Galleries

South of the Border: Going Deep for Bushwick Open Studios

by Howard Hurst on June 5, 2012

Installation View, Where the Sidewalk Ends

I live in Bushwick. I don’t have a hip loft and there are no artisan flea markets, coffee shops or health food stores. Out by the cemetery, in what is technically Bushwick, but is a stone’s throw from Bed-Stuy and East New York, I naively assumed I was a lone outpost of the art world. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yeah, I knew there were some college kids and there had to be some writers but certainly there were no studio spaces or galleries. So when Hyperallergic’s editor asked if I would cover Bushwick Open Studios (BOS) — the weekend-long (mostly) artist-centric arts festival — southeast of Myrtle Avenue I relished the chance to give my own slice of the neighborhood a try. Thanks to the handy dandy BOS iPhone app I was happily surprised to find at least six participating studios/apartments/galleries within a 10-minute walk of my apartment. It was a happy reminder of how important it is to explore your own community.

“It was with a little bit of horror that I slowly understood the pile of hypodermic needles and other charming bits of treasure littering the kitchen were, indeed, not part of an installation.”

The first stop on the itinerary was the most remote. Just north of the Wilson L stop in a quaint — it almost seems rural — strip of industrial buildings. On Moffatt Street, often used for drag racing by locals, is a newly constructed studio complex and event space, Where the Sidewalk Ends. A studio occupied by a bunch of low key, crunchy, no bullshit art dudes, the BBQ grills were already running when we got there at 1 PM. Opting for a lunch of sangria, my roommate/fellow BOS journeyman and I fortified ourselves before hopping back on our bikes. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so enthused. Further north on Bushwick Ave. we pulled onto a side street, it took my hapless counterpart and I several laps around the block before we realized our destination was a six-story apartment building that hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in several decades. Our hopeful conversation about old school New York character fell suddenly silent as we entered this dude’s apartment. It wasn’t until I noticed the artist sleepily taping his photos to his bunk bed that I realized, “holy shit, this guy totally forgot about open studios.” It was with a little bit of horror that I slowly understood the pile of hypodermic needles and other charming bits of treasure littering the kitchen were, indeed, not part of an installation.

The area the author was assigned to cover during Bushwick Open Studios (original map via Google Maps)

Further down the road we ran into another unexpected hiccup. At 1449 Broadway we found a freshly renovated six bedroom that was  empty of inhabitants but full of art. Awesome? Sort of … what at first seemed like a temporary, artist run space was actually a real estate sponsored rental advertising scam. It felt like when I was little and my mom opted for one of those discount vacations where you have to sit through a 5-hour infomercial on time shares. Weaksauce, the artist checklist doubled as an advertisement for “2,700 SF Lofts available.” Sweet pump fake bro. Perhaps this shouldn’t have bothered me. Any chance to give lesser known artists exposure is a good thing right? Unfortunately, the whole thing was so clearly geared towards renting over-priced apartments, and so largely without a curatorial focus that I had to wonder what was the point? The upside: what they lacked in authenticity they made up for with mountains of free Brooklyn Lager.

Works on paper by Allie Pisarro-Grant at 1100 Broadway

A little boozy we stopped into Goodbye Blue Monday for mid-afternoon pancakes. Directly across the street at 1100 Broadway, in a storefront I’ve ridden my bike past hundreds of times is a multi-tenant studio building. In the front space, an artist collective created pop up shop/installation “daddy” is a consumer driven multiples project that at first glance looks much like the dollar stores that populate that stretch of Broadway. I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Scott Goodman, whose flat acrylic paintings of building facades dot his studio.

In the back I was happy to discover frenetic, joylessly colored and composed paintings by Allie Pissaro-Grant. Her pigment heavy, gradient swathes of blurry color and scribble resonate on a visceral level and remind me of so much of the great painting coming out of Bushwick. I was impressed that these canvases and works on paper were able to radiate confidence and power, even in the somewhat dingy studio environment.

Installation view:...into the distance... at Wayfarers Gallery

Just around the corner I was happy to stumble into Wayfarers Gallery and studio spaces, which occupies a deceptively large storefront on Dekalb Avenue. The current group exhibition, featuring gallery regulars and studio occupants …into the distance… was a perfect example of the whimsical, good humored, slightly nostalgic work that comes out of the space.

Work by Craig Hein at Wayfarers

Jillian Rose’s “when I was a child I played a Piano that was out of tune and missing keys” was a mixed media installation I found arresting for its on the rocks emotionality. Walking into the studio spaces, Craig Hein’s collection of brightly colored, child illustration-esque canvas and clay sculpture-paintings blend conceptual underpinnings with disarming childishness into a combination that is jarring and unfamiliar. Tom Keating’s array of ultra gritty, semi-cartoon imagery reads ultra gritty and personal and celebrates a lo-tech, handmade aesthetic.

Tom Keating, "The Whales Curse," woodcut print, 4 x 8 ft

Back onto Bushwick Avenue, I met Chuck Tisa — beer in hand — sitting on his stoop at 791 Bushwick Ave. Tisa, along with his wife Rachel Phillips and friend Janice Sloan runs The Parlour out of their Victorian townhouse. A real hybrid apartment-gallery the space offers perhaps one of the most unique opportunities for art viewing I have ever experienced. The three gallery owners have embraced the challenge and hang the work “we think is cool” directly onto the wood paneled, white plastered walls, replete with original period detail. Nearly baroque in its opulence, sculptures made from Nike sneakers by Sean Paul Gallegos are the perfect old world-meets new school complement to the ethos of the space. Tisa and Phillips are both artists, and I was thankful for a chance to check out Phillips paintings in her studio upstairs. Her off balance, exaggerated figures are elusive and inviting in turn.

Sean Paul Gallegos, "Raj De Bushido" (2010), mixed media, 24 x 24 x 10 inches

As I peddled over to the much publicized and widely talked about Holy BOS! Installation ensconced in a church at 626 Bushwick Ave and technically not “south of the border”).  I thought about my hazy, booze infused day south of the border. The truth of the matter is that there are tons of artists and spaces this far out. Without the flash, large crowds or publicity most people seem to be getting along just fine. To risk generalizing, the remote location seems to attract a grittier, determined, unfussy type of individual. Sure, the results are bound to be mixed, but the fruits yielded by the wandering visitor are bound to be worth the labor.

Painting by Rachel Phillips in her studio

Bushwick Open Studios ran June 1 to 3 in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn.

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