A Pocket Utopia at the Whitney Art Party

Austin Thomas is a jack of all trades. An artist, gallerist, blogger, mother, and community organizer of sorts, Thomas also brews her own beer. “I serve it at my gallery and people love it!” she told Artsy. “I just finished brewing a specially commissioned beer for OSMOS [the magazine] which will be served on Monday May 12.” The Bushwick art scene will know Thomas (and her brews) for her artist-run community space, Pocket Utopia (now based in the LES), a salon and meeting ground hosting exhibitions, programs, and discussions that is soon to merge with Chelsea’s Hansel & Gretel Picture Garden

“Pocket Utopias” has also become an umbrella term for the artist’s playful collages—pencil and pen-on-paper compositions of repeating patterns and doodles—with names like Written on yellow legal pad, partly in screenplay format, designed to actively entertain the viewer, 2013 and Stand Clear of the Closing Doors (2013), recalling the famous refrain heard on the British subway system. “The collages become like proposals for perches and sculptures,” Thomas says, invoking the many wood and metal climbing frames, benches, and social structures she has created, the latest of which is set to be unveiled in a park near Bushwick over the summer. “It’s called Plaza Perch,” she explains. “I've been working on the piece for about three years. It’s a community piece and a very special pagoda for a new park. I see it as a place to sit and rest or eat or even a nice spot for a poetry reading.”

Thomas’s interest in space and structure extends beyond the social. At the Whitney Art Party this week, her donated collage Naum—named after the Russian Constructivist sculptor Naum Gabo—is on view. The work takes an exploratory approach to the iconic artist’s work. “I have taken the shape of his sculpture and sort of filled it in with my thoughts in order to learn and about his structure and space,” she says of the piece. What’s up next for Thomas? “I would love to build one of my public pieces which I call ‘perches’ in every park, museum lobby or plaza around the city and beyond, but I can’t really do that!”

Explore more artists at Heiner Contemporary.