On a hot June day, a few doors down from workers touching up the pristine white façade of Rachel Uffner’s gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, three friends stood in the open doorway of a gritty-looking garage. “It’s nice and cool in here,” promised the artist Abeline Cohen, waving me toward the dark, raw concrete interior of 170 Suffolk Street, which, until Friday, June 5, is the unlikely site of a very worthwhile hit-and-run group show organized by Cohen, Sean Vegezzi and Andrew Kass.
It’s the second exhibition put on by the native New Yorkers, all artists in their early 20s. The beta version popped up earlier this year at an abandoned building at 15 Warren Street in TriBeCa, featuring some 80 artists on three floors. At 13 works, this outing is more focused, and more specific to the peculiar location. “The last show was kind of a free-for-all,” Cohen said. “We wanted the artists to really take this space seriously.”
“We demanded they do more than just drop off a piece from their studios,” said Kass.
“We got an attitude when that happened,” Cohen added.
The din of construction resonated throughout the former headstone factory. It seemed a sign of men at work, except there were none to be seen. “That’s actually Cody Ranaldo’s piece,” explained Vegezzi, turning toward a series of motors installed against the metal piping on the wall. In effect, their constant whir tunes the room, or, to use Vegezzi’s word, “plays” it—appropriate, since Cody is the son of Lee Ranaldo, of Sonic Youth.
The exhibition is comprised of the work of the three artists and their youthful friends, all of it created in the month since they temporarily took over the space from a developer who plans to turn it into a private residence. As unfit for habitation as it seems now, it was much worse when they first arrived. “We were basically construction workers,” said Cohen of their hasty DIY renovation. She sighed ruefully. “There were a lot of boys peeing in bottles in here.”
A brawny, artfully rusted iron sculpture by Keefe Butler stands on an elevated platform in the back of the space, lit by a stroke of sun streaming through a hole in the roof cut by the artist and Vegezzi. Lovely paintings by Alec Martin use cold-pressed juices scavenged from dumpsters and a crushed car was imported by art student Jack Irving from a Staten Island lot, stacked with his stolen textbooks and placed in a clear vitrine. On the whole, the exhibition is likable, cogent, and at times surprising. It stands up even to the eye of a skeptic buffeting himself against the easy allure of artists with youth and connections on their side. “A lot of my friends complain, If I just had the money or the opportunity, then I would make something,” Cohen said.
“It’s so convenient to say that,” Vegezzi added.
“In New York, there’s no time to lament what you don’t have,” Cohen went on. “There were all these people not doing anything—including myself. So now that we’re doing these shows, how do we identify ourselves? Are we curators? No.”
“A lot of people throw that term around, like the way they use the word deejay,” said Vegezzi. “We prefer to call ourselves organizers.”
“It’s a very transitional show, in a very transitional space,” said Cohen. “It’s important to keep moving.”