Founded last year by Jenni Crain and Brent Birnbaum, Topless Gallery is an estival exhibition project that has done an admirable job of contributing energy, enthusiasm and, of course, art to the many sorts of revitalizing activities that have come to define, at least to some extent, the life and commerce of Rockaway Beach since Hurricane Sandy. By setting up shop for a few months at a time in a different space each year—that’s the case so far, anyway, as last year they were in a former eye doctor’s office, while this year they’re in an abandoned two-story home—the gallery’s directors are as interested in rehabilitating damaged, vacated structures as they are in bringing some sort of regularly programmed arts initiatives to the beach town. The first Topless show of the 2015 season has just opened, and the rest of the summer’s schedule is all planned, so we thought it might be a good moment to check in with Crain and Birnbaum to ask a few questions about last year’s experiences and this year’s agenda.
You’ve just inaugurated your second season of summer programming as Topless. You’ve got a new space to work in, and a new series of exhibitions planned for the coming months. Take us back a bit, though, and tell us how it all got underway, and why.
We wanted a way to give back to a community that we both derive profound pleasure from. Rockaway is a really unique community with an immense amount of personality and character. After Sandy, many storefronts were left in a state of disrepair, and many still remain in such states. Founding Topless was a way to reactivate those spaces. We felt that we could extend a project unlike anything that had formerly existed in Rockaway and that may be enjoyed by all—locals and down-for-the-day-ers alike. Topless hosts a pretty quirky program that we feel reinforces that undeniable special something synonymous with Rockaway.
How do you feel your project was received by nearby businesses, the surrounding community, and the artists you’ve worked with? Did you learn anything in particular last year that affected your planning for this year?
The amount of support with which the local community has embraced Topless is completely compelling. It is thrilling and inspiring, and we wouldn’t be here without such a welcoming. For that we are truly grateful. As with any emerging projects and businesses, we definitely made a few slight tweaks and did some finessing for our second season. Overall, though, we have stayed very true to our original vision. Topless is a constant learning experience, and as the program develops, we imagine that the project’s capacity will also expand.
Tell us a bit about your current show.
Our current exhibition, 0.5 MOMMY MAN, is the first of the 2015 season and our first ever solo show. It features works by Sam Davis and conceptually revolves around the Greek mythological figure Antaeus. The show opened Saturday, June 13th, and will extend through Sunday, June 28th.
What other exhibitions and gatherings have you got lined up for the rest of the season?
0.5 MOMMY MAN aside, Topless will host three more exhibitions this summer, each spanning a three-week duration. Our second exhibition, Horse in the Road, is a solo exhibition of paintings by Anna Glantz. The opening will be held from 6–9pm on Saturday, July 4th, and the show will continue through Sunday, July 19th. From there we move on to a three-person exhibition with works by Lauren Clay, Carey Denniston and Hanne Lippard, which opens on July 25th. We will wrap up the 2015 season with a larger group show opening August 15th. Also, on July 18th, we will be collaborating with Zax, a Bushwick-based supper club organized by Will Stewart. We plan to bring Zax to Rockaway, offering affordable bites and beverages prepared by the talented ladies behind Hudson caterers, Table | Table.
Will you be in gear again next year? Anything already booked in terms of artists, shows, or bases of operation?
Topless will prevail as long as the project can possibly sustain itself, and that is why we need all the wonderful support from YOU! With that said, we certainly envision a season three in our future. Topless will be releasing our first publication this fall, an artist book comprising new and original content by each of the artists who participated in our first season. We are hopeful that, along with our exhibitional program, the artist book will be an annual celebration.
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