Hyperallergic’s Jillian Steinhauer on the Future of Art in Brooklyn


Earlier this week, we ran our feature on the state of Brooklyn cultureHere is a more extended version of the conversation that we had with Hyperallergic Senior Editor Jillian Steinhauer about what lies ahead for our borough. 

What’s your opinion of the state of Brooklyn culture right now in the art world? Is it flourishing or floundering or somewhere in between?

I think Brooklyn art is definitely flourishing right now—in fact, it might be flourishing too much. The stereotype of Brooklyn being filled with creative people and artists is based in truth, and despite absurdly high rents, people seem to still be continually flocking—or holding out—here to make art (not to mention music, dance, books, and every imaginable hybrid of those things). What’s especially nice about the Brooklyn art scenes—and I say scenes because I do see them as distinct; Bushwick is not Gowanus, nor is Bed-Stuy Bay Ridge—is that they mirror their home borough by being very community-oriented. The gallery neighborhoods in Manhattan—the Lower East Side, Chelsea, the Upper East Side, etc.—are great for a day of seeing art, but they feel resolutely commercial in a way that the Brooklyn scenes don’t.

Which isn’t to say people don’t want to or shouldn’t make a living here (they should! they must!). But part of what makes opening nights in Bushwick so much fun is the lack of pretension, the feeling that people know each other and genuinely want each other to succeed, the fun of running into people you know while drinking cheap beers and looking at wacky sculptures in someone’s living room.
Where do you see the future of the art scene in Brooklyn? 
I call trick, unanswerable question! Ahhhh I hate future questions. I will try my best.
Like everyone else, I’m concerned about the future. I don’t honestly see people ceasing to come to New York to be artists, because the market is so centered here, but I’m worried that no one except the super privileged will be able to afford to stay. Which would make for a terribly boring art scene.
I really don’t know. Here’s one thought: much of the art being made in Brooklyn is very form focused, very interested in art itself (abstract painting, finely wrought sculptures, etc.). It seems possible that if/as artists who live here are forced to confront whether or not they can actually stay here, they may be forced to also engage with politics and the outside world in a more real way than many of them currently are (“engaging with the world” was the premise of the Brooklyn Museum’s recent survey of contemporary art from across the borough, but I wasn’t convinced). That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, in my view—bearing in mind that “my view” is very biased and idiosyncratic and much more interested in politically minded art than abstract painting. But obviously, no matter what they make, I do want artists (and writers and dancers and musicians) to be able to stay here, and I increasingly fear that won’t be possible.
I suppose another possibility, one that could go hand in hand with rising real estate prices, is that the Brooklyn art scene could become more well-heeled, more market-driven, like the one in Manhattan. That would definitely be a loss—part of what’s so great about art in Brooklyn is the way it hovers, jumps back and forth, between professional and DIY, and the way it encourages experimentation.
All of this said, people have been worried about artists getting priced out of NYC for decades, and somehow they’ve managed to hang on (by moving studios/neighborhoods every couple years and living collectively and marrying rich). So maybe they’ll just continue to do that, and things will stay the same…maybe? (She says in vain…)
 What are the benefits and drawbacks of being in Brooklyn as an arts journalist/arts appreciator?
Let’s see, the benefits I feel like I touched on a lot in the above answers so I won’t go crazy recapping them, but: I love seeing art and being someone who knows and sees about art in Brooklyn because it makes me feel like I’m part of a community—perhaps even several. There’s a real feeling of warmth here that I value. Also there’s just a damn lot of art in Brooklyn, as well as Manhattan and Queens and the Bronx, so I like being well situated
Drawbacks: Well, there are the obvious drawbacks that everyone in New York City faces, like how expensive and exhausting it is to live here. The hot mess that is subway transit around Brooklyn also drives me nuts, and does mean I don’t make it to art neighborhoods that aren’t on my train line as often as I’d like. I guess the one other thing I’d say is that there’s just so much art, and sometimes it’s pretty overwhelming. When you work full time and only have limited days and hours to go see shows, in Brooklyn as well as the entire rest of the city, and when you’re bad at making decisions, like me, it can start to feel like too much of a good thing. If I lived in a place where there was only one museum and, like, three galleries to visit, I probably wouldn’t feel as stressed out as I generally do.


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