Never have I been so happy to see a portrait of Betty White. After three trains and two shuttles, and a few failed attempts to get a taxi, I was finally in Bushwick for the 2011 Open Studios. One of the first things I saw on Saturday after stepping off the bus at the Morgan Avenue stop (that usually hosts the much more convenient L train), was the pop-up gallery by street artist Gilf!. Gilf! was creating her stencil portrait of Betty White alongside a series of all the Golden Girls in spray paint (gold, of course) on aluminum. It was a festive and fun way to start tangling myself in the “funny little webs of people” that densely weave across Bushwick, to steal a line from artist Lawrence Mesich whose studio I would visit later in the day.
If the MTA continues its tradition of not running the L train during Bushwick Open Studios, which has been three years out of five in the art event’s existence, an enterprising Brooklynite might do well to set up a weekend campsite for those coming from other boroughs, or even people like me just coming from south Brooklyn. Or perhaps set up some rental bicycles. However, despite the exhausting transportation woes, I was able to see quite a few studios, exhibits, and galleries. Here are some highlights from my day of snarling myself in the Bushwick art web.
Across the street from the Gilf! pop up, was the enthusiastically diverse The Mother Ship group show at the English Kills Art Gallery. It included this great, massive dog painting called “Franky” by Jim Herbert, alongside a sparkly noose by Tescia Seufferlein entitled “Goin’ out in style.” There was also a working ATM in the front gallery, “ATM 2011” by Andrew Ohanesian. I had just assured a out-of-town friend I’d brought along that it probably wasn’t art if she wanted to use it. I should have known better.
Upstairs from English Kills, Mike Olin’s studio was full of studies of the same image of a lion attacking a man. I loved the repetition and experimentation of replicating a scene over and over, and the crowded, colorful way the art packed the space made it the most beautiful studio I visited all day.
My favorite exhibit up for Open Studios was the group show Dunkle Wolke curated by William Powhida at Storefront. As someone who decorates her apartment as much with piles of old books as art, I really am drawn to work that successfully merges those two worlds and aesthetic.
Bill Abdale had two darkly exquisite graphite on paper works incorporating images of book covers, and Björn Meyer-Ebrecht had architectural sculptures displaying paperback books that first drew me to the center of the gallery, but my favorite works of his were the four book architecture covers dissected and pressed flat against the wall, so perfectly that it is hard to imagine they were once texts instead of heavily modern sculpture.
Later, I was excited to happen upon Björn Meyer-Ebrecht’s studio, where he had even more of the book sculptures in Bauhaus colors, as well wonderful collages of chairs on the walls.
In the same building, I walked into Roland Robert Cowperthwaite’s studio to the music of Twin Peaks, which was playing in his “My Illustrious Career in Television” media piece. He’d taken the credits from several TV shows and inserted his own name into each of them. He said that originally all of the credits played separately, with his name synced to show up at the same time in each. He also had some mesmerizing video collages, but I liked the surprise of the TV credits the best.
Also in the building where The Friendly Falcons & Their Friend the Snake, a collaboration between Jeffrey Kurosaki and Tara Pelletier. Their studio was filled with props from their performances, including those shown here for their Cactus Duet that compacted into a box for a European tour. It was like suddenly finding yourself backstage at the most wonderfully whimsical children’s show never produced.
A final studio that stood out to me was that of Lawrence Mesich (who I’ve already quoted). He had two different video installations displayed: “At Work,” which has voyeuristic air vents looking into the routine lives of people employed in institutional places like lobbies and offices, and “Misrepresentation,” where two images of himself interacted with mirroring or mocking gestures. Both of the installations were mesmerizing, and it was enjoyably odd to be spying in on Mesich through the vents of “At Work” while he is sitting at a desk behind you.
While a lot of the exhibits and studios were insular in terms of relating to the neighborhood around them, I appreciated that Factory Fresh’s Bushwick Art Park directly responded to how a thriving art community can directly brighten an area that lacks public space. They had brought back many of the sculptures that were exhibited in their Art Park at the Festival of Ideas for the New City, and turned the road outside their gallery into a one-day sculpture garden. They’ve been working hard to realize their dream that the Bushwick Art Park on Vandevoort Place could one day be a permanent community space.
The Surrealism exhibit at Factory Fresh was also strong, which had twenty artists “wrestling their unconscious.” Sweet Toof, the street artist who just had a show at Factory Fresh, brought that out with a trio of characters with his favorite Mr. Sardonicus grins, and Jake Gene’s solar prints of goat headed people were also appealingly creepy.
My last stop was the Get on the Block group show at Camel Art Space, where I was drawn to the miniatures of commonplace objects by Liz Zanis. The exhibit was about how artists can be self-conscious and anxious about producing and displaying art. It’s an idea that is so interesting, yet also so obvious, that I’m surprised I’ve never seen an exhibit on it before. It was also a perfect way to end my visit to Bushwick Open Studios, where all these artists had opened up their personal work spaces, and made me think about the undercurrent of anxiety in that act, and how confidently they had all seemed to pull it off.
Bushwick Open Studios 2011 took place from June 3–5.