At 1,500 bucks, Bushwick Basel might have the smallest operating budget of any art fair we’ve been to, but it drew some of the largest crowds at this weekend’s Bushwick Open Studios. Debuting at artist and fair organizer Jules de Balincourt’s Starr Space, the fair attracted 11 galleries from around the neighborhood. It was, by many accounts, a success.
“You know, I’ve been lucky and some of my friends haven’t been,” de Balincourt said, speaking to the impetus of the event. “I want to do something good.” Bushwick Basel is just one event of many marking a shift in what Bushwick Open Studios means. At one time, there was little more than the studios themselves, and no one expected to see any of the city’s larger critics, curators, and gallerists come out. This year, no one could stop talking about New York Times critic Holland Cotter and his tour of Bushwick.
Perhaps uncomfortable with the amount of attention his event was garnering, de Balincourt downplayed the buzz around the fair. “I don’t think big deals are going down or that that’s even what this is about,” de Balincourt told me at the fair Saturday. Jason Andrew of Norte Maar seemed to agree, writing over email, “The commercialism of the event didn’t really exist.” The point of the fair, as put by de Balincourt, was simple. “You can go to one place and get a sense of the zeitgeist. You can see one gallery and say, oh I like this gallery, and go see [their permanent space].”
The gallerists we spoke to disagreed on whether buyers were actually tracking back to their regular gallery locations, but they seemed to agree that the event at least attracted more visitors than the open studios would have on their own. It brought sales to match, and though profits may not have been the driving force behind Bushwick Basel, many dealers happily reported making money.
Storefront Bushwick’s Deborah Brown told us she sold Adam Parker Smith’s “Bottom” pieces, a matching anus and vagina in foam. Both were perched on top of formica, and were some of the stronger works in the show. NURTUREart sold two works by Daniel Bejar: “Stretchin a Dollar,” a series of flattened pennies affixed to the wall; and the “Visual Topography of a Generation Gap,” Bejar’s apartment key, copied until it was completely transformed. Rob de Oude of Parallel Art Space sold two abstract Clinton King works. Norte Maar reported the sale of a small collage by Bushwick musician and artist Oliver Ralli at the fair, along with several pieces by the artist’s Friday evening at their physical space. Storefront Bushwick and Parallel also sold work at their permanent gallery spaces, and while Interstate Projects didn’t sell work at Basel, they reported sales of Justin Berry’s prints at the gallery.
Artists, too, sold from their studios, but this was a far more rare occurrence. When we talked to Brown, she contrasted the sale of her own work this year at Active Space to the five years prior when she’d kept her studio open. This was the first time she’d sold work. Sharon Butler from Two Coats of Paint told us she’d sold three paintings in her studio.
Many people we talked to commented on the arrival of the collector to Bushwick, a relatively recent phenomenon. When we idly wondered whether closing deals looked that different from other Manhattan-based events, some distinction was made. “I don’t know to what extent the “impulse buy” thing happens at Bushwick Basel,” Brown told us, contrasting Bushwick Basel with other larger art fairs. “A lot of times when people buy, they already know the artist.” People seemed to agree that both collectors and gallerists were looking for a more filtered experience.
The art community as a whole often looks for curation, though, a desire that is sometimes at odds with the flavor of the event. Bushwick Open Studios is not known for its exclusivity. Open studios are a crapshoot, the streets are filled with costumed participants and street artists who may never visit Chelsea, and bars are populated with kids who’ve heard about the hip new scene. Brown sees this as the horizontal expansion of the event—a balancing of the new verticals—and generally held positive attitudes about it. “[The Bushwick creative] community got involved in ways that were self-curated,” Brown explained, citing the barbershop next door, whose two lesbian owners put on a striptease-as-art performance for Bushwick Open Studios. Five years ago, “Those folks wouldn’t have wanted to get involved.”
Despite strong sales, not everyone was happy about the arrival of collectors and curators. According to de Oude, some artists believe Bushwick Basel was taking away from the Open Studios, though he declined to name anyone. We didn’t talk to anyone who held that view, but artist William Powhida conceded he’d worried that it might be an issue. It turned out not to be the case. “It was so small it took about 20 minutes to walk through,” he told us. “It seemed to support the same artists who open their studios and/or the galleries that show a lot of Bushwick artists. No one I talked to expressed that it was a distraction from the studios, unlike, say, the 5 Points party near St. Nich and Troutman which was like a frat party. That pissed people off.”
de Oude simply applauded de Balincourt for his work. “For Jules to do this is very generous,” he said earnestly. “It took him three days to clean out of his studio. He was mopping the floor himself when I showed up Sunday. I definitely think it was a good thing.”