From the outside, New Yorkers might come across as exceedingly transient people who, for some reason, find joy in completely upending their lives and sacrificing what little pittance they make to participate in the moving industrial complex, forking over mountains of dough for stuff like brokers and “cleaning” fees, which don’t actually do anything except dig a pit for your money to fall into. The truth is that– for most people, anyway– moving is rarely the result of voluntary circumstances.
As we know, the cycle of buy-out/get-price-out hurts more than your wallet, it’s a real bummer for communities (i.e. real people) and cultural institutions as well. A few places defy all the odds and hang on through gentrification, and an art space called The Front Room is one of them. For 18 years, Kathleen Vanuce along with her husband and business partner Daniel Aycock, have operated their gallery in the front, and living quarters in the back (switching up the usual party/business arrangement), meanwhile Williamsburg transformed around them. This weekend, however, will be their last.
On Saturday, The Front Room will host an All Star-style exhibition with live performances, installations, and overall close to 40 participating artists who they’ve worked with over the years. Coda, as they’re calling it, will be the gallery’s “grand finale and a goodbye to Williamsburg” before they move on to a new location on the Lower East Side.
Kathleen admitted that she had never imagined she would leave Williamsburg and move to the Lower East Side for cheaper rent, as many of the couple’s friends have as well. Of course, the neighborhood has undergone some dramatic change led by development and gentrification. Now, Williamsburg is much less hospitable to the arts community it once attracted. At one time, Kathleen estimated, there were more than 50 galleries here. “Now there are just four or five,” she said.
Even their building and others nearby have seen a great deal of turnover in recent years, as they went from majority artist studios to “luxury living lofts” and fancy restaurants. “Just the whole landscape has changed,” Kathleen explained. “It’s a lot cleaner, it’s a lot safer, it’s a lot busier, but it’s a lot, lot, lot more expensive.” Still, she said they are sad to be leaving the neighborhood.
Their new space at 48 Hester Street will be much smaller than the sprawling, redbrick former industrial building in Brooklyn that they’ve occupied since 1998. But shrinkage isn’t the only thing that’s got them down. The directors hope to maintain some of the “original character” at The Front Room 2.0 (for example, by retaining “the back room,” a separate space for rotating exhibitions that cycle through at a slower pace, which lends a bit of permanence). But Kathleen acknowledged that it will be a challenge. “It’s daunting– it’s a mix of personal memories and artists that we’ve worked with– how do we recreate this space and this community?” she wondered. “That’s going to be a very difficult thing.”
There’s no better way to let off some of that sad steam than with a boozy banger. Kathleen confirmed that it’s definitely going to be “more of a party,” and the vibe will certainly be somewhat bittersweet, but there is plenty of art to go around as well. “We’ve seen a lot of our friends’ art spaces close, and a lot of times you don’t get to say goodbye,” she said. “They just shutter.” Putting together an event here was important for that reason, and felt like a “duty” to The Front Room. “We want to make sure that we don’t lose anybody in this move, we want to make sure that everyone knows what’s going on,” Kathleen added. “I feel like we are a really big part of the Williamsburg art community– or what was the art community.”
The artist lineup at Coda reads like a who’s-who of the North Brooklyn art scene, and includes favorites of the “people that we’ve worked with since the beginning of time,” Kathleen explained. They’ve also blown up the space a bit by clearing out their domestic area to make way for more art work, including an enormous, 8-foot diameter projected moon installation by Thomas Broadbent. “It’s gigantic,” she said. “It’s just this big moon in the room.”
Another installation with more interactive vibes will be on view, courtesy of Jeremy D. Slater–a former resident of the space and head curator of a bygone “sound art” program called Sonic Front that used to happen on second Fridays every month. It’ll be accompanied by a live performance incorporating audio and video.
Also look out for Miho Suzuki, Joanne Ungar, Julia Whitney Barnes, and more. (Check out a full list of participating artists here.)
Lisa Levy will be on board as well with a special iteration of her Psychotherapy Live! performance. “She’ll be speaking with people about the anxiety of moving,” Kathleen laughed. “Which is great, because we are really feeling that right now.”
“Coda” is happening Saturday January 28, with live performances from 6 pm to 8 pm at The Front Room.