie: When I moved back to New York, I said, “I’m not going to live in Williamsburg, I’m not going to live in Williamsburg, I’m not going to live in Williamsburg.” And then my best friend moved to Williamsburg, my brother moved to Williamsburg, my two other best friends moved to Williamsburg, and suddenly it was where everyone I knew was living. So it was a personal decision to move here, rather than a gallery decision, but it’s turned out to be a really good place to be.

brooklyn spaces: Do people in the building or in the neighborhood know there’s a gallery here? Is there any interaction?
Melanie: It’s a funny thing, and I think it’s a funny thing that’s inherent to any neighborhood that’s in the midst of this kind of gentrification: this building is half twenty-something hipsters and half Hispanic families. We have a nice relationship with the families, we all smile and say hi, but as much as I want to share what I’m doing, I’m nervous about pushing it into their lives. It’s a gallery, but it’s also often a party, you know? So that’s a difficult relationship that I’m learning how to navigate. We did finally start flyering in the neighborhood for this show, and the neighbors next door came to the walk-through we had last week. So that’s promising.


Like this? Read about more art galleries: Invisible Dog, Ugly Art RoomCentral Booking, 950 Hart, Wondering Around Wandering, See.Me

invisible dog

neighborhood: boerum hill | space type: art & events | active since: 2009 | link: website, facebook, twitter

I’ve been hearing about Invisible Dog—a multi-floor interdisciplinary arts center, filled with art studios, galleries, and event space—for a while, and I was really excited when Ian Trask, the center’s first artist-in-residence, invited me out to the opening for the group show Work/Space, to meet with him and see the place.

Named for the toy this repurposed factory used to produce, Invisible Dog was started by Lucien Zayan, who saw the abandoned factory and fell in love with it. “When I saw the building,” he told me, “the idea of creating an art center with studios and event space came to me.” So he met the owner and convinced him to go along with the idea. “And he was crazy enough to follow me!”

Lucien’s main goal is to support emerging artists from all over the world, and he says there’s always a link from one show to the next. “One artist usually inspires me for the next show. They give me an idea that makes me meet other artists.”

Invisible Dog has studio space for thirty artists, a rotating series of exhibits, plenty of events, a theater residency program, and a store full of weird and wonderful things.

Ian Trask

Ian’s art is often interactive, and we sat on one of his pieces while we did our interview.

brooklyn spaces: How did you get involved with Invisible Dog?
Ian: I was part of a group show here run by Recession Art. I met Lucien that weekend, and he liked my art, and he kind of let me start hanging out in the basement. At the time it was filled with decades worth of old factory stuff, like floor-to-ceiling stacks of spools of colored elastic, buckets of belt buckles, all these materials that could generate inspiration for the right people.

brooklyn spaces: You’re the space’s first artist-in-residence, right? Did they make the program just for you?
Ian: Yeah, it hadn’t really been figured out. There were really no terms, except that, if he let me use the found materials, I would make a piece to give back to the space.

brooklyn spaces: What was the experience of being the artist-in-residence like?
Ian: It was incredible, right from the very first day. Lucien and I had been talking about how I might start using the materials in the basement, and then I just came one day and he was like “Here’s a key.” I figured I might as well show that I wanted to be here, so I went down to the basement and started working. I came back upstairs after a while, and there was a girl giving a cello performance, which was great. I went back downstairs for an hour, came back up, and there was a bar set up and people partying. Every time I came up there was something else going on. I was like, “How’s this even happening? What is this place?”

brooklyn spaces:
Do you have a particular fond memory from your experience here?
Ian: The people have been a lot of fun. I’ve had access to a wealth of information. And the exposure the residency has offered me is amazing. I met a guy this weekend who runs a group called Figment, and he said he could get me into that show. Plus I’ve done fun things, like Lucien asked me to create something for a kids’ art fair, which was run by the bilingual elementary school down the street. They wanted to have art-making sessions where the kids could go home with a project, so I made pieces for them to make small caterpillars out of cardboard, yarn, and shredded paper. It was pretty fun.

brooklyn spaces: Has the residency given you the opportunity to explore your art in new ways?
Ian: Oh yeah. This piece we’re sitting on, it’s the first time I’ve done anything interactive with cardboard, and I got a really great response.

brooklyn spaces: Did people sit and stomp on the art?
Ian: All day long. I have pictures of people of every age stomping on it, lying on it, little kids were running and jumping on it. I had originally wanted to create the piece standing upright, and at like midnight two days ago, I tried to stand it up and it all just exploded. I had to do it all over. And as kind of a second option I decided to let people walk on it, and it turned out to be a much better idea. So, you know, small discoveries like that. It was just a really nice fellowship. Plus I’ve developed a really nice friendship with Lucien. He continues to push me, tries to get me involved in other projects. So obviously it’s gone beyond just my twelve-month term. It’s propelled me along my artistic journey.


Like this? Read about more galleries: Concrete Utopia, See.MeCentral Booking950 Hart, Wondering Around Wandering, Ugly Art Room