Near Highland Park, a few square blocks of Queens’s Ridgewood neighborhood jut southward into Bushwick, Brooklyn. The industrial area boasts clubs, recording studios, a slew of warehouses, and now, 10 carefully arranged birdhouses in artist Paul Gagner’s newly opened exhibition Calamityville. They’re displayed in a small outdoor exhibition space co-run by Lower Manhattan’s Chart Gallery and the artist-run Marvin Gardens Gallery next door.
Gagner’s tiny homes, arranged on moveable iron pipes, depict the core structures of small-town Americana. They also each depict a disaster: Flames ravage a fire department, a UFO beams up a church, an asteroid crashes into a city hall, and a sea monster wraps around a movie theater.
Gagner has long made art that ventures into the humorous and absurd, but he started making birdhouses in 2020 after he bought a home upstate with his wife. He had lived in the city for over 20 years and found himself inside a cozy new house immersed in nature at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There was no one else looking at my yard at the time, so I thought it would be funny to make art for birds,” Gagner said. The artist started working on Calamityville this May for an exhibition at Mother-in-Law Gallery’s location in Germantown, New York, a show partially curated by Field Projects.
There’s only one artwork that doesn’t immediately betray catastrophe — a seemingly untouched A-frame house. Upon closer inspection, the home reveals itself to be flat. “The disaster is that you can’t use it,” Gagner said, explaining that he was inspired to create it after watching a Simpsons rerun in which Homer enters a two-dimensional digital world.
While all of Gagner’s sculptural additions to the birdhouses depict apocalyptic forces, they aren’t exactly sinister. The serpent that wraps around the movie theater, for example, bears an uncanny resemblance to pickles, noted Marvin Gardens Director Tiffany Wong. While a couple of Gagner’s upstate houses have welcomed visitors, Calamityville has yet to see any avian homemakers. The works haven’t been outside during nesting season, and now, New York City’s birds have taken long flights south.
Should any lingering winged creatures decide to arrive before the show closes December 17, Calamityville is waiting for them with ten rent-free homes.