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Friday Night @ The Guggenheim: We'll Come From Brooklyn


In it's 50th year, world renowned Upper East Side arts institution, the Guggenheim, is kicking off a monthly concert series lasting through December-- and with a name like It Came From Brooklyn, it's not hard to deduce where the inspiration of the featured musicians/authors/artists comes from.

The first installment, on Friday August 14th, sets off a borough-centric bang with the Brooklyn Steppers Marching Band, the experimental DIY duo High Places, and FREEwilly favorites The Walkmen. Colson Whitehead, who's 2008 NY Times article I Write In Brooklyn. Get Over It. hit a little too close to home, will be reading excerpts of the great Walt Whitman, not to mention the comedic MC skills of Leo Allen.

And who better to backbone such an event than co-producers Bronwyn Keenan and Sam Brumbaugh? With long standing ties in our 'hood, I have no problem with their crowns of curatorial representation of "our" New York. Ok, maybe one-- why not get Todd P involved? Ok, I'm kidding-- but if you know me, experimental and DIY (i.e. High Places) is right up my alley, and I do wish the boundaries were stretched a little bit further beyond. But with that said, this is the Frank Lloyd Wright rotunda, and not a Bushwick rooftop, we're talking about here.

I got a chance to catch up with the minds behind Brooklyn to debunk some Brooklyn-Manhattan borders, specifically on the arts creation and appreciation plane. Brumbaugh, when asked about the invisible lines along the Hudson, said it best-- "A museum on the Upper East is not a big leap from three stops in on the L." So get out your Metrocards and head uptown, this is a party you don't want to miss!

Tickets for sale here.

For more from co-producers Keenan and Brumbaugh on the event, the future of the Brooklyn Renaissance, and how the Guggenheim plans to keep up... check out the rest of the interview after the jump.

First things first, how did the idea for It Came From Brooklyn arise?

Sam Brumbaugh: The title references Peter Guralnick's book about Elvis and the original rock and roll scene "It Came From Memphis". It's not, as some places seem to believe, a sci-fi reference. In regards to the idea, it just seemed to us, more and more, half the time you hear something you like, or begin to read something you like, you look further and there's some mention of Brooklyn. And it just keeps coming. Just recently there's Rachel Sherman's new novel, The Antlers, Mountains, Javelin, the NYRB re-issue of L.J. Davis' "A Meaningful Life", and The Fiery Furnaces new record is really good. Brooklyn has obviously changed a lot over the past decade, these are great things that have come out of these changes. The name of the band "Endless Boogie" is a sort of funny but real way to quantify the vibe of what's been going on.

Bronwyn Keenan: I should also note that Matthew Friedberger (of the Fiery Furnaces) is collaborating with the artist Rob Pruitt on the upcoming Art Awards on October 29. He is creating the original score and all additional music. Stay tuned for that since the creative exchange typified by ‘It Came from Brooklyn’ is continuing through much of the events programming this fall.

Bronwyn Keenan, Assoc. Director of Special Events and Sam Brumbaugh, Author co-produce It Came From Brooklyn

Bronwyn, since your transition from gallery to Guggenheim, you've brought a certain edge to the events department. Why do you believe that openings, galas, etc. are important for the museum community?

BK: Glad to hear you think that! Events are crucial for the purposes of community-building and fundraising, all the more so during an economic downturn. I hope that programming such as It Came from Brooklyn will appeal to a wide audience—uptown, downtown, outer boroughs. Come one, come all! Aside from my gallery experience, I think my involvement with the organization Downtown for Democracy also strongly informed my approach to events programming here at the museum. I’m interested in casting wider nets all the time.

Sam, why is the incorporation of music in these events important? And if you could answer the age old dilemma-- is music art?

SB: These days, in regards to ‘is it art’, that's more a question you'd gear toward fashion designers. I might, you know, give Ben Cho the nod. Not a lot of others. But also really, to me it’s not a matter of categorization, it’s a matter of doing something well, to an effect. High Places and The Brooklyn Steppers do a specific thing very well, generate a certain kind of reaction. I guarantee you most of their distant relatives or grandmother or whoever certainly believe that they, as musicians, are artists by nature. The Cramps insisted they weren't art. But they were, they couldn't help it. Neither could Elvis.

The Guggenheim's website refers to a sort of Brooklyn Renaissance, do you believe from your literary and arts perspectives that creative types of future generations will feel the same about the current Brooklyn artistic explosion? Or has it always been here, and just now getting more media play?

BK: Williamsburg probably first entered my consciousness a short time after I moved to New York—sometime around 1990. I remember visiting an artist’s studio around this time for a show I curated at Max Fish. I’m pretty sure I saw a tumbleweed blow down Bedford Avenue.
Just a few years later Pierogi 2000 opened and quickly established itself as vital to the local visual arts community. I think it took a venue like Pierogi to harness the explosion and give it a more prominent voice. The Flat Files have been an ingenious and democratic way to provide a platform for local artists. The Files have traveled all over the world. In fact, I bought my first serious work of art in 1995 out of the Pierogi Flat Files--a small ink drawing for $200.

SB: I think that is more determined by the way music, and even now books, are released. Music in particular these days, simply by the way it is released and listened to, will be much harder in the future to remember in terms of a scene--a time and place. So I don't think it’s a scene that will be revered in retrospect--like "no wave" downtown in the 70's. I don't think that's possible anywhere anymore. But Brooklyn now, for a long time, will be a place to move to if you have a serious artistic determination. A place you can learn a lot by immersing yourself in the quality and variability of a lot of the stuff coming out of there. You know, having high standards around to work up to. Colette, this girl who baby sits my son, is at Cooper Union. But she already doesn't want to live in the dorm downtown, she's looking to find a cheap room in Brooklyn somewhere.

With such an eclectic mix of talent at the opening show on August 14th, where was your curatorial starting point? And how do you plan on a seamless transition from marching band, to rock concert, to Walt Whitman reading?

SB: Well the Walkmen are going to have a horn section, so that will echo the Steppers. Whitman reads like hymns. He's a musical writer. Plus I have the Mighty Flashlight (Mike Fellows) helping out. He shines a seamless assurance on all proceedings.

BK: Leo Allen as emcee will also lend a lot of structure to the evening by creating natural transitions.

More than just being from &/or living in Brooklyn, what are some prerequisites of the artists/musicians/writers showcased in the series?

SB: Well, relating to what I said before, it just has to be good art. And the connection to Brooklyn just has to be real. They don't need to have lived there. Paul Banks (who is performing in September as Julian Plenti) had a practice space with Interpol in North Williamsburg for a long time. They were there, for years, working. That, to me, is a serious connection.

BK: Mike Pare, who made the artwork of the lion that represents the series, is someone who we naturally reached out to participate in the project. Mike’s artwork tends to draw on the 60s and 70s counterculture -- he’s also known for his graphite drawings depicting scenes from the Altamont free concert in 1969, some of which I showed at my gallery back in the day. We loosely described the idea to Mike and he came back with the esoteric, lo-fi approach of the lion in repose, which we immediately connected with.

Do you feel the series, which is representing the museum in its 50th year, is a step towards a more competitive future for the Guggenheim, in an ever changing world of more Downtown-y arts establishments such as the New Museum?

BK: The Guggenheim is known in the art community as an entrepreneurial place, willing to take risks and respond to new ideas quickly. I think events programming is part and parcel of that approach. The Guggenheim’s majestic rotunda almost begs artists of all stripes to transform the space with their work. It Came from Brooklyn is in the spirit of recent performances by Marina Abramovic (“Seven Easy Pieces”) and Meredith Monk (“Ascension Variations”), performances that the museum has a long history of showcasing.

As a native New Yorker who lives in Brooklyn, I often cross paths with the "Brooklyn? I don't go there." mentality. Why do you believe this stigma exists in the Manhattanite community and do you have hopes of altering this ideology by bringing Brooklyn to Guggenheim's Upper East Side?

SB: Yes, but I think it’s also the opposite. A lot of young people in Brooklyn are becoming very Borough-centric--maybe more like it used to be, and look at Manhattan as another city, a kind of overpriced Oz. But Brooklyn and Manhattan are part of the same city. One of the purposes of this series was to try to loosen up those "I don't go there" perceptions--on both sides. A museum on the Upper East is not a big leap from three stops in on the L.

BK: I haven’t come up against that mentality all that much in recent years. I think the barrier between Manhattan and Brooklyn fell some time ago as “Upper East Siders” made regular treks to Brooklyn for studio visits. I imagine most have grown accustomed to crossing over the bridge and now visit more frequently, not only for the art but for the music and the food. All these scenes are thriving and what makes them all the more exciting is the way they intersect.

Who do you think is creating the most compelling art/music coming out of Brooklyn these days?

SB: Rivka Galchen. DJ Rupture. Blank Dogs. Yeasayer. I love Growing. Hackamore Brick were Brooklyn. Be nice to see them come out thirty years later with a follow up.

What are some other projects you currently have in the woodwork? Can we expect more collaboration between you two in the future?

SB: Well next year we might try "It Came Back From Brooklyn". Or we could move on with the series. "It Came From Philly." "It Came From Baltimore". "Denton, Texas". Like a kind of slow unfolding annual travelogue of art scenes.

BK: I’m working on the first-ever awards ceremony for the art community, scheduled for October 29. It’s called Rob Pruitt Presents: The First Annual Art Awards. It’s a performance-based artwork by Pruitt and also a fundraising event for the Guggenheim, White Columns, and Studio in a School. A new model for fundraising, with an emphasis on community.

And finally, what is your favorite Brooklyn Neighborhood? Describe your perfect day there.

SB: Well I've always loved the still somewhat Italian area around Manhattan/Withers. But mostly I've lived in North Williamsburg. Kent. 11th St. Now I'm in lower Manhattan but have had an office on Hope St. My day these days would be to walk my son to school, walk over the bridge to the tennis courts on Bedford and N 12th, play a good set--play a lot of aggressive angles at net, shower at the water fountain and change my shirt, get some lunch at Roebling Tea room, a large coffee at Oslo, and go to work just behind there in my crappy office with the hall that smells like cat piss, and then walk home at the end of the day, back over the bridge to put my son to sleep. I like to walk.

BK: Hard to choose a favorite neighborhood though I’d say a perfect day might involve breakfast or lunch at Roberta’s or Marlow & Sons, followed by a few hours of sailing (a few friends purchased a sailboat that they dock in Brooklyn), an hour or two at The Flea, then head up to the roof of my building in Williamsburg to watch the sunset and listen to my beau Michael strum guitar, and later cook dinner for friends and family.

Again, It Came From Brooklyn starts at 8pm on Friday August 14th. And be sure to mark your calendar for the next installment on September 25th with Julian Plenti (aka Paul Banks of Interpol), I'm In You, readings from Rivka Galchen and Hampton Fancher, and... drumroll please... Eugene Mirman!


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Flavorwire did another interview with Bronwyn and Sam a few days before!

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