History has it that over the past two decades, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has gentrified beyond recovery and its flourishing art scene picked up and gone elsewhere. This may be partly true, but not entirely. There are still artists and galleries in Williamsburg. They are still making and showing art. “Creative people still live here,” says Aviva Neuman, the owner and director of Simon/Neuman² Gallery, which opened in Williamsburg last month, the latest addition to the neighborhood’s diffuse network of galleries.
Simon/Neuman² Gallery gets its name from Aviva’s parents: David Neuman, director of the art museum Magasin 3 in Stockholm, and Amy Simon, an artist. The pair owned a small gallery, called Simon/Neuman, on the Upper East Side in the late 1980s. “I kind of bought the name — a symbolic buying,” Aviva explains, and she added the “2” to indicate that this was the second time around.
It seems fitting that in its reincarnation nearly 30 years later, Simon/Neuman would relocate from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Neuman says she specifically sought out a space in Brooklyn, because she “didn’t want a Chelsea kind of vibe,” which she describes as big and intimidating. An important part of her approach is approachability — a sentiment that comes through when visiting to the gallery, which consists of a single, simple, professional white-walled room. “It’s exciting to attract new people who aren’t used to this,” Neuman says. Her location at 540 Driggs Avenue, not even a full block north of an entrance to the Bedford Avenue L station, may do just that.
Neuman was raised in Stockholm but studied art history and film in New York, at Sarah Lawrence College, working at Robert Mann Gallery during those years as well. “Stockholm has lots of artists and good art schools,” she says, “but what it doesn’t have is these professional, up-and-coming people that travel, so that’s why I think it’s exciting [to open a gallery] in New York.” Simon/Neuman² shows only “artists that use the medium of photography” — a broader field than just photographers, she points out — and “everything I show is under $1,000,” Neuman says. She’s “looking for a younger generation of collectors,” and in that sense, Williamsburg is also strategic: it both houses a new wave of monied young people as a result of gentrification and is only one subway stop from Manhattan.
“I’m trying show them that we don’t need to go to IKEA and buy prints. We can buy something under $1,000 that’s an edition of 5,” Neuman says.
The young dealer plans to exhibit mainly American, European, and Israeli artists in monthly, thematic group shows. The first, On Its Way, focused on movement and time and featured the work of Pablo Frisk, David Adika, and Susan Morelock, running from March 20 through April 20. The second, Undercover, brings together eerie photographs by Danish artist Albert Grøndahl and more playful ones by American artist Ruvan Wiljesooria, and opens tonight. An artist talk takes place in the gallery at some point during the run of each show.
Neuman only has a lease for her space until September, so for now, Simon/Neuman² is a six-month, temporary project. But she doesn’t speak of it as ending in the fall — merely evolving. “I’ll see whether to change location or open it up not just to photography,” she says. One of the things she draws her to New York and its inhabitants, after all, is that they “aren’t uncomfortable with change.”
Undercover opens at Simon/Neuman² Gallery (540 Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) tonight from 6 to 8pm and continues through May 25.