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Topless in Rockaway

Photography by Adam Kremer

The seasonal gallery, Topless, occupies a formerly vacant house, offering a lively program of contemporary art for the Rockaway community and visitors.

Topless co-founders Jenni Crain and Brent Birnbaum

Topless has just kicked off its second season in the Rockaways. Founded by Brent Birnbaum and Jenni Crain, the gallery seeks to reactivate various vacated storefronts destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Birnbaum and Crain expect the gallery to nomadically assume a new space each summer, renovating each location to the moderate extent necessitated by an exhibition space. In their inaugural summer of 2014, Topless inhabited a former eye doctor’s office on Beach 91st Street and Rockaway Beach Blvd. Electric was installed, and dropped ceilings removed, revealing 14-foot high ceilings and domed windows that had been boarded for decades. The gallerists chose to leave these distinguishing elements in tact, as evidence of the building’s history. Topless’ intention is that in addition to the cultural proffering inherent in an art gallery, that the two can extend something more tangible to the community, the possibility that these spaces may more likely be assumed by long-term tenants come summer’s end.

A view from the gallery.

This summer, Topless occupies a two-story home on Beach
96th Street. Unlike last summer’s location, in which renovations continuously unearthed concealed surprises, this space was completely gutted, now a box with studs and window frames barricaded by poured cement. The space has supposedly sat vacant for ten plus years and is rumored to have been a brothel at some point in its past.

Below find an overview of Topless’ first two exhibitions, along with their plans for the summer.

Sam Davis — 0.5 MOMMY MAN

June 13 – 28

Topless commenced the season with its first ever solo exhibition, “0.5 MOMMY MAN” with works by Sam Davis. The exhibition consists of sculpture and wall works fundamentally supported by written material. Sam’s work tends to investigate imagined worlds; less by building discreet objects and more by constructing small, living worlds. “0.5 MOMMY MAN” is Sam’s departure from the story of Antaeus in Greek mythology. Antaeus is the son of Poseidon and Poseidon’s grandmother, Gaia, who is the earth itself. Music, a fundamental facet of Sam’s practice, is further alluded to in the black and white printed works within this exhibition. The works depict a band of ants donning shaggy, mod bowl-cuts, a specifically stereotypical hair-do of a certain era of musician. These ants sing the truths of existence that Mommy Man is too sophomoric to see. They mock his naivety, recognizing that his and their own vitality is derivative of an imagined account of reality. The system loops upon itself in sync with the perpetual pulse of the metronome.

Mommy Man, 2015, Steel, enamel, oil-clay, hay, 28 x 69 x 82 inches
Mommy Man detail
Ant Song, 2015, Wood, paint, paper, ink, steel, plexiglass, rubber, hardware, 90 1/2 x 1 3/4 x 52 inches
Ant Song detail

Perhaps Sam’s most rigorous project hitherto “0.5 MOMMY MAN” was last year’s Louie, Louie performed and presented at Human Resources in Los Angeles. Sam organized the exhibition under his curatorial nom de guerre, the Faustus Group. It was another of his experiments with “world building”. Rather than existing through traditional modes of art presentation, the event (and exhibition) became something all encompassing. Sam sought to create an opera that functioned in the way that a painting can act as film: it started when you stood in front of it and ended when you walked away.  The band played throughout the two-day exhibition, repeating a very simple two chord structure that the musicians improvised upon. Over 40 artists, including Martine Syms, Becket Flannery, Sara Greenberger Rafferty and Paul Salvesson, were prompted to make specifically human scale works for the floor. Outfits were designed by Zoe Latta of Eckhaus Latta. The sculptures and the orchestra pit became a set where the opera would transpire. 


Special Table, 2015, Acrylic, glass, ceramic, newsprint, 12 x 12 x 12 inches
Special Table, 2015, Acrylic, glass, ceramic, newsprint, 12 x 12 x 12 inches

Anna Glantz — Horse in the Road

July 4 – 19

Horse in the Road is an exhibition of paintings that presents a cast of solitary characters traveling on an endless road. They are fugitives, outcasts, the publicly shamed, and the perpetually bored. What few possessions they own are wrapped in cloth and slung over the shoulder at the end of a stick: a scrap of bread, pair of socks, loaded gun, and two pearls for eyes. They come from 1960’s Italy, medieval Flemish farms, or perhaps, an occult 90s nightclub. Travelling alone and often in disguise by way of the full moon (or empty moon), they expected to come across a fork in the road—a junction where a decision would have to be made: right or left, over the bridge or around the lake—a moment that would seem deeply symbolic and milestone-y upon retelling, years later. All this to say, there was no fork in the road, but rather a horse. A horse with hooves planted firmly in the ground and black eyes coolly staring back.

(Left) The Infinite, the Gold, and the Deathless West, 2015. Oil on canvas. 84 x 52 inches, (Right) Blood on the Tongue, 2015. Oil on canvas. 84 x 52 inches
Blood on the Tongue detail
Saturnino X, 2015. Oil on canvas. 84 x 52 inches
Saturnino X detail

Topless will host four exhibitions this summer, each spanning a three week duration. The gallery is open Saturdays 12–7 and Sundays 12–6 and by appointment throughout the week. Upcoming exhibitions will open Saturday, July 25th, and Saturday, August 15th.