Ditmas Park

Artist Matt Kenny On “1515 Church,” His Installation Based On The Church Avenue DNA Center Sign


1515 church avenue dna center sign, photo by Jane Hutta
“Local Landmark Immortalized,” reads the subject line of neighbor Jane Hutta’s email about a reproduction of Church Avenue’s beloved DNA Lab Center sign. Jane, who snapped the photo above, was walking through Manhattan’s Meatpacking District with her family when they noticed the familiar sight–and her research soon revealed that 55 Gansevoort is an experimental art gallery owned by Ellie Rines.

The installation, called 1515 Church, is an exact replica by artist Matt Kenny of our Church Avenue sign, which you may have seen on the sides of local vans as well as in front of its namesake. Jane’s husband Tom was kind enough to send us some information about the piece, on which he says he’s interested in hearing neighbors’ feedback. Via 55 Gansevoort:

This sculpture is a replica of a sign located on a sidewalk at 1515 Church Avenue at the juncture of one of the most culturally, economically, and architecturally diverse neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Situated near victorian mansions, a major shopping area, and Prospect Park’s Parade Grounds, the billboard’s startlingly negative poetry suggests an alternate psychic landscape of personal crisis. An image of a baby sits above the question “Does he really have his father’s eyes?” The formal characteristics of the sign itself, a collage of scrap conduit and steel framing, constitute a unique visual provocation on Church Avenue. Fatherhood, retail DNA testing, emblematic babies, and suspicion bluntly combine on this sidewalk in Ditmas Park.

At 55 Gansevoort, Kenny imports this ‘psychic landscape’ into the context of a tourist destination– a neighborhood with a rich history, high-end restaurants and designer boutiques. Committed to the sign’s integrity as an advertisement as well as its formal personality, Kenny produces a correspondence between these two very different locations provoking a variety of readings from issues of class and gentrification to notions of advertising’s rich poetic power. “1515 Church” is the artist’s most recent engagement with the psychological poetry of New York City’s ever-changing landscape.

We got in touch with Matt Kenny, who has had a studio in our area since 2005 and lived here for a period starting in 2003, to find out more about 1515 Church.

“I moved here from Myrtle Avenue in Bushwick,” Matt says, “so it was a drastic environmental shift. The fresh air is nice. Cinco de Mayo, Tibet Cafe, and Madina are a bonus. I have some friends in the neighborhood but for the most part the best thing about the neighborhood is its relative isolation. Very conducive to work.

“I had my eye on that sign for awhile now. Because the sign is so unbelievable I knew whatever I did with it had to be extremely straightforward.

“Everything about the sign is loaded. The baby is one of the first images that comes up if you Google ‘baby.’ The structure of the sign in and of itself is fairly unusual. The building behind it backs up this strangeness perfectly. Is Strategic Services a P.I. firm? Its location could not be more dynamic.

“‘Does he have his father’s eyes?’ is pretty aggressive for an advertisement, even in the age of Bloomberg’s health public service announcements,” Matt says. “There is a ‘Maury Povich’ flavor to it… DNA testing is a new-ish technology that feels–at least to me–mysterious.

“When Ellie and I started talking about doing a project at 55 Gansevoort, the DNA sign came to mind pretty quickly. I never contacted the clinic; I figured it would complicate things whether they embraced or rejected the idea.

“There are several sites around the city that I’ve watched closely over the years. The construction of the new World Trade Center, a long unfinished building on Great Jones Street, and Brooklyn Bridge Park have been a source of inspiration and material. I spend much of my fantasy life imagining New York’s past and future, so I was predisposed to picking up on the absurdity of the sign on Church Avenue.”

1515 Church is on view at 55 Gansevoort (between Greenwich and Washington Streets) through Saturday, June 14. The gallery’s site says, “The exhibitions at 55 Gansevoort are entirely visible, at all hours, by peering through the windowed doors.”

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