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New York's Underground Art Scene

May 8, 2020

There’s something both daunting and thrilling about countercultures, art and the creative community born in the nooks and crannies of a city. Although Berlin is widely known as a pioneer of underground culture, it would be a gross mistake to ignore New York City - a place that birthed Basquiat, Warhol and Koons.

This being said, I have nor lived in NYC, nor visited in the last seven years.

Yes, you heard right.

I am writing an entire article on New York’s underground art scene, and I haven’t even experienced it in person.

So why on earth should we listen?

Perhaps you shouldn’t. In fact, you’re probably better off finding out by word of mouth. But if, like me, you live across the Atlantic and are only on a transient visit, then perhaps you’re better off sticking around. I haven’t delved deep into Reddit threads and forums for nothing - and although I’m not a New Yorker, I do know a thing or two about art.

I should probably start off by telling you about DIY spaces - the name given to mixed-use and repurposed buildings that house gatherings and events. They were born sometime around the 1990s, as a result of an underlying need for entertainment that did not break the bank. For the most part, NYC’s DIY spaces have undergone a bit of a decline, which is hardly surprising since the majority of these places bordered illegality when it comes to health and safety standards.

The DIY scene is evolving, although it remains awfully transient (places close and re-open and it’s safe to say you shouldn’t get too attached to any one venue). It has also become more mainstream - a desperate act to bring money into businesses which for the most part lack enough funds to survive New York’s gentrification.


Pioneer Works
Arts Centre | Brooklyn | FREE | Instagram: @pioneerworks | Best for those getting started in the arts scene
Gallery Space | Picture credit: @pioneerworks

Let’s start simple - barely grazing our toes - on the New York art scene with a quick and rapid look at Pioneer Works.

Self described as an “artist-run cultural centre”, some would say I’m stretching far by saying this place is underground, and perhaps I am. Irregardless, they offer artist residencies on a competition basis, classes, workshops and events which keep this place vibrant and current. It’s a welcoming place, meaning if you’re only getting started in your artistic endeavours, you should feel right at home.

Not to mention their building has a dreamy industrial feel - a perfect example of how music and art venues are making use of otherwise forgotten warehouses and giving them a second opportunity.

Wonderville
Multi-purpose venue | Brooklyn | FREE | Instagram: @wondervillenyc | Best for gamers and tech-freaks
Arcade | Picture credit: @wondervillenyc

Next we’re stepping into an unusual typology of space: Wonderville.

Part arcade, part gallery, part music room, this place is like nothing you’ve seen before. It is comprised of a basement-looking space, decorated with the occasional neon sign in piercing pink or glowing yellow. It doesn’t look polished and new, but instead boasts of a very independent and grunge feel to it, which practically pushes you back in time to the roaring 80s.

Elsewhere
Multi-purpose venue | Brooklyn | FREE | Instagram: @elsewherespace | Best for literally anyone
Rooftop | Picture credit: @nietodickens


If I lived or visited New York, I would probably spend an embarrassing amount of time at Elsewhere - because it’s simply so cool. It most certainly seems that New Yorkers like their multi-purpose venues, so like most places mentioned so far, Elsewhere is a medley of many things all at once. Music venue, café, drinks bar, gallery; you name it.

If you’re visiting, expect a lot of colour, moderate chaos, and an almost overwhelming amount of visual information - admittedly the ingredients of a well-rounded art venue. I’d recommend throwing on your edgiest outfit and staying until sunset, swaying to the beats and dancing away surrounded by NYC’s impossibly cool crowd.

Gowanus Ballroom
Multi-purpose venue | Brooklyn | FREE | Instagram: @gowanusballroom
Best for the ones looking for something a little our of the ordinary
Gallery Space | Picture credit: @gowanusballroom


So, what exactly is Gowanus Ballroom?

That’s a darn good question.

They exhibit art, that much I’ve gathered. But they also are (I’m quoting the owner here) “a fucking beautiful shithole”.

It’s hard to pinpoint what this place is exactly, mainly because their Facebook page leaves quite a bit to the imagination, something quite frequent when it comes to places that strongly resist popular culture.

One thing’s for certain, they are a chaotic mash up of all things creative, and seem to be the kind of place where anything and everything happens.


Nowadays
Multi-purpose venue | Bushwick | FREE | Instagram: @nowadaysnyc | Best for hipsters

Backyard | Picture credit: @nowadaysny



We’ve mentioned this place to you guys on instagram before, mainly because they are really good at keeping up with whatever life throws their way (ie, they totally reinvented themselves online during the Corona Virus).

Constantly evolving and catering to New York’s more mainstream indie crowd, Nowadays is especially worth a visit during the summer days. Can you imagine having a beer with your friends in such an artsy backyard? A word of warning; you’re likely to find your so-called designer friend perched up against a tree having an instagram photoshoot - it’s one of those places.  

House of Yes
Performance venue | Bushwick | Price Varies | Instagram: @houseofyesnyc | Best for experimental nights
Nightclub Event| Picture credit: @houseofyesnyc



House of Yes is loud, like scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs loud.

The performance venue is wonderfully weird, sexual and extravagant. They showcase some impressive acts ranging from burlesque shows, to aerialists or caged dancers vividly dressed for the weekly club-themes.

House of Yes is not exactly new to praise; @i_d describes them as a “iconic” and @timeoutnewyork ranks it on the top 50 best things to do in the world. A quick google search reveals hundreds of online articles, photographs and stories of the place, as if it were Berghain’s colourfully loud New York sister, who unlike the german nightclub does not mind being heard.


So there you go.

That’s what I can confidently say is still running in New York as of when this article was written. Let us know if you have visited any of these places yourself, we’re always keen to hear back from you!



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