Phong Bui, who founded art mag The Brooklyn Rail nearly 20 years ago, is turning a residential tower in downtown Brooklyn into a work of art. Presented with the opportunity to commission artists to bedeck the halls of brand new residential housing complex at 66 Rockwell Place, Bui turned to friend and fellow artist Thomas Vu, who runs the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies at Columbia University. The two recruited more than a dozen students and recent graduates to create distinct works of art in the vestibules of nearly every floor. Fittingly, the Rail’s curatorial wing, Rail Curatorial Projects, dubbed the commission Hallway Hijack.
“The idea of the hallway is so interesting because it’s neither private nor public," Bui tells The Creators Project. "The tenants don’t take ownership of it. It’s a transitory space, which I like very much."
A curator who routinely transfigures the everyday into art and the recipient of mentorship from art world elites in the ‘90s, Bui feels compelled to nurture the next generation of creators. “Opportunities in New York City for young artists are very slim, almost nonexistent, because of real estate prices, economic pressure, inflation, and whatnot," Bui says. "Artists are slowly disappearing if we don’t find ways to provide them with opportunities by means of housing, residencies, and grants. I think that if New York loses all of those things, it will be very devastating."
Nicole Maloof is one of the artists chosen by Bui. Her hallway unfolds as a cascade of sky-blue line drawings, with cartoon cats amidst Dr. Seuss-like vegetation, punctuated by crimson asterisks. “I take notes on long projects and have a background in science," Maloof explains, "so I'm used to the academic way of referencing things, but I also wanted to be playful. I knew going in that I wanted to leave a trail of notes, in a way, but I wasn't sure exactly what that meant."
The impulse manifests as a list printed by the elevator that, like a true academic, Maloof appended as “footnotes” to her piece. “Knowing people, since they can’t just copy-paste into their browser, actually have to take a picture or type text into their phones to Google it, I kind of wanted them to live with the image for six months before they chose to investigate," she says. "I love thinking you know something, then realizing you don’t, and it becomes something else in your mind."
“I’m really interested in discourse, so any opportunity to share my work, even in this strange hallway in a residential building, is important,” Maloof says. “Anywhere art can potentially squeeze itself in and give people an opportunity to think about visual culture is a win.” The artists infuse the building’s sea green hallways with a dizzying array of subjects and styles, transforming carbon copied floorplans into a creative oasis where a cache of lucky Brooklynites dwell way up high, amidst original art.