Contaminate's founder talks about art in New York and his favourite places

Alessandro, founder of Contaminate – Roomorama blog

City guide: New York

Alessandro is the co-founder of Contaminate, an immersive art organization based in New York, which aims to provide new perspectives in the fine arts scene. We talk to him about the New York art scene, and what he loves about his adopted neighbourhood of Park Slope.

What is the art scene like in New York? How did you get into it and how do you meet artists that you work with? 

New York is the worldwide boutique of what’s happening nowadays in the art world. It has been the center of creativity for decades and is still leading the trends. Here, artists have the opportunity to think much bigger, to set the bar of quality very high and collaborate with top notch personalities like nowhere else in the world. The big limit of New York though is the cost of… basically everything. Even if the city offers many affordable opportunities for creators, artists need bigger spaces and expensive technology and often move somewhere else to produce their visions.

Nonetheless, the moment you touch the Big Apple you understand immediately that you are immersed in a unique creative stream. This put me into the Art World. I came as a filmmaker to attend NYU and realized after one month that there was so much to explore and filmmaking was simply not enough. How do you meet artists? I believe it’s impossible not to meet them. I went to an open studio during my first week in NY back in 2008. I met three artists in need of exposure. One month later we organized our first art show together, mixing visual art and music together. After that I found myself surrounded by every kind of artist.

How do you keep plugged in to the art scene in New York? And how can a visitor to the city get immediately immersed?

The most efficient way to keep yourself plugged in to the art scene is the most obvious one: go to parties. There are several art driven groups in NY (mostly in Brooklyn) that put together art shows and parties every week. The whole art community is always there. If you join mailing lists like Nonsense, Gemini&Scorpio, Shanghai Mermaid, Danger, Burning Man and Contaminate, and you are just mildly adventurous and curious, you might find yourself in one of those unique artsy events that everyone sees on the NY Times the day after.

If this seems like a very difficult thing for someone who is traveling to NY or stays in the city for a few days, I can guarantee that it’s much easier that it sounds. If you come in March, you have the Armory, and in May, you have Frieze: these are some of the biggest art fairs in the world. The city is surrounded by events and by doing a very basic Google query you will get hundreds of links. Once a month you have Chelsea, Williamsburg, Dumbo gallery openings, and they are always free to join and you can immerse yourself entirely for hours on end.

It’s always interesting to check out open studio events in Brooklyn. There are some non profits that organize them periodically and it’s a great way to discover a new neighborhood that you wouldn’t always find on your Lonely Planet guide.

Museums are also good, but I would also suggest looking at the BAM (The Brooklyn Academy of Music) program, they always have something unique.

Armory Art Fair Frieze Art Fair Pictured above: Armory Art Fair (credit: The Armory Show), Frieze Art Fair (credit:Art Net News)

Where do you live in New York? What do you love about your neighbourhood? 

I live in Park Slope - Brooklyn, considered the most “livable” neighborhood of NYC. My neighborhood is expanding and growing but you still have that sense of community that sometimes is missing in a big city. It’s situated near the stunning Prospect Park (the Central Park of Brooklyn), populated by lots of restaurants and bars. I love the Sunday farmers market on 5th avenue, relaxing in the park on Saturday morning while kids play baseball. I like that nice feeling of taking a break from the city and enjoying a quiet walk through the brownstone streets of the neighborhood.

Tell us where to eat, see, drink and do in Park Slope.

To Eat: In Park Slope you can find everything when it comes to food. I suggest Song, probably the best Thai restaurant I’ve been to in New York, or if you prefer Japanese, there is sushi Ten or Blue Ribbon, a well known brand in New York.

I recently tried Talde, an Asian fusion place on 7th avenue, with outstanding cocktails.

If you are more for American food, Sidecar and Double Windsor have amazing burgers. 

Blue Ribbon Talde

Pictured above: Blue Ribbon (credit: Restaurant Girl), Talde (credit: Asian Fusion Magazine)

To drink - There are two unique places worth going to - Union Hall and Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club. Union Hall is hands down my favorite place in the whole city. Good selection of liquors, two bocce courts, a nice lounge area with a fireplace and bookcase, and a very nice live music hall downstairs.

If you like to play shuffleboard, a few blocks west there is the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, where you can book a cabana and have fun all night. 

Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club Union Hall

Pictured above: Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club (credit: Greenlight Construction Management), Union Hall (credit:Here's Park Slope)

To See: I guess the biggest tourist attraction, besides the park, is definitely the Brooklyn Museum. Their collection is pretty wide and they regularly have exciting temporary exhibitions. For example, next August they will present a very interesting Basquiat show. The other biggest magnet in the area is the Barclay's Center, the stadium of Nets, the basketball team of Brooklyn, and venue for big international musicians concerts.

Brooklyn Museum

Pictured above: Brooklyn Museum (credit: Kleberly Wallpapers)

Shop: There are many shops and vintage shops on 5th ave for any kind of taste, but the real American deal in Park Slope is the Atlantic Ave Shopping Center, where you can find everything like Uniqlo, Victoria's Secrets, Best Buy, Marshall's, DSW and many others.

What are some things you do as a local, that you'd recommend for a visitor to check out as well?

As a local, I try to always be informed about all the weekly events the borough offers. Summer is coming and I'm looking forward to going to the open air movie series in the Brooklyn Bridge Park, the season of live concerts in Prospect Park, and the dancing Saturdays at MoMa PS1 for the summer Warm Up. 

What are some of the coolest art events you have been to in New York? 

I believe the most exciting event, beside all the shows organized with the artists I worked with, is without any doubt Sleep No More. Sleep No More has brought the theater experience to a completely new level. This is not your average play or musical. It is a completely interactive and engaging experience and the show is different for everyone. It's still running, and there's the bar that's manned by the actors where you can sit and have a drink before and after the show.

How do you enjoy a guy's night out in New York? Where do you go and what do you do? 

There is something in New York that I’m addicted to: Speakeasy bars. There are several of them and they've became pretty popular, especially because you can find original cocktails prepared by experienced mixologists. I personally love La Esquina, The Barber Shop, Please Don’t Tell, The Backroom. I love to sit down at the bar with a friend or two and explore new combinations of perfumes and tastes. There is another one, my favorite, but ssssssssh I cannot say where it is :)  

La Esquina Please Don't Tell

Pictured above: La Esquina (credit: Lifestyle Hunters), Please Don't Tell (credit: Eater)

Being from Italy, can you share with us your favourite Italian restaurant in New York? 

My favourite Italian restaurant is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and it's called Aurora. What's so special about it? They serve authentic Tuscan cuisine, with that authentic homemade Italian taste. I was so impressed the first time I went there, I felt like I was back home for a moment eating my mother’s dinner. 

What about where to get the best gelato in New York? 

Everyone would probably say Grom, a famous gelateria from Milan that is very successful in the Big Apple. But I would suggest a nice place back in my neighborhood called L’Albero Dei Gelati, an authentic italian bar/cafe with very tasty cakes and of course awesome gelato.

Grom Pictured above: Grom (credit: Italy Ville)

Stylish vacation apartments in Brooklyn

This room in Park Slope is beautifully styled and has 2 large windows and an exposed brick wall.

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This holiday apartment in Brooklyn, New York is brand new and has a shared rooftop with an amazing view of the city .

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Going to New York? Check out more places to stay in New York on Roomorama.