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The Return of Pocket Utopia …This Time on the LES

by Hrag Vartanian on March 14, 2012

This March 28, Pocket Utopia will return to the New York art scene but this time on Henry Street in the Lower East Side. During its first incarnation the idea of Pocket Utopia, which is the brain child of artist Austin Thomas, opened on Flushing Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn in the Summer 2007 and continued for two years as a place for experimentation and a space that put the artist first.

“[The first Pocket Utopia] was a response to the 2006 art boom, when artists were being written out of the equation,” Thomas says. “Saying that now seems ridiculous since there are so many artist-run spaces in Bushwick and elsewhere but in 2006 all we were seeing was artist as commodity.”

The new version of the project, which has since been written into the lore of the rise of Bushwick as an art destination and community, is springing up in another art-borhood and she’s not doing it solo this time out.

“I’m collaborating with Armin Kunz, who is an old friend, art historian and an Old Masters and print dealer. We’re doing this together. He is really interested in the Bushwck scene and collects Bushwick artists like Matthew Miller, Meg Hitchcock and me,” she says, though she laughs a little at the idea that she’s a Bushwick artist since she lives and works in Manhattan even if she socializes and exhibits in the north Brooklyn neighborhood.

A view of the interior of the new Pocket Utopia space (photo courtesy Austin Thomas)

Kunz is the executive director of CG Boerner, a leading gallery of Old Masters prints and drawings that has locations in Dusseldorf and New York. “We talk and joked about bridging about the gap between Rembrandt and Bushwick,” Austin says and that is what they intend to do.

“The new space is on the periphery of the sourthern border of the LES. I felt there was a healthy arts community and I could afford it. It is probably the same price as Bushwick,” she says. “And I don’t have to cross the river since I live in Manhattan.”

The whole Pocket Utopia project is part of Thomas’s own development as an artist and she’s excited to see what will happen after the LES version opens. The diverse programming planned for the space may suggest what we can expect from this new space.

Pocket Utopia LES will kick off with a one-night show on Wednesday, March 28 featuring playwright Donald Steele’s ”royal” photographs, titled The Queen and I. That show will immediately be followed by an exhibition of 18th C. engravings of artist portraits, which will be followed by a solo show of the art of Ellen Letcher, of Famous Accountants Gallery fame, a Bushwick space that quietly closed last year.

“I’m trying to expand, and it’s my own expansion,” Thomas say. “And that’s the gosh honest truth.”

Pocket Utopia (191 Henry Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) will open on Wednesday, March 28 (6-8pm EST) with Donald Steele’s The Queen and I, followed by Portraits of Artists: 18th Century French Engravings, which opens Thursday, March 29.

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