If you live in New York, you've probably walked past the Vector Gallery. Between the large neon signs saying "ILLUMINATI" and the glow-in-the-dark paintings of Charles Manson, the storefront art space stands out in the Lower East Side's sea of Chipotles and ATM machines. The gallery doors stay locked during most hours—few people have entered the space—but the lights stay on 24/7, making the gallery one of the last few notorious places in Manhattan that everyone recognizes without knowing much about it.
This week, the gallery doors will be locked for good.
Gay satanist artist JJ Brine opened the gallery two years ago as a space to create his Vector project—an elaborate art project that's part installation and part performance art. He has decorated the gallery from floor to ceiling with silver paint, neon lights, statues of gold men, and paintings of figures like Condoleezza Rice. At the gallery's few events, his friends and collaborators have performed as members of the Vector government. Brine, for example, calls himself "the Crown Prince of Hell." (The few times I have attended, his friend Julia has referred to herself as "the Oracle.") When visitors have tried to use the bathroom in the back room, Brine has told them they have to give him their souls to enter.
Once upon a time, by which I mean the 80s, artists owned storefronts like these all throughout downtown, but spaces like this haven't been seen in a long time. Over the past two years, downtown celebrities like Bruce LaBruce and Cat Marnell have praised Brine's throwback work, and the gallery has even received tabloid attention because of photos of Brine with his friend Amanda Bynes in Los Angeles.
This week, Brine announced he was locking the doors for good, leaving New York, and giving back souls to anyone who ever entered the back room to pee. He says he's flying to Tanna, Vanuatu, and then moving to Los Angeles to open a new Vector Gallery. When his lease ends this summer, he'll either fly back to New York to destroy the gallery or ask friends to do it for him. He said in an email to VICE:
"April 5 "Easter Sunday" is Night Of Interior Restitution" (NOIR) [sic]: those who have given away their souls as part of the masse pilgrimage to my backroom at VECTOR Gallery are now extended an opportunity to reclaim their souls: courtesy of the whims of this international conspiracy, along with the considerable interest the souls have accrued through the application of certain energetically transmogrifying methods of renewal. Such methods were handsomely complemented by the proceeds afforded unto them through loans and mortgages and other related energy schemes."
In the "P.S." of his email, Brine said he was leaving New York with a gift of "the unconditional advent of an irreversible decline into a shadow of all of the glories that it carries as a matter of pride."
"New York City will be a metaphor for something once great that has since died," he said. "And what a slow and excruciating death this will be, until at last the city falls into its dreamless and unending deathly sleep."
Before Brine locked the doors for the last time, we sent photographer Amy Lombard to document one of the last original places on the Lower East Side.
Photos by Amy Lombard; text by Mitchell Sunderland.