Artist, curator, writer and famed fosterer of manifold forms of creative enchantments, Austin Thomas announced this week that she will be reopening Pocket Utopia, the vibrant residency and exhibition space she founded in Bushwick in 2007. Its new iteration, this time in collaboration with C.G. Boerner, will be on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and a primary public peek will take place within weeks.
Austin has a tendency to time things just as well as she conceives them, and her announcement this week proves this once more—and not only because spring is a great time to replant.
The timing is also perfect to underscore the inaccuracy of a deeply misinformed—not to mention semantically incorrect and unjustifiable on many fronts—sentence that appeared quite recently in the New York Times, in which the first physical version of Pocket Utopia is described as follows: “A few galleries popped up early, but most were idealistic fly-by-nights like Pocket Utopia.”
One wonders what other galleries the writer is talking about. One wonders how one might justify describing Pocket Utopia as “fly-by-night.” Then again, one also wonders, with befuddled amusement, about a great many turns of phrase in that article. But Benjamin Sutton has already eviscerated those quite thoroughly, so I’ll just point you to him for more.
Simply put, Pocket Utopia never really stopped operating, as Austin has continued to assemble exhibitions and gatherings of various sorts under its nominal auspices, including a collaboration with Jason Andrew, of Norte Maar for Collaborative Projects in the Arts, to assemble a summer camp and artists’ retreat, Camp Pocket U, in Rouses Point, NY. That first physical space might have closed in 2009, but the gallery’s name has hardly been inactive since then.
And so, as such, in a way that also reflects Austin’s artwork and conceptual pursuits rather vividly, one might say that Pocket Utopia has long been a matter of resourcefulness and recycling, reenvisioning and reappropriation, ever an endeavor to make and remake and not waste—and always with variant notions of space and place.
Given that, if only to better contextualize the previous statement, consider the word ‘utopia.’ Its meaning is anything but obscure, and neither is its coining by Sir Thomas More five centuries ago as a moniker for a sociopolitically idyllic isle, but it is interesting to think about the pieces of the word individually. Its familiar form features of course just a ‘u’ before ‘-topia,’ from Greek ‘topos,’ meaning ‘place.’ That ‘u’ sound, though, can be back-derived as either ‘ou’ or ‘eu,’ the former meaning ‘not,’ the latter meaning ‘good.’
A simple orthographic shift can thus suggest a utopia, or Utopia, that is so great that it is ‘no place’ or that it has ‘not place,’ or one that is so great that is the place of ‘good.’
Which is to say, expect to find a great deal of good in Pocket Utopia’s new space. News of its imminent reopening is euphony for many.
Pocket Utopia’s new location is at 191 Henry Street, between Clinton and Jefferson on the Lower East Side. The Queen and I, a one-night exhibit of royal photographs by Donald Steele, takes place on Wednesday, 28 March, 6-8pm. The official reopening will then be one month later, on 29 April, with the exhibition Portraits of Artists: 18th Century French Engravings. Austin Thomas currently has artwork on view at Norte Maar as part of Tamara Gonzales’ exhibit, Untitled, which also features sculptures by Kevin Curran.
You can follow Paul D’Agostino on Twitter @postuccio