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Vacant Real Estate Turned Public Art Gets Attention in Flatiron District

By DNAinfo Staff on May 6, 2010 7:19pm  | Updated on May 6, 2010 7:18pm

"Revolution" is an art exhibition grabbing attention in the Flatiron District.
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By Nicole Breskin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

FLATIRON DISTRICT — It takes a lot to make New Yorkers stop in their tracks, but a new public art exhibition is getting Manhattanites to do just that.

Wedged in between a clothing store and an office building, the vacant shop at 1133 Broadway between 25th and 26th streets stands covered in newspaper, with large gaps revealing an upside-down sofa chair and dresser in one window, and a bizarre display featuring perfume and explosives in the other.

“It completely took me off guard,” said Jamal Brown, who stopped and did a double-take at the tableau during his walk home from work Wednesday. “It looks like a weird, upside-down world with bottles and bombs. Seems like a weird joke.”

An upside-down room is part of the exhibition.
An upside-down room is part of the exhibition.
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The display is actually an art exhibition put on by a nonprofit arts initiative called SmartSpaces, which uses vacant storefronts as de-facto galleries. The work, called “Revolution,” was done by local artist Lisa Kirk and was curated by fashion executive and fragrance designer Ulrich Lang.

Established in 2008, SmartSpaces is just now gaining steam with three exhibitions slated for Manhattan over the next sixth months. The Flatiron District installation is on display now, with one set to open in SoHo this summer and another in Chinatown this fall.

Each exhibition features a new artist and curator, with SmartSpaces overseeing the process and coordinating with local cultural institutions and property owners.

The owner of the Flatiron District space, Kew Management, has offered the storefront free of charge for the month of May.

“They give us space,” said SmartSpace founder Ellen Scott. “We give them exposure because people take notice of the space.”

Scott, who lives in the West Village and teaches at the Pratt Institute, first got the idea for SmartSpaces when she noticed empty storefronts in her neighborhood sitting idle for months at a time.

“So much space was wasted, and there’s so much great art in New York,” she said. “I thought, wasn’t there a way to link the two?”

Since then, she has been collaborating with the Downtown Alliance and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, producing exhibitions in Midtown, the Upper West Side and the Village.

“Manhattan is ideal because of its diversity and creative energy,” she said. “There’s a also curious energetic public to receive the art and there’s so much street life.”

The Flatiron District exhibition will officially launch on Friday, and viewers can attend the event by RSVP'ing online.