For Secret Spots this week, the artist, curator and New York-native Jenni Crain brought us to Queens. It took us a while to find her Secret Spot, because it was so small — a one room public library in Broad Channel. Jenni hadn’t ever been to the library before, but passed it every day on the way to the gallery she opened up this summer.
Jenni is the co-founder of Topless, a seasonal moving gallery that will open in and repair spaces damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The gallery, which was founded by Jenni and her partner, Brent Birnbaum, had its first season this summer in a space with water marks five feet high. Art with a cause is something we can get behind, so we asked Jenni a few questions while exploring her hidden library (it didn’t take long.)
Why did you pick this spot?
I drive by here on the bus all the time, and I felt like there’s something charming about Broad Channel and these areas that are generally unexplored, that I haven’t really explored yet, even. There’s something romantic about coming and exploring a new area; the library seemed like a beautiful spot.
How did you find it?
My boyfriend lives in Elmherst, and somedays when I would be staying there and going to Topless, I would take the Q53. I don’t think I recognized it right away; I happened to be sitting on the other side of the bus one day and looked out the window, and there she was.
When you’re in Broad Channel, what mood are you in?
It doesn’t even feel like it’s near the city. It’s really incredible. It feels so separate and it’s like there isn’t even a pace, or, you make your own pace. It’s like going out to Fire Island — they’re on Island Time. I walked down to the water and someone was fixing their boat, I passed by people on their stoops and they all said hello. I bought some lemonade from little kids on my way here. There’s something nostalgic about it.
Tell me about the conception of Topless.
I was brought into the project by my partner, Brent. He lives in Rockaway and he was looking for a partner to open a gallery with. It’s been really extraordinary because we’re coming from two totally different circles of artists who we look at, who we personally know, who we consider our mentors. Working and curating with a partner; you don’t expect what you end up creating.
Where does the name Topless come from?
We were throwing around a lot of names, and in retrospect I’m so glad we didn’t go with them. For my partner, I think the draw is the button-pushing, memorable aspect of it, but the way that I like to see is more that we’re not interested in growing in a commercial sense, in an upward, profit-minded movement, but that we’re expanding in a more lateral, community level. If you want to put it bluntly, there is no roof to the potential of our growth, whether we start operating through a magazine, a publication, or through pop-up shows. We’re open to a lot of different opportunities because we’re not tied down to a lease or a permanent space.
You just deinstalled your final show. Tell me about it.
That show was called Cherry on Top(less). Ba-dum-tshh. That was our biggest show — before that we had been doing two- or three-person shows, but for this one we have seven names and eight artists, because one of them was a collaborative duo. It was very eclectic. The artists were participating from our broadest locale yet. We had an artist from Texas, California, and an artist from Singapore.
I thought of the show as a catalogue collected by a future species of man, a much more evolved generation, and they were presenting what they believed our preoccupations to be. Ghost of Dream was a collaborative duo, and they did a video installation of audio clips from the last sequence of Western films.
There were artists that were working with really mundane materials that were so current and present in our lives, but generally not very practical. Joshua Saunders stretched a Shamwow as a canvas on stretcher bars. Other artists were using technical approaches used within earlier art movements that no longer adhered to the original context, but resulted in a testimony of our current status.
How did you connect with the artists?
That’s really an even-steven between me and Brent. Before we even met officially we sent each other an email of all of the artists that we’re interested in, people that were ballpark or dear friends, or people who we were big fans of.