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© Bitlake/Pixabay
© Bitlake/Pixabay

A Guide to Brooklyn's Weird and Wonderful Art Locales

Picture of Rachel Gould
Rachel Gould
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 28 July 2017

Where can you eat truffle popcorn surrounded by Victorian wax death masks and party in a cannonball factory-turned-contemporary exhibition space? In Brooklyn, of course.

Gowanus Bat Cave

Known to locals as the Bat Cave, the derelict Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power Station (completed in 1903) stands on the shores of the Gowanus Canal, redeemed by passing graffiti artists whose tags and murals have repurposed the location into a shabby-chic Brooklyn landmark. More recently, Pritzker Prize-winning architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron have designed a new on-site facility for fabrication in wood, metal, ceramics, textiles, and printmaking. Construction on the soon-to-be Powerhouse Workshop will begin next year, and is due for completion in 2020.

322 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215

#GowanusBatcave #Gowanus #Brooklyn #NYC #abandoned #graffiti #dope

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Robotic Church

Housed within a former Lutheran church for Norwegian sailors, the Robotic Church is an on-site installation of computer-controlled sculptures. Forged by Chico MacMurtie of Amorphic Robot Works between 1987 and 2006, the robotic fleet communicates sporadically via rhythm and movement to create not only a tech-centric sculptural installation, but an all-out performance piece. Click here for a list of upcoming performance dates.

111 Pioneer Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231

Tumbling Man | © Douglas Adesko

Tumbling Man | © Douglas Adesko

House of Wax

Tucked away within the Alamo Drafthouse cinema space, House of Wax is one of Brooklyn’s most “curious” bar/museum hybrids. Expertly “combining mixology with the macabre,” the venue is inspired by a 19th century wax museum with an extensive display of life-sized wax works. The objects on view—including wax death masks and anatomical renderings—are the authentic remains of a German wax art exhibition called Castan’s Panopticum, which ran from 1869 until 1922. A full bar with speciality cocktails like the “Butcher of Hanover” (Fernet Branca, Carpano Antica Formula, lemon, IPA, Angostura) and the “Napolean Death Mask” (Cognac, Cardamaro, Cynar, rhubarb bitters, bacon, and salt) accompanies a menu of light bites.

445 Albee Square West #4410, Brooklyn, NY 11201

© Victoria Stevens/Courtesy of House of Wax

© Victoria Stevens/Courtesy of House of Wax

The City Reliquary

Established in 2002 on founder Dave Herman’s Williamsburg windowsill, the City Reliquary has since become a beloved non-profit museum. Originally on the corner of Havemeyer and Grand Streets, enthusiastic pedestrians would often stop to admire Herman’s miniature exhibition, accompanied by a button on the building’s façade that, when pushed, would kickstart an audio guide to Herman’s cornucopia of oddities—from dentures to figurines. In 2006, the City Reliquary moved to a storefront at 370 Metropolitan Avenue. Today, the museum’s collection has expanded to include postcards, pieces of New York City landmark buildings, subway tokens, and more.

370 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211

Courtesy of the City Reliquary

Courtesy of The City Reliquary

Lite Brite Neon Studio

This Gowanus-based studio specializes in the neon artworks that you’ve probably admired in many a shop window, from Tiffany & Co. to Bergdorf Goodman. A collective of artists whose expertise lies in encapsulating and manipulating neon light, the craftspeople at Lite Brite Neon Studio have worked with some of the world’s premier artists like Keith Sonnier, and institutions like the MoMA and the Whitney. While the studio is a workshop for commissions, passersby can catch a glimpse at some of their dazzling projects through the window. The studio is open by appointment only, but will participate in this year’s Open House New York, which returns on October 14 and 15.

232 3rd Street # C102, Brooklyn, NY 11215 

Courtesy of Lite Brite Neon Studio

Courtesy of Lite Brite Neon Studio

Brooklyn Art Library

The Williamsburg-based Brooklyn Art Library is home to more than 36,000 artist sketchbooks from over 135 countries. Comprising the library’s ongoing Sketchbook Project, each sketchbook is barcoded and catalogued with searchable details through a system developed to facilitate and personalize your perusal. Artists are also free to submit their sketches to the growing collection. While you need a library card to access the volumes, everything can be checked out for free or accessed digitally through their website.

28 Frost Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211

Courtesy of The Sketchbook Project

Courtesy of The Sketchbook Project

The Mosaic House on Wyckoff Street

A tricked-out brownstone has become a neighborhood landmark thanks to owner Susan Gardner’s penchant for turning trash and other discarded materials into a stunning work of mosaic art. Using buttons and beads, dropped change, broken CD fragments, and anything else you may find on the street (within reason), Gardner got to work on updating her home as a therapeutic pastime following the September 11 attacks in 2001, and her project has since spread from the building’s façade to the wrought iron fence in front.

108 Wyckoff Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11201

Green-Wood Cemetery

For the next 25 years, Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery is hosting a presence of a different kind. In April, French conceptual artist Sophie Calle parted with Creative Time to inaugurate an intimate and ongoing public project in which passersby are invited to bury transcriptions of their deepest, darkest secrets in a tomb-like sculpture. Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery is scheduled to run until the year 2042, when Calle will exhume and ceremoniously burn the lot.

Green-Wood Cemetery, 500 25th Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11232

© Leandro Justen/Courtesy of Creative Time

© Leandro Justen/Courtesy of Creative Time

Gowanus Ballroom

A cavernous former cannonball factory-turned-steel-mill from the 19th century, the Gowanus Ballroom currently serves as an exhibition space for art, architecture, and design. The 16,000 square-foot space plays host to “a community of artists, makers, scholars, and enthusiasts who put on experimental and alternative art-based shows you can’t find anywhere else,” according to the website, and works to preserve the integrity of art by detaching themselves from the market. Rather, the Gowanus Ballroom is a place for artists to showcase and hopefully sell their work directly to a buyer. Stop by for a look at what’s new in sculpture, painting, installation and performance art.

55 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215

#BorrowedPathsBrokenRules

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Dead Horse Bay

From horse rendering plant (aka the glue factory) to 19th century landfill, Dead Horse Bay is now in its third phase as a treasure trove of glass artifacts. The location has a pretty grim past, but this only adds to the bay’s bizarre offerings, which still extend to pieces of horse bone. This is an ideal place for beach glass enthusiasts to scavenge for new additions to their collections, and served as the inspiration for an exhibition titled Dead Horse Bay: The Glass Graveyard of Brooklyn at the Agnes Varis Art Center earlier in 2017.

Between the Gerritsen Inlet and Rockaway Inlet, Brooklyn, NY 11234

Coney Art Walls

An “outdoor museum of street art” created in 2015 to help revitalize the area, the Coney Art Walls exhibit colorful murals by talented street artists—both emerging and established—from all over the world. Co-curated by Joseph Sitt and Jeffrey Deitch, the murals have since become a Coney Island staple, with 20 new additions this year alone. A 50,000-square-foot site located by the Coney Island boardwalk, stop by for a gander at graffiti art by the likes of Icy & Sot and eL Seed, and snap an obligatory Instagram photo.

3050 Stillwell Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11224

© Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

© Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

In Memoriam: The Morbid Anatomy Museum

While the doors of this beloved museum shut tragically due to severed funds in December 2016, no list of Brooklyn’s unusual art spaces could possibly be complete without a nod to one of the borough’s flat-out weirdest institutions. Housed in a transformed Gowanus nightclub, the Morbid Anatomy Museum was treasured for its, well, morbid displays of taxidermy, occult objects, and other deathly artifacts. RIP.