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Sculpture by Hein Koh, at 68 West St (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Bankers talk about art and artists talk about money, according to Oscar Wilde. I don’t really know if bankers talk about art. It seems unlikely. Artists do talk about money, though. They have school loans. They have expensive materials. They have studios to pay for on top of apartment rent.

Artists “talk money” when strategizing their careers, hoping to break into the ins and outs of “the art world.” Talk of career often devolves into grumbling about unfairness, pointing out biases in this or that corner, and is often founded on the tacit belief that the art world should be a meritocracy when it isn’t.

List of artists, page two (click to enlarge)

Historically, the way forward for many artists has been to organize themselves and independently mount shows — go DIY without any power broker’s approval or jury. This is the approach of Greenpoint Open Studios, which lists over 300 participating artists in many locations around the neighborhood. I was asked if I’d like to cover the event, which seemed like fun given that I don’t get into studios as much as I used to, writing more these days about what I see in galleries and museums.

My plan was to look at every single listed artist’s work online and pick 15 or so who seemed most promising and visit them first. Then I would see as many artists around them as I could, while staying on schedule.

Studio complex community area on Greenpoint Ave

Greenpoint was a ghost town when I arrived on Sunday. Rain was partly to blame. Seeing the generally empty streets, I felt empathy for the artists who must’ve been sitting in their studios, waiting for just one person to come in and say “nice art” before wandering out. My empathy declined, however, when finding hardly any artists in these buildings. Instead of suspiciously tidy studios, light music, some crackers on a table, and art, I was faced with many closed doors. Of the 17 artists on my list, four had their doors open. They were Hein Koh, Heather Morgan, Roxa Smith, and Tyler Weeks.

All of the present artists were very welcoming, one or two letting me know Saturday was much busier. During my five hours in Greenpoint, I looked thoroughly at a couple dozen artists’ work. On the whole, it tended toward tasteful and hesitant, careful to be in-the-know about what art in galleries looks like. A cutesy aesthetic of blobby paint and pleasing colors prevailed, whether in down-tempo abstraction or goofball figuration. There were artists who confused artistic risk with being in-your-face political, holding you hostage to a message you’ve never likely disagreed with. Most artists were painters; minorities were few. The two artists’ work that stood out most, Heather Morgan’s and Hein Koh’s, paralleled in that it was indifferent to good taste. Morgan has an intentionally deskilled approach to painting that manages to feel authentic, favoring tacky subject matter and making it work. Koh’s stuffed, vinyl monster sculptures have a Pop art immediacy while being creepy enough to unnerve. So packed were their studios with work, the artists would likely feel present even if away from the room.

Artist left note, “Not Open Today,” on apartment buzzer on Noble St

Certainly not all artists could be in their studios; things come up, scheduling is hard, etc. Yet in the open studios I have visited before, such as the EFA’s (Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts), when the artist isn’t there, a friend usually holds fort in their stead. Were I to scale up from my experience in Greenpoint in four buildings and some outside studios, the absence rate would be about 90%. What, then, accounted for such a remarkably high no-show rate in an event artists had planned for themselves? If it were me — and years ago, in another time and place, it was me — I would’ve been there, even as a matter of courtesy. Any exhibiting artist I know, if they made a commitment like this, would have been there.

Making it in New York is hard. But for all the difficulty it takes artists to get into a good gallery, I wondered Sunday what it would take for a good gallery to break into a good studio. Maybe it’s true — showing up is half the battle. Here is the work of some artists in Greenpoint, those ready for a fight.

Sculpture by Hein Koh

Painting by Michael Royce at 276 Greenpoint Ave

Collage by Roxa Smith at 790 Manhattan Ave

Mixed media by Samuel Branden at 307 Eckart St

Sewn sports jerseys by Sam Brendan

Painting by Tyler Weeks at 276 Greenpoint Ave

Painting by Heather Morgan at 253 Greenpoint Ave

One of Heather Morgan’s walls of her paintings

Greenpoint Open Studios 2016 took place throughout Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on April 30 and May 1.

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Rob Colvin

Rob Colvin is the editor and publisher of Arts Magazine. Reviews and interviews are published on Instagram,...

15 replies on “At Greenpoint Open Studios, Facing Many Closed Doors”

  1. Greenpoint open studios would not let us specify that we would only be open Saturday as a group! so sorry we were not there for you!!!! Or anyone else I agree there needs to be follow through when people take the effort, the effort is not to be underappreciated!!

  2. Sorry you had such a rough time, would have been happy to welcome you to my studio in the Pencil Factory, both days 😉

  3. Were the email addresses of the 15 artists you selected listed? If so, you should have contacted them. That would have been a professional courtesy on your part.

    1. If a business posts their hours and tells you they’re open you shouldn’t have to email them to confirm that. It seems courtesy enough that the reviewer took time out to research and then visit during the hours the artists had explicitly agreed to be there.

      1. Conflating an artist’s studio with a retail space is a problem for artists and makes the reality of their practice much more difficult to sustain, so let’s stop doing that. We don’t profit the same way, we don’t exist the same way, and we never have. Applying the same expectations cheapens it for everyone involved.

        1. You can compare to anything you prefer that has hours of operation.

          Applying the expectation that they would be open during open studios somehow “cheapens” the art or artist? They must have had the chance to opt out, but they agreed and then blew it off. Why is that ok in the realm in which artists “exist”?

          1. I said referring to them as a business cheapens it. It is a mindset that is problematic, and both your posts here are about artists needing to be better businessmen. Business is a language art has to deal with, and may benefit from mastering, but it is not the best lens to understand art with. That is the only part of your comment here I am disagreeing with. However, there are other things to consider besides just assuming the artists didn’t care enough to be there, like some problematic organization of the event. The dates were unclear for a long time, the registration process vague, and the hours came after we all registered. It’s a thing that happens with these kind of totally free and volunteer run events, and why it helps to not hold them to the same rules as for profit businesses that exist to get your money. It is not wrong to expect that they be there when you are told they will be, it is wrong to lambast them for it without actually asking the artists what happened, and to assume it’s just because of irresponsibility. Other factors to consider are that frieze opens this week, many artists may be either working as staff or handlers that Sunday, or dealing with potentially exhibiting there. There are plenty of reasons why it might be okay for someone to not be working for free on a Sunday even if an event assigned them to do so, ( BOS gives artists the option to choose days they will be present for this very reason). So just give them a break, and let’s all get back to talking about what makes good art and stop handing out demerits for tardiness.

          2. I get what you mean but I was replying to your statement “Applying the same expectations cheapens it”. I’m talking about the expectation of follow through which shouldn’t be exclusive to business – that should be standard in any interaction.

            If the organization is so flawed that the list is only 30% accurate shouldn’t you be down to fix that instead of trying to shelter artists from responsibility for what’s ultimately their reputation? In the end the lengthy list of reasons for error is noted but doesn’t really matter to the person who showed up at the door. We can’t talk about good art we can’t see.

  4. After graduating RISD in 1983 I moved into Greenpoint. We had a small artist’s community but it was difficult 33 years ago to get collectors and curators to visit where taxis refused to go. Actually, even the GG train (yes, the G was the GG back then) acted as if it didn’t want to go to Greenpoint. At least now, people in the art world will visit studios and write about the artists there – a great improvement.

  5. This article should be required reading at every art school.

    While picking up materials at a massive art supply store for an exhibition of work I realized I needed a business card holder so I asked where they were. The employee looked at me quizzically and said they only had art supplies. I looked down at that moment and saw packages of scratch and sniff stickers.

    It took me back to art school where any acknowledgement of the things you needed to do to succeed (besides the art) was forbidden. Like artists had to be kept in this whimsical bubble where it was always play time and best practices didn’t exist. No surprise that 13 out of 17 artists blew their shot at some good exposure.

  6. As a participating artist, I’m dissappointed to read this was your main takeaway of the event. Over at 67 West, my studiomates and I were open the entire weekend and enjoyed a continous stream of visitors on Saturday and some late starters on Sunday. Saturday was obviously the better day of the two with the weather/bike tour impacting turnout and unfortunately some participation -as you encountered. Sorry that you were not able to make it over to numerous studios on the west side of Greenpoint, but that helps explain why we had such a drastically different experience.

    1. Perhaps the writer selected an unfortunate list of 15 artists? Perhaps Hyperallergic (a sponsor of the weekend) might have selected a different more adventurous writer that could have branched out to explore more studios (one of the most exciting parts of experiencing a neighborhood’s open studios–seeing something new and unexpected), and presented an article that was more positive than snarky and potentially damaging to a greater artists’ community? At least a hundred artists were on hand at 67 West Street on Saturday and Sunday (same building as neighbor Hein Koh)–might have seen something you loved?

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