A new gallery calling itself “the official art gallery of Satan” is reopening Friday in Chinatown, lodged between a gift shop and the True Buddha Temple Chinatown. Originally on Clinton Street in the Lower East Side, Vector Gallery — which also identifies as a nondenominational church — is run by JJ Brine, who calls himself “The Crown Prince of Hell.” The gallery, however, is far from a space resembling any dark, fiery realm for the damned to suffer eternally; instead, its walls are covered with metallic wrapping paper and moving, neon lights shine from the ceiling so the whole place glistens like a discotheque. Stepping inside feels like walking into the barrel of a kaleidoscope on acid.
The gallery currently features art by Brine that he “produced in a trance state”: multiple Charles Mansons — Brine referred to him as “Charlie” — stare madly from the walls, surrounded by flowers to form a shrine next to a sign that reads “Charles Manson is Jesus Christ.” (Perhaps related, he later mentioned his constant exposure to paint fumes.) Heads and hands of mannequins hang next to silver animal masks and multi-colored prints of the Mona Lisa, Jesus, and Condoleezza Rice. Light boxes illuminate some of the images, and letters on a door on the back wall spell out, “Cost of entry: your soul.”
“That’s where all the souls are,” Brine said. “It’s the repository of souls.”
Every piece is for sale, or one could buy the lot for $888,000. The works are classified as “posthuman art,” which Brine described as art “evolved past being human, or at least it couldn’t be human anymore because of the conditions surrounding it. But it’s really transcending humanity in order to either survive or express themselves — or maybe that’s the same thing, really.”
Brine tends to deliver such cryptic, abstract lines, leaving questions mostly unanswered. I met him as he was hanging up works that had fallen off the walls that afternoon, which he said was “a very strong message from Satan” and “the will of the devil.” Later, he pointed at some words on the wall and declared, “These letters are all rebelling tonight.”
When I asked him to tell me about himself, he responded, “I’ll show you. You’re in my brain. This is it. I don’t remember where I came from, and I don’t remember the age of this vessel. I lobotomized myself so I could not recall those things.”
The gallery itself he described as “a living entity” that “is its own goal. It is for its own sake. It speaks for itself. It’s something that possessed me and kind of forced this reaction out of me. I’m a slave to it.”
Last year, Brine told me, Vector seceded from the US and formed its own government with a cabinet of ministers. It also exists in a separate timezone, in the year 2021. Satan controls the gallery, but it has no link to Satanism, running under a faith Brine calls “Vectorian.” Each minister has his or her own psychic responsibilities, and everyone congregates to have religious services. “It’s the same as the art shows,” Brine said. “You can call it whatever you like. Convening here, doing what we’re doing, it’s a Vectorian experience. It’s a posthuman society.”
During its opening, Vector will pay tribute to the devil through live performances and performance rites (and DJ sets). In the coming months, the gallery will feature a show by Julia, its Minister of Truth, although it’s unclear what exactly will be on display. More notably, Bruce LaBruce will also be screening his film Gerontophilia (2013), although Brine has yet to announce a date.
Despite the gallery’s backstory and eye-catching display, some visitors remained unimpressed.
“I’m not stoked on how well it was executed,” 26-year-old Brooklyn resident Drew van Diest said. “I think it’s a little gimmicky, or it missed the mark. It’s not very cohesive. I feel like I didn’t have a valuable art experience from this. I like the idea of having this pop-up installation thing you can walk through, but there’s one level which is like Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, and this is like the lowbrow kind of ‘I don’t know what this is’ level.”
Jimmy Weaver, 27, was skeptical of the entire project.
“To say that there’s an idea behind it seems kind of generous,” he said. “I like these immersive spaces, but it’s a little sloppy.”
Interestingly enough, Satan-related news has been popping up recently: the Satanic Temple plans to plant a crowd-funded sculpture of Baphomet, a goat-headed figure affiliated with Satanism, on the lawn of the Oklahoma state Capitol, next to a monument of the 10 Commandments. A few days ago, the Temple issued a press release seeking religious exemption from “state-mandated ‘informational’ abortion materials. Its argument rests upon the outcome of the recent Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, ruled in favor of the craft store chain owned by an evangelical Christian family.