Industry City Forces Artists Out of Studios Then Launches Giant Art Show

by Paddy Johnson on October 18, 2013 · 11 comments Rise Up

Installation view of Come Together

Trouble is brewing in Sunset Park. Since April 2013, close to 100 artists have been pushed out of their studios in Industry City, a manufacturing complex and rental agency that describes themselves as artist-friendly. As we reported at the time, artists in three Industry City buildings, 220 36th Street, 251 36th Street, and 88 35th Street, were forced out. Since then, artists on the 3rd floor of 55 33rd Street were recently given notices that this November, their annual rent increase would jump from 4 percent to 20 percent.

It’s curious then, that The Dedalus Foundation, Jamestown Charitable Foundation, and Brooklyn Rail would decide to mount the benefit exhibition Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1 at 220 36th Street, the very location where artists are being forced out. This 100,000 square foot exhibition with over 800 works aims to raise funds for artists affected by Sandy and the participating artists in the show; all proceeds from sales go to the artists, who are expected to broker the transactions. In return, the exhibition organizers ask that 10 percent or more be returned to them and a portion of those earnings will be donated to a Brooklyn foundation that has not yet been decided.

Though meant to “commemorate” Hurricane Sandy, not all the artists were directly affected by it. That might attribute to the show’s aesthetic, which surveys the contemporary art landscape in much the same way as an art fair. Phong Bui, The Rail’s publisher and curator of Come Together, invited several well-known activists to participate, among them Mark di Suvero, Bruce High Quality Foundation, and Shirin Neshat. Some artists, such as Alex Katz, Superflex, and Chris Martin were selected simply to participate in solidarity with the storm victims. “If it is about Sandy alone, it’s no longer a festive affair,” Bui told Artnews earlier this week.

And according to the Dedalus Foundation there is plenty to be festive about. In a statement to AFC, they wrote Industry City has been very supportive of Sandy victims in the past.

The Dedalus Foundation is presenting the exhibition jointly with Industry City, which has been involved with Sandy relief since Sandy hit. At the time of the storm, Industry City Associates donated the use of 18,000 square feet of space to volunteer art conservators who worked on the recovery of hundreds of works of art.

At press time, Industry City had not returned our request for comment.

Still, artists who have lost studios thanks to Industry City aren’t wooed by the company’s seemingly giving spirit.  “IC is using good will toward Sandy victims to profit,” one artist told us on the condition of anonymity for fear of a rent hike. Others are upset that The Rail didn’t express greater solidarity, particularly given the time of the exhibition. The Dedalus Foundation invited Bui to coordinate the exhibition just three months ago, and by that time, many of the artists hit by Industry City’s decision to raise rents had already been pushed out.

When we contacted Bui for a statement on why the organization chose Industry City as its location, we were told he was too busy to respond personally because his schedule was filled with fundraising meetings for the show. Sara Christoph, the Rail’s managing director responded on his behalf. “It was not until recently that the current dispute came to our attention,” she explained, “and we realized the complex relationship between Industry City and the artistic community of Sunset Park.”

According to Tamara Zahaykevich, co-founder of the group Artist Studio Affordability Project (ASAP), and an artist who lost her studio in July, “recently” may be defined as going as far back as June 30th. After seeing Bui in the hallways of Industry City a week prior, she sent him an email informing him of Industry City’s decision to increase tenants’ rent by more than 50 percent. She asked for the Rail’s assistance with help finding studio space, and informed him that a group of artists would file a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau against Industry City. She received no response.

In late September, Jenny Dubnau, an artist co-founder of ASAP told Bui that some artists were considering handing out ribbons at the show for those had lost their studios at IC. A week later, with tensions rising, Osamu Kobayashi, an artist forced out of the NARS Foundation studio was approached by Bui. Bui, concerned about a potential protest, claimed sympathy, and requested to hold an emergency meeting with the artists. Many expressed disinterest in meeting, while the group refused Phong’s invitation to be part of the show. They explained to me that those unfamiliar with the company, would either never learn about what happened or be given the impression that their practices were okay with them.

“Artists are VERY ANGRY with IC for poising themselves as artist friendly,” Zahaykevich wrote to me. “People are also upset with Phong, as there are rumors flying around about the benefits he is reaping from doing this and for advertising IC’s spaces on the Sandy website.” One rumor proposes that the Brooklyn Rail plans to move their offices to 220 36th Street, but that was quickly disputed by Sara Christoph. She told me the offices at that site were temporary and meant to allow the publishers to focus on the exhibition.

None of that background was evident yesterday, though, at the exhibition’s VIP opening. “What does a manufacturing industrial complex have to do with art?” Industry City’s CEO Andrew Kimball asked the audience in his opening statements before quickly concluding that it meant embracing artists. Bui, for his part, compared the experience to “recreating Woodstock.” He did not specify whether he was recreating the Woodstock of the 60’s, a concert that brought throngs of people together through love and optimism, or the 90’s iterations, which were widely criticized for capitalizing on the spirit of their predecessor.

  • Jenny Dubnau

    Really good piece. Industry City is using artists to help them create a gentrified waterfront in Sunset Park that will be remarkably NON-artist friendly, no matter how many benefit shows they mount.

  • J L

    We’ve been having the same problems at 47 Hall Street (also owned by IC). Our issues started last October and since then, there’s been a mass exodus of artists along with an influx of designers and other small businesses who pay much more for the same spaces. Those of us artists who have stayed managed to negotiate slightly less ridiculous rates that are still 15% more than a year ago. We looked around at other studios to get away from these people but discovered that everything else in the area was also owned by them and about the same rent, if not more. They’re extremely greedy and have completely monopolized industrial space and property rates in Brooklyn.

    • Tamara Zahaykevich

      JL – It is amazing how much these people own. What do they call themselves as the company that owns 47 Hall?

      • J L

        It’s “9-47 Hall Street LLC” and somehow under IC/ Bush Terminal.

  • Rhee N. Forse

    I respect Paddy for writing about this extremely important issue. The cycle of gentrification in NY is not new, however, historically artists are just kicked out and the landlords enjoy their pile of money. The landlords do not usually scramble to rebuild a false image of being artist-friendly–using arts organizations, artists and a natural disaster as an expensive PR stunt. There has been so much money allocated by IC and various foundations to put up walls, etc. Why not give that money directly to the aid of Sandy victims? Tamara and Jenny are doing terrific work for ASAP.

    • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

      Thanks Rhee. It’s worth mentioning that the front runner for the donation is Brooklyn Community Fund. I called them yesterday to find out whether they have any artist relief funds for those who were affected by Sandy. They have none. Why doesn’t the Dedalus Foundation simply collect the money and set up a grant program to distribute it? They are a foundation after all.

      • Rhee N. Forse

        Exactly. It’s ego and PR. Some might consider it a waste of money (many many thousands of dollars) to build out a huge exhibition space for an art show proposing to raise money for the victims of the hurricane. Does not make any sense. And using the angle that the artists in the show stand to make some money from this is also ridiculous and patronizing.

  • Rit Premnath

    Lise Soskolne, has just written a brilliant essay on this. She initiated the Incubator Program at Industry City and was later fired before all the artists from that building were unceremoniously moved out. The article is in the new issue of Shifter. Heres a link: http://shifter-magazine.com/soskolne_vacant_lot

  • Jake Snake

    Is William Powhida going to make a drawing about this? He doesn’t play favorites, does he?

  • BelushiPanero

    Meanwhile New criterion free-marketeer, manhattan Institute Critic-at-large, and Bloombergophile, “lifelong resident of the UWS” james Panero curates Bushwick #Beatnite….AND THE BEAT GOES ON!!!!

  • wavac27

    aQrF Lately I was so low on cash and debts were eating me from everywhere!! that was UNTIL I learned to make money.. on the INTERNET. I went to surveymoneymaker d-o-t net, and started doing surveys for money, and really, I have been much more able to pay my bills! I am glad, I did this! eqJ8

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