If art’s a window-dressing to lure investment, then Bushwick’s yielding high returns. Visiting Bushwick Open Studios this weekend, the sunscreen was melting (86 felt like 110), and rumors were swirling of a new mall near the 56 Bogart studio building. You’ll find cafes everywhere, an ever increasing number of vintage satellite sales, with condos now creeping all the way up to 17-17 Troutman. Just last year, the studio building seemed like a hike from the activity.
So when William Powhida tweeted on Saturday evening that “Artists need to stop leasing for five years and use Kickstarter, foundations, and whatever they can to buy buildings and keep them,” the proposal felt so urgent, I was surprised I’d never heard it before. Those talking points were relegated to Twitter and the odd casual conversation on the street, but strangely absent from most of the studios I visited.
Instead, there was a tendency to look inward. As a friend noticed, the work often seemed more influenced by nearby studios than the world-at-large, so in a big complex, you’d end up with themes by floors (often, materiality: drips, pours, spray). At best, I came across an aesthetic which responds to its environment, or breaks the cubicle model. At worst, I wondered why people go to all the trouble of presenting gradients on a canvas, in a studio, when the image would be equally successful on a coaster or a laptop. They’d probably sell better in that form too.
It made me wonder why art needs a space of its own, and whether maximizing artistic production is, de facto, a good thing. For me, art gets an elevated social status, and separate space, because it’s free to go where the commercial can not. This year, art and commerce seemed closer together than ever.
That said, I found plenty of exceptions, and no shortage of skill.
Darren Goins, 114 Forrest Street (behind English Kills)
Studios with soundtracks usually seemed to get a better response. Goins’ soothing, monastic track definitely helped the transcendental feel of these hieroglyphic paintings and panels, but I can safely say I would have liked this regardless. Painted basketballs (steadily popping up in galleries over the past couple years) served as a sort of existential talisman. I still don’t know how to decode this scaffolding containing neon beer signs and basketball (below), and I like that about it. It looks sort of elite, but it’s kind of filthy, and unusually, he makes the neon lettering hard to decode.
1100 Broadway: DADDY (Alli Miller, Andrew Russell Thomas, and others) Alli Miller + Trey Burns, Alli Miller, Scott Goodman, Sarah Faux, Faren Ziello, Saki Sato, Alli Phillips, Michael Assiff, Lily Benson, Leslie Allison, Al Guerrero, Korakrit Arunanondchai
1100 Broadway also uses a high-low theme to good effect. There was less to offer than in previous visits (people were out, and there was a lot of familiar work), but the tone always feels right. A group of artists rented a storefront, and artworks both blend in and stand out amongst the rest of the neighborhood: Scott Goodman’s hyper-flat paintings in the style of cheap cabinets, or detergent bottles subtly marked “DADDY.” (The display draws artists and neighbors alike, and the “Everything Must Go” sign sincerely refers to a clearance sale of Daddy works inside).
1100 Broadway (continued)
Another example of good blending is Alex Phillips’ basement filled with modernist forms made of found materials: penny savers, penant strings, and sleeves of plastic coffee lids. It’s a great response to the surrounding environment, as is much of the work. I hope they never leave this space.
64 Jefferson Street: Cora Foxx, Michael Matthews, Gina Tron, Mike Sheets (House)
While the sheer mass of artwork, spilling into hallways and toilets, made it pretty difficult to see individual works…well, you get the idea. This is a house of fun. Look at this toilet papery fort. It’s called “Fern Gully.” Haha.
64 Jefferson Street : Cora Foxx, Michael Matthews, Gina Tron, Mike Sheets (House, continued)
One standout work, surprisingly, were the towels with photos of fat guys on the floor. They’re looked down-upon by towels with photos of sexy Playboy models hanging from the ceiling. (One was definitely fat Keanu Reeves; another had the speech bubble “It’s okay to walk all over us :)”). The work isn’t exactly life-changing, but it’s nice to see artists staking out a space of their own.
Aftermath Supplies in The Silent Barn collective and studios, 603 Bushwick Ave
More artists staking out a space of their own: the Silent Barn building, where artists have set up a makeshift bar, studios, barber shop, mini gallery, and very mini art supply business Aftermath Supplies. Like the businesses, the work nearby is pretty anarchic. I will most definitely be coming back.
English Kills, 114 Forrest Street: David Pappaceno
I can’t say I take much from David Pappaceno’s drippy-and-flanneled Venuses of Willendorfs, but he’s getting a mention for inventiveness. I did particularly enjoy one Venus drawing in the style of R Crumb, transforming your first art history slide into a crusty come-on.
Susan Hamburger, 56 Bogart, 4A
At first, grisaille-style wall panels with hidden clues feels like a little bit of an old trick, but Susan Hamburger’s execution (with built-in moulding and sparse elements) was so delicate and well-integrated that it compels you to take a close look. For that, you’re rewarded; in one panel, she’s incorporated characters from the European banking crisis, with politicians like Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande alongside bank presidents Mario Draghi and Christine Lagarde. The mix of politics and banks asks you to question where the responsibility ends. Another depicts the Koch brothers flanking a detail of a flooded Massachusetts house. The pairing makes you do some thinking, as do the Kochs: their generous philanthropists, but also oily, anti-regulation, and against federal aid for Hurricane victims. The timing couldn’t be better, with the latest scandal over PBS’ censorship of the Koch documentary.
To top it off, the light, leafy borders feels like a parody of how easy it is to dismiss the issues until they’re outdated.
Aaron Williams, 17-17 Troutman Street, #330
et al projects, Julian Lorber
It’s probably unfair to lump both Lorber and Williams into the Tauba Auerbach category, but that’s because not even Auerbach can really claim folded paper reflecting neon light. I was a little more receptive to the focus on surface here, because at least a contemporary look makes this feel like a step forward.
Regina Rex, 17-17 Troutman Street
Bushwick-based artist Mathieu Lefevre was killed in a bike accident in 2011, so this solo show could be viewed as a time capsule. The work stood out this weekend, because it was all very clearly grappling with subject matter in painting. Throughout, gobs of oil paint acts as mud, poop, sandwich filling (breaded by two canvases) and even is sculpted on top of a canvas to form a book “The History of Painting.” Now in 2013, Lefevre’s internal struggle to make meaning already feels like a distant conversation.
Elisa Solevan and Aleta Lanier
17-17 Troutman, 2nd floor (first from the stairwell)
I regret not spending more time in this studio, as it was sufficiently weird, and each work took a very different turn from the last. The overlapping folds and mixed-down palette gave this room a gross vagina feel that I thought was cool, especially in contrast to the hyper-controlled sprays and geometry I’d seen elsewhere.
Matthew Silver, outside 56 Bogart
Matthew Silver reprised a signature performance outside 56 Bogart. He’s a big advocate for silliness as an agent of positive social change. While I kind of wish there were more of a range of silly than farting noises in your underpants– to each his own.