Uranian Phalanstery. Alphabet City.

“The current vogue for “ruin porn” – the sensationalized and aestheticized images of dereliction and decay – was on our minds when Salome Oggenfuss and I visited the Uranian Phalanstery on a hot and humid day last September.” This is how Jeff Kinkle starts the article The living Ruins of the Uranian Phalanstery for the arts and culture journal Dossier. I met with Jeff and Salome who visited the two occupied brownstones on East 4th St, between Avenue C and Avenue D one month before their move.

What made you curious about the Uranian Phalanstery?

What we found intriguing initially was the prospect of stepping into a time capsule containing all this detritus from the old Alphabet City. We knew very little about the work of Richard Tyler or Dorothea Baer or the activities of the Phalanstery.

How did you find out about it?

A colleague told us about an “abandoned building” in Alphabet City that was occupied by “hoarders”. Some research showed that it was called the Uranian Phalanstery. We got in touch with Maureen Sullivan from the Public Art Fund, who had prior been on a visit to the Phalanstery, and she established contact with Medhi Matin, who let us in and showed us around.

Where does the name the Uranian Phalanstery come from?

Uranian, according to Wikipedia, is a term from the 19th century that referred to a person of a third sex. The term “plananstery” comes from the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier. A phalanstère was to be a core component of  utopia community he envisioned. It was a building built in such a way that it would incorporate elements of both the urban and rural, with one noisy wing for children and labor, a quiet central area for study, dining, and conversation, and one wing that would serve as a banquet area to entertain guests. Each phalanstère was meant to serve a community of around 1,500 people.

What has been going on in these buildings since 1974 when the Uranian Phalanstery was founded?

They’ve hosted everything from a tattoo parlor, from the days when tattooing was illegal in New York, to a print shop where they made pamphlets and chapbooks. The Uranian Phalanstery also organized celebrations for solstices and equinoxes and had a room filled with musical instruments from around the world that people would come and play together.

Who lived there?

As far as we know the building’s only inhabitants at the time of our visit were Medhi and Dorothea Baer. Dorothea’s room was off limits for us. In the more active years of the Uranian Phalanstery, more of its members stayed at the Alphabet City building.

How did it feel walking into the house?

The air was stale and heavy. Some of the rooms felt as though they’d been sealed off for years. Being in Richard Tyler’s studio felt much like being in a grandfather’s workshop that has been untouched for a long time, with the difference that its contents bore more historical weight.

A month after your visit the buildings were sold for over 3 million dollars and still you mentioned that you don’t find the fate of the Uranian Phalanstery tragic? Why?

It’s a shame that the Uranian Phalanstery is no longer there because it was a unique reminder of a different time. It’s not tragic in the sense that it was not meant to be there forever. It wasn’t supposed to survive just as a relic but as a living, active collective. Medhi seemed to view the move as an opportunity.

All photos by Salome Oggenfuss

Read the full article http://dossierjournal.com/blog/etcetera/the-living-ruins-of-the-uranian-phalanstery/

And visit Jeff and Salomes websites,


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