Although established art gallery-rich neighborhoods in Manhattan (à la Chelsea) still showcase big-name artists in traditional gallery settings, sometimes the best way to discover new and rising-star artists is to venture to the areas where the artists themselves live and work — which in many cases in NYC, is outside of Manhattan.
It's well-known that due to the ever-rising cost of real estate and rent in Manhattan, most NYC artists today have set up shop in the "outer" boroughs, primarily in Brooklyn; hence Brooklyn has become a popular stopover point for art collectors and aficionados. However, due to the housing crunch in Brooklyn, artists looking for more space and financial freedom are slowly migrating to the neighboring borough of Queens. Combine that with the already existing community of creatives who have long-called the borough home, and Queens should indeed be on your radar for its contemporary arts landscape.
In the constant flux of the NYC arts scene, galleries beyond Manhattan do whatever they can to survive and thrive. As such, art galleries are no longer just for art collectors or window-shopping art browsers; they have also become community cultural centers, education facilities, and recreational hot spots. Brooklyn and Queens especially have seen an upsurge of this “hybrid" format, whereby spaces function as traditional art galleries, but are fused with performance spaces, bars, bookstores, learning facilities, artist collectives, and more. Below are four exciting Queens art galleries that follow their own set of rules:
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Given its close proximity to Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, or L.I.C., is the de facto "arts hub" of Queens. MoMA PS1, the Noguchi Museum, Sculpture Center, and other noted art institutions in the vicinity give the neighborhood visibility and international recognition. There are also, however, more under-the-radar operations like Local Project, a small but impactful non-profit arts organization that has operated in L.I.C. since 2003, hosting over 400 exhibitions and showcasing more than 2,000 nascent artists from all over the world. With the ongoing transformation of L.I.C. into a land of tall gleaming residential towers, punctuated by the destruction of the building that once housed graffiti mecca 5Pointz (in which Local Project was once located), organizations like this allow the neighborhood to cling onto its street cred in the NYC arts scene.
Distinctly urban and hands-on, Local Project has found a natural synergy formed by artists and audiences expressing themselves in an inclusive environment that's far removed from the elitist selection criteria one finds in many other galleries. They not only serve as an art gallery with collaborative and multi-disciplinary shows, but also offer art classes, co-working spaces, residencies, and mentoring programs. As an organization formed by artists and friends, it's committed to building bridges between artists and the local community.
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Among other things, Woodside, Queens, is known by locals for its great Irish pubs and quality Thai food. Now, a small and passionate arts scene is also growing in the neighborhood. A shining light in this emerging scene is Topaz Arts; founded in 2000, it’s a multi-use space and creative development center that exhibits art shows (spanning painting, sculpture, and more) and produces performance pieces.
The name Topaz is a combination of Todd and Paz, the first names of the two founders — Todd Richmond and Paz Tanjuaquio — whose vision and sweat manifested this oasis of art in a commercial/industrial section of Woodside. The two artists had searched for years to find an arts space that would serve as a “retreat within New York City.” Given the dwindling cultural habitat in the city, it was not an easy task; eventually they honed in on Queens and a fortuitous case of perfect timing landed them in a warehouse space that they've transformed into the arts center that it is today, complete with a dance floor for beautifully choreographed performances. In a neighborhood that is comprised of a working class population and an extremely diverse community, Topaz manages to elevate the local arts scene without a hint of pretense.
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In recent years, there has been significant spillover of creative types from Bushwick, Brooklyn, to neighboring Ridgewood and Maspeth in Queens. Poor artists displaced by developers and wealthier millennials are trading zip codes, but losing none of the grit or charm, as the Queens counterpart to Bushwick offers its own cafés, bars, and restaurants, as well as a similar hodgepodge of architecture, including industrial buildings just begging to be reinvented for the new arts economy.
Enter Knockdown Center, another example of the "hybrid" gallery model in that it serves as an arts center and performance space dedicated to “unusual projects and collaborations." It's based in a 50,000-square-foot factory that has been in continual use for more than 100 years, first as a glass factory and then as a production center for prefabricated doors that could be shipped in pieces — or, “knocked down” — hence the name and the philosophy behind the exhibitions and performances here. The center tends to curate works that best respond to the unique industrial architecture and dimensions of the site. In a neighborhood with a growing cultural scene that will likely be unrecognizable in the years to come, Knockdown Center will surely stand out as a pioneer and an enduring favorite venue for experimental and daring art.
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Speaking of displaced Brooklynites, there is also Flux Factory, which started off in 1993 as an artist collective in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, offering an alternative showcase to that of traditional commercial galleries. Forced out of Williamsburg in 2002 by rampant real estate development and radical changes to the neighborhood’s community, Flux Factory relocated to Long Island City, where they have evolved and flourished.
A far cry from the informal group that it started out as, the organization is much more structured and professional these days, running a respected residency program, coordinating exciting exhibitions, as well as performing as hosts for tours, classes, talks, and participatory projects. Despite the well-run administration of its artistic endeavors, Flux Factory remains fun and edgy; the supper parties, arts events, and experimental immersive happenings continue just as they did when the group was born many years ago. To see what happens when artists form networks, collaborate, and encourage each other, and to discover firsthand what a feeding from and feeding into the creative energy of NYC can do, look no further than the Flux Factory.