For two weeks this past winter, an abandoned Irish pub called The Barleycorn in Manhattan’s Financial District (FiDi) played unlikely host to an art exhibition. The through-block space, at the bottom of one of the neighborhood’s remnant warehouses, still bears traces of its former tenant: Signage is etched on plate glass windows and mirrors, and the chintzy decorative wood joinery remains in place, as does the extraordinarily long marble-topped bar (rumored to be the longest in the city). But what appealed to curators Bika Rebek, Matt Shaw, and Collin Clarke were the forlorn Barleycorn’s unusual proportions—narrow and deep—which recall the Arsenale, a former shipyard turned art venue in Venice, Italy. Leaving all the Eireann signifiers untouched, the trio installed works by the Brooklyn artist Joshua Citarella and architect Leah Wulfman, among several others, in situ.
FiDi Arsenale was open for all of two weekends (appointments made necessary) when COVID-19 put New York City under lockdown, although it had originally been scheduled to run from February 28 through March 27, 2020. The curators had the foresight to make a digital scan of the space, art and all; they were greatly aided in this effort by Sudden Dev and Filip Kostic, who used a game engine to make the exhibition “playable.”
The strange one-off experiment has been preserved online in perpetuity at https://fidiarsenale.org/, where visitors can now wander through a digital simulacrum of the space and relive at least some of the show; the more “in-person” pieces, such as Stock-a-Studio’s climbable, neon-green assembly installation, or a virtual reality experience meant to be seen in a bathtub, however, remain out of reach for the digital patron.