Ryan Foerster’s Home Is Where the Art Is

Also, a roof with a hole in it, a dirty sink and exploding sewers

How he got to Brighton Beach is another story. Looking for odd jobs to pay the bills, Mr. Foerster met Ms. Goldsmith at the Camera Club. She had just been evicted from her studio in Chelsea and needed help moving equipment to the house she owned in Brighton Beach. After a breakup this past winter, Mr. Foerster left his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and began renting the house from Ms. Goldsmith.

“I bought it for $25,000 in 1981,” she said. She had on pink-and-purple socks and sandals. She wore a novelty shirt of the kind you’d find at a street vendor in the West Village or Times Square that featured a photograph of a group of Native Americans and the text THE ORIGINAL HOMELAND SECURITY printed on it.

“I spent another $75,000 replacing everything,” Ms. Goldsmith continued. “It doesn’t look it. We just had to put in a whole new sewer line.”

“The sewers exploded,” Mr. Foerster said gloomily. “I had no water for two weeks.”

“They charged me $16,000 to fix it.”

“All the roots grew into the pipes. They had to rip up all of this.” Mr. Foerster motioned to the new concrete walkway leading up to the door of the house. “They showed me these cracked pipes just filled with roots. And shit.”

“They wouldn’t let him take pictures!”

“Yeah, they wouldn’t let me photograph.”

Ms. Goldsmith says she bought the house in Brighton Beach because “everything’s a little off.”

Presumably she referred to both the building and the neighborhood. Out here, one feels a long way from Manhattan—or even the rest of Brooklyn. But the place has its benefits. It’s cheap, for one thing, and its peculiarities carry no small amount of inspiration for Mr. Foerster.

“Most of this stuff is subtle,” he said. “That was kind of the idea. So that people aren’t necessarily thinking, ‘Oh what the fuck? This guy moves in and puts some stupid art show up.’ It’s things that aren’t offensive to the neighborhood.”

He pays particularly close attention to the day-care center across the street; he has yet to see any children go inside.

“It’s just dudes over there,” he said, mystified.

On the day care’s lawn, there were no fewer than three doors removed from their hinges and strewn about the yard among the pieces of old plywood and bits of aluminum siding. Mr. Foerster is both baffled and entertained by the continuous recycling of old refrigerators from the building, several different ones each week.

During the opening a few weeks ago, two dilapidated houses were being torn down. Random objects from inside were thrown out and placed in the street. There were curtains blown out of the windows and washing machines on the roof. Mr. Foerster snuck in and stole an old radiator cover (its pattern did not look so different from Kyle Thurman’s floral monochrome that was hanging on the side of the house). He referred to the destruction of the condemned houses as “the rival show next door.”

Later, Mr. Foerster was standing in what used to be his home studio, a small, hot room with cracked concrete floors attached to the side of the house. He recently moved his equipment and set up shop in Manhattan, so the room contained only the photographs he’d hung on the wall. He was looking at one by Ms. Goldsmith, of a projection of flowers onto a woman’s bare back. He turned to a print by Josh Tonsfeldt, an image of the artist’s brother hammering a nail into a tree.

“It’s kind of like something you would see out here,” he said and laughed.

Leaving the house, he walked past a canvas by Erik Lindman that looked like it could have been the chunk of the roof that was missing above it; past the textual paintings by David Schoerner that act as the entryway for the rest of the show (they say: “SUMMER IN THE CITY,” “TWO IF BY SEA,” “BUD LIGHT”); past the old piece of plexiglass and the tomatoes and peas and cucumbers of his garden. He exited out into the street, then stopped as he rounded the corner.

“Oh. Here’s a new piece. This wasn’t here before.”

It was an empty Poland Spring water bottle that someone had stuck inside a hole in the fence.

Ryan Foerster’s Home Is Where the Art Is