The front door of the Department of Signs and Symbols at 54 Hudson Avenue, Brooklyn (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Brooklyn’s newest project space won’t be drawing intrepid art lovers to far-off industrial areas like Red Hook, Bushwick, or Sunset Park, but to quaint little Vinegar Hill. Nestled between a riverfront Con Edison plant, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Farragut Houses projects, and Dumbo, the ten-block neighborhood feels like a late-19th-century village miraculously forgotten — for now — by real estate developers. And the Department of Signs and Symbols, the new nonprofit art space co-founded by Mitra Khorasheh and Elise Herget in artists Daniel Horowitz and Rachel Libeskind‘s temporarily vacant studio, plays into the area’s picturesque timelessness. Happening upon it while strolling along Hudson Avenue, the neighborhood’s closest thing to a Main Street, you might think you’d stumbled into a Coen Brothers movie.

“It’s something that inspires the imagination; people come here to have a little departure from their boring lives in Manhattan,” Horowitz told Hyperallergic. “So I came up with that name with Rachel Libeskind, who I share the studio with, as something that is at the same time enticing, mysterious, but it looks very much official, so it segregates the casual passerby into two categories: the person who wouldn’t even notice that something is a little peculiar, and people who would stop and wonder, ‘wait a second, what’s in there?’”

Department of Signs and Symbols co-founders Elise Herget (right) and Mitra Khorasheh (center) with artist Daniel Horowitz

Inside, visitors will find Planned Obsolescence, the inaugural exhibition curated by Khorasheh and Herget — who studied together at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art — featuring Horowitz’s most recent works on paper and canvas, as well as his pieces from a year-long project to create one drawing a day for 365 consecutive days. While Horowitz is headed abroad for a six-month residency, Khorasheh and Herget plan to keep his space humming with a hybrid exhibition and artist-in-residence program.

“What we want to do is use the section in the back as a studio space for artists because we want to show emerging artists who do not necessarily have a studio space in New York,” Khorasheh said. “So part of our programming is going to be that the artist can have the space while a different exhibition is going on, preparing for their show.”

Installation view of ‘Daniel Horowitz: Planned Obsolescence’ at the Department of Signs and Symbols

The space, modest in size but well supplied in charm and character, accommodates that double function nicely. It features a light-filled storefront gallery area and, behind a moveable wall, a work space that looks out onto a backyard garden, where Khorasheh and Herget hope to have talks and other events during the summer.

“Since we graduated it’s been an idea for us to open a space together from a curatorial perspective of collaboration, inviting artists, finding artists between the two of us,” Herget said. “But we don’t want the programming to necessarily be four weeks for each artist. There could be a two-day or a three-week project. It’s project-to-project.” Khorasheh added: “What we’re trying to do is create this little family.”

Installation view of ‘Daniel Horowitz: Planned Obsolescence’ at the Department of Signs and Symbols, with “The Pathologies of Liberty” (2014) in the foreground

The next artist to join the Department’s family will be the Estonian painter Martin Saar, whose exhibition will open in mid-June. By then the gallery plans to have regular public hours — it’s currently open by appointment only. In the meantime, Khorasheh and Herget will hold events in conjunction with Horowitz’s show of surrealist, dreamlike images. Unsurprisingly, given his latest paintings’ evocation of the ominous mashup tableaux of Neo Rauch, he is bound for a residency in Leipzig.

“We’ll see what happens,” Horowitz said. “If the Department continues successfully, when I come back I may let it live on as a project space and get another studio.”

Daniel Horowitz, “Toxoplasma” (2015)

Installation view of ‘Daniel Horowitz: Planned Obsolescence’ at the Department of Signs and Symbols

Daniel Horowitz, “Through the Looking Glass” (2014) at the Department of Signs and Symbols

Daniel Horowitz: Planned Obsolescence is on view at the Department of Signs and Symbols (54 Hudson Avenue, Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn) through April 12. The gallery is open by appointment.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...