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Jon Kane is adept at piquing the curiosity of his Park Slope neighbors.

Like the time he filled his workroom with popcorn.

Optic Nerve, his film production company, often used space at 402 Fifth St., at Sixth Avenue, as an editing room when his company’s needs overflowed their adjacent space. To assuage his guilt - "I felt guilty having ugly shades," he said - he filled his storefront windows with popcorn.

The fluffy kernels drew the curious, who came and inquired what was behind the edible installation, but not until this week has there been an attraction to back up the amusing exterior.

On Dec. 7, Kane unveils The Popcorn Room, his new fine art gallery, which will feature "Harvey Wang’s America: Photography 1973-1995" as its inaugural exhibit. The 13-foot by 17-foot space holds just over 20 of Wang’s photographs.

"These are some of the strongest images I’ve made in my life," Wang told GO Brooklyn in a telephone interview from Buffalo, where he’s making a short film about a 93-year-old photographer.

Wang, a Flatbush resident, is known for his black-and-white portraits of working-class Americans featured in the books "Harvey Wang’s New York" (W.W. Norton and Company, 1990) and in his collaboration with David Isay, "Holding On: Dreamers, Visionaries, Eccentrics, and Other American Heroes" (Norton, 1996). His photographs from those two books were exhibited at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., in 1995, and have been traveling throughout the United States since 1998.

In Brooklyn, a couple of his photographs were included in the "Jews of Brooklyn" exhibit at Long Island University’s Salena Gallery last February and his work is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Wang has even received Emmy Awards for his work on WNET’s City Arts. His most recent book is "Flophouse: Life on the Bowery" (Random House, 2000).

Kane met the working man’s photographer-filmmaker several years ago at Celsius Films, a commercial film company where both men worked as directors.

Kane’s inaugural exhibit, born out of that friendship, is a coup for Brooklyn.

"This is the first time this collection will be publicly displayed," he said.

Wang elaborated: "Some of the individuals were shown here and there or were taken on assignment for a magazine, but the pictures in this collection are not part of any other series or book. They are just my take on America, my experience as a photographer, my journey as a photographer, my life."

Wang hopes the complete collection, called "Harvey Wang’s America," will be picked up by a publisher.

Of the photographs on display at the Popcorn Room are a variety of snippets of life. Some represent poignant moments of New York City’s history, from "The Dakota, 1980" capturing a teeming throng of mourners’ hands reaching skyward, making peace gestures and holding aloft a picture of the slain John Lennon, to a portrait of a decadent dessert near a window with an amazing view - "Windows on the World, 1989." Some represent Wang’s wry sense of humor, like the 1976 shot "Marshall, NC" wherein a young couple fervently kisses, while a nonplussed kid sits to their right, picking her teeth. In "Central Park Zoo, 1982" a middle-aged woman wearing antennae is shot from the back as she looks through cage bars at a zebra.

Wang said his planned book would close with the photograph "NYC 1995," which was shot inside the ticket booth of the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center.

"I was on assignment for the Village Voice, taking pictures related to cinema, and I just ended up in the ticket booth," said Wang. "This series ends on that picture in 1995 - I didn’t stop taking pictures then, I’ve done two books since then - but it represents my move into film, bridges my transition into filmmaking. In the little book that I made, that’s the last one."

The Popcorn Room will be selling $5 sets of Wang postcards and his books. Kane said his relatively affordable prices are a deliberate attempt to entice first-time collectors.

"We did not want to be intimidating or upscale," said Kane. "This is not a Manhattan thing transplanted into Brooklyn. We do not want to appear untouchable by the average neighborhood person."

"On the other hand we have the real thing, it’s really here - artist prints."

Wang’s photographs (each "printed by the renowned Sid Kaplan under Harvey Wang’s watchful eye," said Kane) printed in a series of 10, are available for $800-$1,200 as well as 8-by-10 artist proofs printed by Wang himself for $300 each.

Kane, whose company and home of 12 years are still on the same street, says he will keep his day job at Optic Nerve while he operates the Popcorn Room with partner Brian Boigon. (Kane had taken 18 months off to edit Godfrey Reggio’s film "Naqoyqatsi," with score by Philip Glass, released this year. It is the third film in the Reggio-Glass trilogy, which includes the cult hit "Koyaanisqa­tsi" and "Powaqqatsi.")

Although Kane takes art quite seriously - he’s a photographer and collector, too - it’s clear he doesn’t take himself so seriously, choosing to name himself and Boigon "The Popcorn Brothers," perhaps the art world’s answer to the Smothers Brothers, or, the Coen Brothers.

As for future exhibitions, Kane throws around lots of other big-name artists, but does not yet have a schedule confirmed. He also wants to feature local artists.

"I want to get on the map first," he said. "But we don’t want to just be a small gallery exclusively showing local work. We are trying for a balance."


"Harvey Wang’s America: Photography 1973-1995" will be on view at the Popcorn Room (402 Fifth St. at Sixth Avenue in Park Slope) Dec. 7-Jan. 31. Hours are 11 am to 7 pm, weekdays, and 10 am to 6 pm, weekends. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. For more information call (718) 369-3219. The opening reception is on Dec. 7, 6-8 pm.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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