By Jay Varney
Maspeth is a strange and beautiful place that has been forgotten by most New Yorkers. It is a labyrinth of factories, warehouses, metal shops, and railroad tracks tangled within the source of the Newtown Creek. Though it is only about 3 miles from midtown, Maspeth has remained somewhat immune to the flood of hipsters, young investment bankers, and trust fund babies invading other parts of Brooklyn and Queens. It’s lack of subways and express bus stops has allowed the neighborhood to stay true to the working class people who live there. The large mural welcoming you to the business district depicts a bald eagle and an american flag. The mural reads, “Maspeth is America.”
When I heard about a new events center opening in Maspeth, I knew I had to go. It was sure to be a cathedral to industrial age New York.
The space is called The Knockdown Center and it did not disappoint.
The Knockdown Center is a huge compound behind a corrugated steel fence with a rolling gate. Once through the unassuming entryway, you are greeted by its brick walls and smokestack buttresses. The website gives us some history of the building:
“Knockdown Center is an art center and event space dedicated to unusual projects and collaborations.
The 50,000 square foot building has seen continuous use for more than 100 years: first as a glass factory, then as a door factory. It is named for the Knock-Down door frame that was invented here in 1956 by Samuel Sklar and remains an industry standard to this day. The frame could be shipped in pieces — or “knocked down” — and installed into existing walls, revolutionizing the speed and efficiency of building construction.
The factory has since remained in the Sklar family and is again a site for innovation. Having undergone a renovation that is equal parts preservationist and state of the art, Knockdown Center now produces and hosts cultural events and exhibitions that respond to its unique architecture and dimensions. Featuring programming of diverse formats and media, Knockdown Center aims to create a radically cross-disciplinary environment.”
Out front, visitors are greeted by “A Way From Home” a mobile art project by J McDonald. The Knockdown Center uses it as a venue for various small installations and events.
During my visit, they were showing an installation called, “Suspended Forest,” by Michael Neff. In the true spirit of the Knockdown Center, the artist repurposed old Christmas trees by suspending them from the ceiling. Like the space in which they are shown, the trees find new life after their original purpose has been served. This highly interactive display is representative of the hottest trend in art. Experience and narrative are highly valued. Viewers want to know the backstory and process. They want to touch the art and they want an experience that stimulates all the senses.
The Knockdown center is a highly interactive space. It is true to its nature and genuine in the projects it supports. While I was there, they were working on an expansion. In the future, I’m sure we will see more great things from them.