56 MFA Students Took Over a Pharmaceutical Factory
The Pfizer Factory in Williamsburg gets an artistic overhaul for the Columbia MFA show, 'Finished Goods Warehouse.'
Finished Goods Warehouse installation view, 2016. Photograph courtesy of Andrew Cannon
The former factory of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer may seem like a peculiar place to host an art exhibition, but the 660,000 square foot building has more than enough open space to house the work of 56 MFA students. Finished Goods Warehouse is this year’s edition of the Columbia MFA summer show, an event that brings first- and second-year Visual and Sound Art MFA candidates together to show work under a single roof on the border between Bed-Stuy and Williamsburg, an opportunity for inter-year artistic connection that is otherwise difficult in light of the second-year students' focus on their thesis works.
“We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do the show in this part of the former Pfizer factory, which was actually called ‘Finished Goods Warehouse,' a title that I borrowed for the show, in part as a nod to the site but also as a slightly irreverent take on exhibitions-as-showcases of work that are fresh out of the studio,” tells Natalie Bell, the curator of the exhibition. Because most of the works were created during over the summer, Bell adds that she “saw the works for the first time when they were being installed, so there was a lot of improvisation when we were hanging and placing work, which can be challenging, but that’s also where interesting correspondences can emerge.”
As to be expected from a show with over four dozen artists, the works are incredibly diverse in both medium and content. The thematic openness of the exhibition works well with the enormous space, with each work given ample breathing room (with the exception of occasional groupings when thematically permissible). Due to the scale and breadth of the works, the exhibition feels more like viewing a museum’s permanent collection, were it not for the metal gate one passes to access the show and the overall industrial atmosphere of the space.
Near the center of the space lies an animatronic wolf in a cage. Pressing the blue button on the installation’s pedestal activates Cary Hulbert's The Prophet I, who immediately springs to life and offers a futuristic platitude like “In the future, everything can be downloaded and uploaded. Fact-checking is the most common job,” and “In the future, three languages are now dominant through human species: emoji, binary, and English.”
On a neighboring wall lies Geronimo Mercado’s Vicrtrolian Man, a series of 11 mounted vinyl records playing simultaneously. Each of the records visually depicts an MRI film scan of the artist’s own body that spin in circles while emitting sounds derived from MRI machines, bodily sounds, and light reflection samples of the film contrast turned into sound waves.
Emily Kloppenburg's Not a Jersey Girl series shifts the exhibition towards a documentary direction. Opting to engage with the history of the Pfizer factory, Kloppenburg met with a woman who worked as the first female mechanic in the factory, photographing her and documenting her experience working at the same spot where the students’ works were being erected. Not a Jersey Girl adds an important element of historicity to an exhibition that is not located in a placid, white-walled space, but in the space of a once important pharmaceutical factory.
The expansiveness of the exhibition takes off from there, ranging from works like Adam Liam Rose’s View I, a birdhouse-esque sculpture that hides digital skyscapes within its peephole, to The Flood by Pablo Montealegre, a bisected corner painting of household goods crashing down a waterfall. Overall, Finished Goods Warehouse is a refreshing and rewarding experience to see what young, rising MFA artists are creating, as well as seeing these works respected in a large, unorthodox space that gives them more “breathing room,” so to speak.
Finished Goods Warehouse will be on view at the former Pfizer plant at 630 Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn until August 27th.