November 12, 2009
One of the most complex and crucial questions of twenty-first century culture is how to preserve history while simultaneously making way for the new. Nowhere is this dilemma more peaked than in New York, where constant motion and blink-and-you?ll-miss-it change have long dominated the ethos. But today New Yorkers are increasingly aware of the value of preservation, of both the natural world, our city?s legacy, and our communities. Recent civic projects like the High Line signal a subtle but undeniable shift in New York culture: now, repurposing already-existing architecture seems more of the moment than does anything brand new. Call it gentrification backlash, call it environmentalism, call it recession chic, but its effects are palpable, and sometimes, startlingly touching.
The Invisible Dog, a new three-story art center in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, is an exuberant example of the integration of forward thinking and care for the past. The art center, admittedly, had a leg up: its home came equipped with an irresistable history. Built in the late nineteenth century, the 20,000 square-foot factory went through a number of industrial incarnations before its owners struck gold in the 1970s with the invisible dog trick: a stiff lease and collar surrounding the empty space where a dog would be. A mixture of party-hearty silliness and tongue-in-cheek trompe l?oeil, the trick became an icon of its era. But eventually public taste moved on; meanwhile, over the years, the Brooklyn neighborhood was changing. The factory closed its doors in the late 1990s; the boarded-up building was a blight on its quiet Brooklyn block.
What happened then is a kind of urban fairytale. In December 2008, Muriel Guépin leased the storefront and turned it into Shop Art Gallery, a small gallery with decidedly democratic spirit. Soon after, Lucien Zayan, a recent New York immigrant, stumbled upon Shop Art and inquired after the building behind it. Zayan knew he had hit on something when he heard the building?s history: he?d spent his life working in the French theater, including the Aix-en-Provence festival and Paris?s renowned Théàtre de Odeon and Théàtre de la Madeleine, and he recognized the perfect mise-en-scène. With the support of the building?s current owners, he decided to turn the space into a large-scale art center.
Less than a year later, the Invisible Dog is up and running. The building has been restored for safety and cleaned, but otherwise preserved intact. The rawness of the unfinished space is integral to the Invisible Dog?s identity: Zayan wanted a place that artists could really use, not a pristine renovation without personality. The ceiling on the third floor was restored using floor boards found in other parts of the building, and the enormous elevator shaft (the elevator removed) will be left open, as a unique exhibition space. Everywhere, the commitment to collaboration and community is clear. The ground floor, with its 14-foot ceilings, will be used for public events, performances, educational programs, and exhibitions, organized by guest curators from around the world. The second floor, divided into studios, is already occupied by nine specially-selected artists on one-year leases. They meet regularly with Zayan to discuss their work and the project. The third floor, light-filled and spacious designed by Anne Attal, will be available for flexible rental by the general public.
About The Invisible Dog
Built late 1800?s
Building approx. 20.000 square feet
The building is 3 stories + a full basement
14′+ foot celling height on the first floor
10′+ foot celling in upper floors
Masonry with heavy wood timber construction
8.000 lbs Freight Elevator