Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bushwick Open Studios - BOS 2012

By Charles Kessler

BOS 2012 — Bogart Street.
BOS 2012 was a BIG studio tour — more than 500 artists, plus dozens of events including dance concerts, performances, plays, rock concerts and parties, all of it spread out over three square miles from east Williamsburg to Ridgewood Queens. And there was a lot of good art, some very good indeed. That plus great weather (it seems the few times there was a brief rain shower I was inside!) and plenty of pleasant places to stop along the way to have a beer or coffee and rest up, made this one of the best studio tours I've ever gone to.

But the main reason I loved this tour, and I’ve written about this before, has to do with the spirit of collegiality in Bushwick. There’s a welcoming camaraderie that pervades the area — and it’s not the affected peace-and-love phoniness of the sixties. Rather it’s unpretentious and sincere — very different from the ironic cynicism that has been so prominent in the big-money art scene of the last decade or so.

With a tour this big, deciding where to go is a major problem — you can’t possibly do it all. The free guide was attractively designed, but at 88 pages and 14 ½  x 10 ½ inches, it was necessarily overwhelming. The website was a little more useful in that you could search for the type of art or event you might be interested in; nevertheless, narrowing things down was impossible. Most useful was a nifty free iPhone app (unfortunately no longer available — too bad, it would be a good resource). Not only could you search for types of events, but it could locate where you were and display what studios and venues were nearby. (Next year I wish they would add the ability to save favorites and note them on the map so you could plan your tour more easily.)

But even the iPhone app wasn't enough for an event this massive. According to people I talked to that were part of the tour, and my own observations, most people only went to the larger studio buildings like 56 Bogart and 1717 Troutman. It's too bad because they missed some good venues like 250 Moore Street where the Centotto gallery and the artist Tim Kent are located. I'm sure I missed plenty of good stuff.
Tim Kent at 250 Moore Street
On Friday night, kick-off night, there were several gallery openings and parties, most of which went on until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning -- I  pooped out by 11:00. That night I did go to the Bushwick Starr's fifth annual performance showcase — The Bushwhack Series.
The Bushwick Starr executive director Sue Kessler (no relation), and Noel Allain, artistic director (Photo - Jared Klein, Time Out). 
The Bushwick Starr, 207 Starr Street, is a professional theater group that produces cutting-edge original theater in a small (about 50-60 seats), well-equipped black box theater. They did a series of short, well-acted plays. Unfortunately there were only about 20 people in the audience when I went, maybe because of all the other competing events, but, according to Jason Andrew who has produced many events, this is par for the course. That's the one disappointment I have with the Bushwick art scene -- there is little or no interaction with, or even much support for, the other arts. I long for the way it used to be in the sixties and seventies in New York. I hope it will change. Maybe something is happening even now.

Saturday was my busiest, most exhausting day. I wanted to cover a lot but didn't know how long it would take so I was really pushing it at first until I realized I could do everything I wanted to do without killing myself (and being disrespectful to the artists). I tried to concentrate more on studios than galleries which I'd be able to see another time. Nevertheless I saw a lot of gallery shows and they were terrific, possibly because they showed their best work; and several new galleries opened up for the event. (I'll be updating the Bushwick Gallery Guide soon. The old guide can still be found in the right sidebar under “Gallery and Museum Guides.”)
Lisa Levy, Rockin' Mommy Love
The tour started off promising. In front of 56 Bogart, Lisa Levy, costumed in a gray wig, house dress and large eyeglasses, sat in a rocking chair and offered to comfort people. After reassuring me that I wouldn’t crush her if I sat in her lap, Levy rocked and hugged me. ... It was wonderful. I loved it!  I could have used it again at the end of the day, but she was gone by then.
Oliver Warden, Untitled Box, 2010 Photos by Jo Jo Phong.
Inside the lobby at the entrance to the always interesting Agape Gallery was a very different kind of performance: Oliver Warden’s Untitled Box 2.0, 2010. Warden, in an amazing feat of endurance, stayed in a two-way mirrored box for two seven-hour days (correction - see comments). When someone flicked the switch, a light would turn on in the box, revealing Warden standing there unsmiling in a suit and tie. He immediately shut the light off again so that just the mirror was visible. The effect was creepy, and every once in a while, as you wandered the floor, you'd hear someone to shriek and laugh.
Charles Schultz and Charles Kessler at Cynthia Sparrenberger's studio, 56 Bogart (photo: Anne Sherwood Pundyk).
Yet a third kind of performance took place at The Bogart Salon, 56 Bogart. It was the filming of ISHA: A Tell All Tale, a wild and colorful Bollywood-style soap opera. Viewers were invited to participate if they wanted to.

Kesting/Ray opened a small space (bigger than their current space in Soho, however) only a couple of blocks west of 56 Bogart, but since everything else is east of 56 Bogart, I fear they might still be off the beaten track. I hope not because it's a beautifully proportioned space with lots of natural light, and they're showing good work.
1717 Troutman is a huge loft building that had 32 studios and two galleries, Regina Rex and Parallel, on the tour.
At 1717 Troutman for some reason -- maybe I was overwhelmed by it all -- only the two gallery exhibitions Regina Rex and Parallel stood out for me.

There were many other strong gallery exhibitions in other venues including Microscope, a serious, almost scholarly gallery when it comes to film and video (they curated a couple of film and video exhibitions for BOS), and Airplane where I saw this imposing and disconcerting sculpture:
Jennie Shanker, Brick Shithouse, 2011, denim, sand and red shale, 36 x 36 x 36 inches (Airplane Gallery).
One of the better and bigger group shows was Holy BOS, a two-day, three-night music, film, video, performance and visual art festival in a former church. The space was large enough to hold large, almost environmental sculptures.
Holy BOS at the Bobby Redd Project Space, 626 Bushwick Ave.
This isn't an art installation, it's a hallway at 56 Bogart at the end of day one.
Sunday I was the designated guide for several friends, and while that slowed things down to the slowest person at any one time, an event like this is a social occasion too - it’s not all business even for a compulsive art blogger. And the pleasure my friends had, their delight and enthusiasm, was more than enough to make up for missing a few spaces.

One would think that by the second day, especially in the more heavily trafficked spaces, the artists wouldn't be all that friendly. They were definitely exhausted, but they were still gracious, and happy that people came by, and pleased to talk about their work. We had some lively and enthusiastic discussions.

A new gallery, Ethan Pettit Contemporary, moved to a very small space in a building with many art studios, 199 Ingraham Street.  They promise to keep regular hours (noon - 7:00, Thursday thru Saturday). I saw a lot of sculpture in that building, and I particularly liked the work by studio-mates Jeanne Tremel and Eliot Markell because of the way they manage to incorporate color without making the sculptures seem to be weightless or hollow.
Jeanne Tremel, Not Listenin' (front view), 2008, crochet thread 11 x 4 x 3 inches.
The Loom (their address is 1087 Flushing, but it's better to enter from Thames Street) had a painting contest between two graffiti-style painters. It took place in their pleasant oasis of a back yard situated in the middle of an industrial area. We went inside to rest up (I had the best cortado I ever had), and we would occasionally hear cheers from the contest. They also presented Seeking Space, a group show of  30 artists “who do not have the opportunity to exhibit in a studio space.”

117 Grattan Street is yet another large loft building, and this had a lot of art I liked. Sharon Butler of the excellent blog Two Coats of Paint just moved there and organized a small group show that included a few nice small paintings by Larry Greenberg of the Studio10 gallery. And Patricia Satterlee's paintings, in another studio in 117 Grattan, were rich, complicated semi-abstractions that kept me off-balance with unexpected and quirky images. I asked her what she thought of Tom Nozkowski's work since I saw a relationship there. Rather than becoming defensive, she said she loved Nozkowski's work and was delighted I thought there was a connection. This mature and sophisticated reaction was typical of the many other Bushwick artists I talked to about their work and is indicative of what I see as a favorable change in the ethos of the art world.
Patricia Satterlee's Studio, 117 Grattan - “Gloria” series of paintings.
One of the last things I saw, the Bushwick Basel art fair, encapsulated a lot of my feelings about Bushwick.
Bushwick Basel at Starr Space (Photo Alissa Guzman via Hyperallergic).
First of all, the art was first-rate, and it was presented in an intimate and sociable environment. In a generous gesture to the community, Jules de Balincourt, one of Bushwick's most successful artists, organized the fair and donated his space. He told Paddy Johnson, “You know, I’ve been lucky and some of my friends haven’t been. I want to do something good.” That speaks to the supportiveness and camaraderie I've noticed in Bushwick, but there was something else. When Balincourt first announced the fair, he indicated that it was a kind of spoof or parody on art fairs, and he got some good-natured push-back for that remark. Clearly people were uneasy with irony, almost embarrassed; in Bushwick now, they are more comfortable with straightforward sincerity.


Oliver Warden said...

Thanks for the mention! You got it right except for one thing... I did two 9 hour days and a 6 hour day! And yes, it hurt! ;)

Good luck with your blog!

Charles Kessler said...

You have my respect and sympathy!

Kyle Gallup said...

We had a great time on Saturday touring as much as we could with a friend. We were on foot so it was harder to cover a lot of area but there was such a overall, open friendliness that it helped us feel like we were part of the community. Philip and I blogged about it on The Great Gray Bridge. Thanks for your report. It's good to see other peoples posts about BOS because it's giving me a well-rounded sense of the whole enterprise!

Jeanne Tremel said...

Thank you Charles Kessler. It was a pleasure to meet you at our studio and we're so happy that you mentioned us in your article. I particularly like how you talked about the friendliness and sincerity of the artists in the neighborhood- and I do enjoy a bit of irony:) I appreciate your views on your BOS tour, and will follow your writing on the blog.
Best, Jeanne Tremel & Eliot Markell

Eliot Markell said...

Hi Charles,
Thanks for visiting our studio and especially for your supportive comments.
If you don't mind I'd like to include a link to my art blog "White Elephant On Wheels":
Eliot Markell

Charles Kessler said...

And a good blog it is. Check it out.