What’s the Deal With the Gallery of Satan?

by Whitney Kimball on September 26, 2013 · 1 comment Reviews

Vector Gallery (Image courtesy AFC)

The art world likes to give the appearance of cool omniscience, so it seems unlikely that the indoctrinated will take a shine to the Lower East Side’s Vector, the “Official Gallery of Satan.” In an art context, devil worship (especially by a bunch of twenty-somethings) typically indicates a little more emotional immaturity than we’re willing to take seriously.

That’s too bad, because as an artwork, Vector offers plenty to think about. I live across the street, and throughout the day, can see people hanging out in the gallery– drawing in the guest book, playing ouija, drinking red wine– under fluorescent purple lighting, and always with Vector’s founder, an extremely charming blonde named JJ Brine.

Brine (who looks to be in his early-mid twenties) rearranges an installation of Satanic talisman as late as 6 AM, always in a uniform of a white T-shirt and cap. He looks a little like somebody out of Party Monster. He’s fond of challenging visitors to long, intense staring sessions, next to a basket of souls, which are contained in the clear bubbles you get in grocery store gumball machines.

The gallery attracts a ton of photographers, probably due to the fact that it’s open 24/7 and displays naked dead baby dolls against the backdrop of a big Charles Manson headshot. This also makes it a lightning rod for picketers. “Somebody wrote ‘Fuck you Satan-lover’ on the window,” JJ told me, smiling. “I like that it makes you choose a side.” You’d think people can’t be shocked anymore, but the polemics of the nineties are still very much possible.

Vector also hints at the fairly-recent makeover of the Lower East Side. It’s next door to the swank restaurant wd~50 (with a tasting menu and a chef from Jean Georges) but the space itself has much more in common with the soon-to-be renovated ABC No Rio, down the street (with its Saturday punk matinees and crusty assemblage of generations of art).

Brine’s generally reluctant to give much of an explanation, deflecting most questions about the space with “What do you think it is?”. He tells me that the space is always in flux, with areas designated for various purposes. In that vein, I’m pretty sure the hypnotism has something to do with transference of identity; after long staring sessions, he’ll often introduce himself as the person he’s just hypnotized.

“This is the weather vane,” he told me, pointing to a chain of rubber straps dangling from the ceiling. “It tells me what to do next, how the space needs to change. If something falls, then it’s supposed to be there.” Behind that sits a wall with 666 stickers on a toilet seat, a sign reading “Charles Manson is Jesus Christ,” and, on another wall, “The Lord is the Devil, and the Devil is the Lord.”

The Manson wall, according to the website, is officially titled “Abraxas Shrine”: a term from Gnosticism, defined by Carl Jung as a combination of both the Lord and the Devil, but more infinite than either. (Jung is said to have written the Gnostic treatise “The Seven Sermons to the Dead” under altered states of consciousness, which he undertook intermittently throughout the 1910’s). Gnosticism is the ancient belief that the material world should be shunned, and the spiritual embraced in order to reach enlightenment.

Vector’s version of Gnosticism doesn’t exactly shun the material realm; there’s shit everywhere, and in a way, the weathervane feels like an expression of spiritual binging and purging, and a constant flux of object arrangements. The accumulation immediately raises the question of how a twenty-something could afford to jam all this stuff into New York City real estate, with just a handful of souls for sale; but then, Gnostics believe that enlightenment can be reached through philanthropy to the point of poverty.

So when JJ asked me to write something from an art theory standpoint, at first I didn’t think it would be helpful or even relevant to the gallery’s spiritual MO. But there’s a reason this is specifically the gallery and not church, of Satan; if you’re trying to emulate the 20th century avant-garde (polemics, ambiguity, and an interest in asking questions without answers) then you might come up with Vector.

  •  This is a religion based around opposing another religion; Modernism likes polemics
  • The guy likes to mirror the people he talks to; The artist stereotype likes to keep identity ambiguous
  • This guy likes to deflect questions; “Art doesn’t provide the answer, it only asks questions”
  • The storefront has served as a space to reflect other people’s existing ideas (“Fuck you Satan-lover”); “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”
  • Gnosticism combines opposites, to talk about infinity; the fourth dimension was a popular point of interest in Duchamp, Futurism, and Cubism

These are less questions of a worshipper than of an artist. There’s an image of Nico from the Velvet Underground floating around the gallery, which makes you think of Warhol and the Factory. Similar to the Factory, the space is open at all times for artists, or randos, who are presided over by an artist who’s mastered the art of ambiguity. In general, you could read the posters with the same flat power-worship which was so integral to Warhol’s persona and imagery.

But with Warhol, there’s always a possibility that you’re being led down a rabbit hole to nowhere; this has to do more with reaching infinity, which seems more in line with Duchamp. For one, like Gnosticism, or a spiritual weathervane, reminds me of Duchamp’s theory of the “infra-thin,” was defined as the separation between two things (like a readymade broom versus a normal broom), which led to conceptualizing the fourth dimension. (From Vector’s “about” page: ““Heaven and Hell are one paradise, one pit. There is no way to see the world as a whole if you divide reality from itself.”) For another, “The Lord is the Devil, and the Devil is the Lord” reminds me a lot of Duchamp’s “I force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own tastes.” Vector uses a similar strategy as Duchamp’s urinal: if it’s silly or vulgar, then it’s forcing you to out your own definitions of those words.

When I sat down to write a review, though, I couldn’t give it meaning in the larger scheme of art theory, in the style of Barthes, Greenberg, or Bazin. I think JJ had hoped I would. Lately, my art viewing has been happening in a vacuum of today; whether that has to do with blogging, Millennialism, or just a personal godlessness, that’s something to think about. Vector didn’t lead me on a path to Gnostic church, but I did go out and pick up a few books of my own.

  • David Cannon

    This makes me interested in art again, it got so boring a trite, I had to switch to music.

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