A Night Out at Brooklyn’s Galerie Kitsuné
The landmark brand’s new space reinvents gallery openings.
One trip to Galerie Kitsuné and I wonder if all the other galleries are doing it wrong.
It’s a Thursday night at the three-month-old gallery in Brooklyn’s picturesque Boerum Hill neighborhood. Bodies attired in jeans cuffed just right and an impossibly cool array of footwear are milling about the space. Instagram stories recorded and wine sipped, they peruse the exhibition “Act Like I’m Not Here,” featuring the work of photographer and DJ Conrad Clifton.
Space, I notice, is the key word here. Galerie Kitsuné itself is petite, but doorways extend into the new Cafe Kitsuné, which opened officially on May 11. After a while, its tables are dotted with people, their purchase of Clifton’s “Act Like I’m Not Here” book (limited edition of 100 copies) scanned while perched in laps or on tables as bottles of wine are poured into plastic cups. The hum of conversation purrs against sandy-colored walls. Clifton’s custom playlist resonates overhead, mellow but funky, including some of his own work in the intersection of house and hip-hop. I wonder what the art world might look like if every gallery opening was like this, where we came for the art but stayed for the conversation.
And stay people do. While I remember many a Chelsea gallery opening spent sipping my wine and making my way around the exhibition only to move onto the next, at this Galerie Kitsuné opening, people stick around. They’re buying the books, they’re reading the books, they’re chatting in the gallery and at tables in the cafe area. Even as someone often hesitant about capital-B Branded Spaces it’s easy to notice something different happening here. It makes me wonder what would happen if going to a gallery became the night out, instead of just being an excerpt from the longer story of one.
There will be even more opportunities to figure it out. Galerie Kitsuné has been open a short time, but there’s a new show opening every month. They’re dedicated in particular to emerging artists, and Conrad Clifton is their third thus far.
According to Kitsuné’s Marketing & Communications Manager Charly Araton, a dedicated gallery seemed like a no-brainer for the brand that’s made multidimensionality its calling card for the past 20 years, their clothing line, cafes, and music production regularly including collaborations with visual artists. They would hold small art shows at their archive space in Manhattan’s West Village on Perry Street, moving out all the clothing and offering some wall space, but it became clear after a while that four white walls were in their future. “I think we’re always looking to collaborate and see what’s next, so that’s how we wanted the gallery side to feel as well,” Araton says.
But they didn’t want to rush it. “So many brands can open up a concept space and not know what it takes to keep it consistently going on a logistical level like that,” Araton says. This isn’t something they wanted, of course. They knew and continue to learn that galleries take a high level of dedication, as much as their other spaces do.
For Clifton’s show in particular, the collaboration is one that’s been in the works for a while. He is a member of the Kitsuné family, having photographed, recorded, and DJ’d for them in the past, an artist as multidimensional as the brand themselves.
At one of Kitsuné’s Perry Street exhibitions, Clifton says, he talked to folks from the brand about doing a show, and they were interested. He started shooting and putting together “Act Like I’m Not Here,” which debuts tonight both as a book and on the gallery’s walls–none of the images have been released previously. Clifton’s images highlight the Brooklyn he loves, its people and city scenes in all their regalia, tattoos and tiaras, sneakers and street signs. “As a person of color, familiar with being overlooked and underrepresented, he strives to show Black and Brown people in a confident light and to challenge the viewer to experience layers of meaning beneath the surface,” the gallery’s wall text reads. All the images were shot on film, some on a 35mm Rolleiflex camera left to him by his grandfather.
What Clifton is looking for in an image is an energy, hoping to highlight the individual. “The main thing is trying to get to the core of the subject,” he says. “I’m always trying to get deeper into what’s happening in the frame and what the subject is thinking, the subject is feeling. And I always like to give them a little strength, a little power, if I can.”
It’s an exciting evening for Clifton, who sparkles with excitement as we speak. “I’m glad that they allowed me to do this and that they were interested enough to give me a shot,” he says. “This is the biggest thing I’ve ever put together, especially for photography. I’ve done live shows and festivals and things like that on the music side, but this is maybe a little more personal.”
Tonight Clifton shares himself with viewers and with the brand in a new way. That strength, that power he offers to his subjects is also a gift to himself. It makes the room buzz, that energy captivating. No wonder so many people stuck around.
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