Pioneering Innovation

The somewhat remote waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn is known largely for its rich maritime history, and also as the home to artist Dustin Yellin's innovative complex, Pioneer Works.
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Dustin Yellin in his studio, 2014. All images courtesy of Pioneer Works.
The somewhat remote waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn is known largely for its rich maritime history, and also as the home to artist Dustin Yellin’s innovative complex, Pioneer Works. The former home of Pioneer Iron Works, a leading machine manufacturer back in 1866, the cavernous warehouse has been transformed into a creative incubator where art, science and education converge to educate and inspire all who enter. Founded by Yellin in 2011, Pioneer Works has quickly become a center for innovation, for both the quiet community of Red Hook, but also attracting and inspiring members of the close-knit New York art world. The gorgeous brick warehouse seems to be the center of just about everything, hosting temporary exhibitions, an artist and scientist residency program, classes on how to make everything from tintypes to kombucha, lectures by art and science leaders, a thick bi-annual publication called Intercourse, and events including parties, barbecues and performances.
Pioneer Works, façade.
Pioneer Works is Yellin’s fantastical Utopia come to life. He purchased the warehouse himself with proceeds from his artwork sales, and sought to create a collaborative dream, where science and art meet to inspire change, where like-minded people can get away from their computer screens to meet and exchange ideas, bouncing off each other’s energy, rather than working online. Yellin himself describes his vision with this anecdote, “Pioneer Works fearlessly bridges the chasm between disparate disciplines. A biologist excitingly beckons a musician to the microscope, a painter shares her sketches with a geneticist and together they discover a new algorithm for printmaking. It is a nursery for innovation, an alpine highway to the horizon of the imagination.”
Garden gate with work by JR.
Garden and event area.
Despite being located in the far reaches of Brooklyn, Pioneer Works has become a New York art world staple, luring both collectors and artists out of their familiar stomping grounds of Chelsea, the Lower East Side and even Bushwick, and out to the area where the nearest subway is at least a 20-minute walk away. The 24,000 square foot Pioneer Works is not another industrial space turned art gallery, but instead was founded to create a space that can be a catalyst for truly exciting projects that foster the relationship between art and science, while inspiring visitors to embrace their creativity with no-holds-barred. In the same vein of promoting innovation, the space is not the singular, creative (or curatorial) voice of Yellin, but instead operates on a collaborative ethos, creating partnerships between curators, artists, scientists, philosophers and the like, using this cross-pollination of varying disciplines as a strong jumping off point to present multi-layered, complex projects for the community to experience. Because Pioneer Works has non-profit status, exhibitions do not have to be profit-driven, and instead are able to exist on an idyllic and blissful plane of unadulterated creative energy.
Pioneer Works main exhibition space, Dale Henry exhibition.
The complex’s exhibition space is no less than an awe-inspiring, open, 3-story high space that is overlooked by the second and third-floor studios and labs above. Smaller, more traditional gallery spaces have been built out on the ground floor to accommodate more intimate shows, as well as a large welcoming area that can double as a performance space. The space has hosted exhibitions like the amorphic robot works of Chico MacMurtrie, which took over the main hall with a remote controlled inflatable robot that hung from the ceiling, the puppet master controlling the piece from a power station on the second floor. A collection of nine years of paintings by Ernesto Caivano took over the space in 2013, and a collection inspired by the publications of Mark Pezinger Verlag.
Their upcoming exhibition opening July 31 will be an expansive photography exhibition that celebrates VICE Magazine’s 13th annual Photo issue, with a theme of photographic illusions and includes work by Weegee, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Richard Kern and Sara Cwynar. This exhibition is followed in September by another photography exhibition entitled
The Oldest Living Things in the World
, with work by Brooklyn-based Rachel Sussman and curated by Christina Costello. The ever-changing roster consistently features both known and under the radar artists, chosen by curators for their aesthetic merit rather than their standing within the art world.
Science lab.
Discussion, Jeanne Susplugas exhibition, 2014.
These special exhibitions are coupled with shows by Pioneer Works’ artists-in-residence, who have access to the complex’s state of the art facilities. The prestigious residency gives the chosen creatives access to the functioning laboratory, the Science Initiative, along with the team of scientists in residences, giving artists an opportunity to collaborate or experiment during their time here. Invited artists get their own studios, along with access to the 3D printer, metal shop, wood shop and soon a photography department with a dark room and digital studio. Visitors can even take a peek into the private studios once a month at their Second Sundays event when open studios are held.
Artist in residence Thomas Beale’s studio, 2014.
Although Yellin bought the building in 2010, when Pioneer Works first opened to the public in 2012, the Red Hook community was still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy which had descended just 8-months before. The addition of this complex to the neighborhood gave locals a break from focusing on reconstruction and rebuilding in the form of a forward- thinking arts center that welcomed the community to experience and enjoy, becoming a part of it. Pioneer Works’ influence has made Yellin an unofficial community leader, with locals responding to him with love and familiarity as he makes his daily Red Hook rounds. With both his home and personal studio nearby, Yellin has inserted himself as a part of the community, supporting and uniting with the other galleries in the area to strengthen this idyllic artistic enclave. With Pioneer Works, Yellin has created something bigger than his own art work. It is here that art is life and life is art, forging collaboration and innovation for the greater good of our creative souls.
Article written by Lori Zimmer

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