Last month a new gallery opened in Greenpoint, far from the picturesque industrial buildings on the East River waterfront that have long housed the inner circle of the neighborhood’s gallery scene. On a block of Richardson Street that would be quiet if not for the half-dozen condo construction sites, in the ground floor of a new, glassy building, artists Jiyoung Park and Jeremy Wagner have turned the spacious and light-filled front room of their apartment into a gallery they hope will become a collective living room for artists they know and admire.
The inaugural show at their space, Ernest Newman Contemporary, certainly feels like a community affair. Contemporaries features small and mid-size works by 12 artists, many of whom Park and Wagner know from Hunter College — where they both earned MFAs and where Park teaches printmaking. On the gallery’s website they offer insights into their process by documenting studio visits, which gives a greater sense of their interests and what’s in store for the gallery. Hyperallergic recently paid them a visit to hear about the space’s origins.
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Benjamin Sutton: What made you decide to start a gallery?
Jeremy Wagner: I was getting tired of self-promoting, and I think a lot of people get tired of that, so we thought, why don’t we join forces with a lot of people we respect? So we started going to a lot more studios, visiting with a lot of new artists that we don’t know or have just been introduced to. Especially with Instagram and things like that, you can see so much, and start having little online relationships with people and not feel so awkward about saying, hey, can we drop by? It’s been enriching.
And for my own studio practice, I feel reinvigorated and energized because I was feeling a little isolated. As an artist working by myself, not getting any feedback, not feeling stimulated, that’s all part of where this came from. It’s really in its infancy, and we don’t know exactly where it’s going, but it’s evolving.
This space can exist virtually. We’re really interested in the studio visit and documenting that aspect, and then putting that online with everyone we see and sharing that. It becomes more — it’s not just a gallery and a space, it’s about networking with artists and to do little spotlights on the artists and their practice.
BS: How did the inaugural exhibition come together? How did you settle on these artists and these works to launch the gallery?
JW: Things happened really quickly. I just felt so removed and I needed some kind of change in my life; I needed to feel inspired again. So, from “let’s make this space happen,” we sent out emails to a number of artists to let them know what we were thinking about and get some feedback. And then we just ran around doing studio visits. And as we were doing the studio visits and talking to these artists who are all kind of at similar points in their careers as we are, we talked about what’s going on in their lives, how are they sustaining, and how are they affording to continue to make art in New York. And everyone’s got some sort of different story of that, and that became something we noticed as a thread throughout everyone’s work and everyone’s practice.
We encouraged people to give us pieces that were representative of their current body of work but were more accessible in scale. We wanted things that were graphic and colorful, particularly because a lot of the stuff Jiyoung and I have been doing lately in our own work has been very monochromatic. We wanted to have this first show be an introduction to the space and the artists who are working in it together and try and do events to encourage the artists to get to know each other. I think it’s important to make real, physical connections in a day and age when we’re so reliant on social media — which is great for introductions, but to actually go to a person’s studio and have a face-to-face discussion is really important. That’s where it all stemmed from.
These are all artists we’ve known either from schools or just from living in New York. Jiyoung and I have both been here for about 15 years each, so we’ve got to know a lot of people, and these were people we felt fairly comfortable reaching out to and sharing this vision with. We felt like it was a lot easier to do this with people we knew for the first round.
BS: It seems like the focus of the gallery is much more about bringing artists together than, say, selling work.
JW: We’d love to sell — we want to start relationships with all sorts of different people who would be in a place to buy things — but I think it’s most important to have the foundation in place where we have a track record of successful, well-curated shows. I think that comes organically. And as we have more of a presence online, people feel more comfortable reaching out to us, making an appointment, coming to the space.
Jiyoung Park: We have a lot of work to do. Really, the way to be actively involved in a conversation was the key for us. We want to build a community.
BS: How long did it take you to set up the gallery, from the day you had the idea to the opening?
JW: Within a matter of weeks.
JP: Six weeks.
BS: Have you had much interaction with the other galleries in Greenpoint or nearby in Bushwick and Williamsburg?
JW: It’s funny because you’d think we’d be more aware of the galleries. Prior to us doing this project we were aware of some of the Williamsburg galleries that have been around for a while, but now we’re doing our research about what else is around. It’s interesting how unapparent it was to us that there was so much going on. So now we’re going to be venturing out and seeing what else is going on and trying to figure out why we weren’t aware of these spaces.
JP: It’s a really humbling experience. From the opening until now, even with the holidays, I feel like I’ve learned so much and grown so much already.
BS: Where does the gallery’s name come from?
JP and JW: The name of the gallery is inspired by the English music critic Ernest Newman (1868–1959), who is known for his objective and intellectual writing style. Jiyoung, being a classical music enthusiast, picked up a copy of his book Wagner as Man and Artist. While there is no known relation to Jeremy Wagner, she appreciates the Wagner, Artist connection. We liked the degree of anonymity the name provides to us, and the meaning of the name, “a new man in earnest,” as well as the intellectual spirit Newman brought in to the history.
BS: After the inaugural show comes down, what’s next?
JP: We definitely are going to have a bigger show when the weather’s warmer. Right now we’re continuing to do visit studios, collecting and learning a lot about other artists. So I think the curatorial theme’s gonna happen, it’s gonna grow. And in the meantime we’ll have events like smaller shows, pop-up shows, and musical events to bring artists together here.
JW: We want this to be a hub for creative people. It doesn’t have to be a traditional gallery in any way, it can be whatever we want it to be. I really want each show to feel completely different. I want there to be installations, we can do wall colors, we can do video, we can do anything. I think of this as our canvas, too. This is another project for us.
Contemporaries continues at Ernest Newman Contemporary (226 Richardson Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn) through January 24.