Does Bushwick Need an Art Fair?

by Whitney Kimball on May 6, 2014 · 1 comment Newswire

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“Bushwick Open Studios weekend has become a magnet for those who want to program art that has nothing to do with Bushwick,” said artist Deborah Brown, Storefront Ten Eyck founder and longtime Bushwick community activist. This year, rather than foreign artists renting studios just for BOS weekend, Bushwick has attracted an art fair. The NEWD Fair is generally expected to draw collectors from Chelsea and the Upper East Side, since co-founder Kibum Kim also happens to work as a faculty member at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art (though Sotheby’s is not officially associated with NEWD).

While this might smack of opportunists come to harvest the fruits of eight years of volunteer community organizing (Bushwick Open Studios has no official affiliation with the fair), NEWD seems well aware of those concerns. The NEWD fair will be small, with about eight exhibitors with roots in Brooklyn, including Regina Rex, Signal, Residency Unlimited, Rawson Projects, and Eli Ping Frances Perkins. Bushwick figureheads will discussion gentrification in panel discussions, and the fair will include a display of works from the Artist Pension Trust, a collective economic model which pools artworks and distributes a portion of the sales equally amongst all of its members, ensuring economic stability for artists.

But most meaningfully, NEWD is working with Level Rights, an organization that created and manages Negotiated Resale Rights (NRRs): contracts ensuring that artists and galleries receive a portion of resale royalties. If it catches on, this could set a historic trend. (More on this soon).

This year, Deborah Brown invited the BOS organizers Arts in Bushwick to a quarterly meeting of Bushwick galleries to discuss their reactions to the news. “A segment of the Bushwick art community views this as ‘carpetbagging,’” Brown told us, “though others may see this as proof that Bushwick is one of the most exciting places to see art. So it’s hard to shut the door to people who want to be part of of it.”

Brown says she’s not ready to cry “carpetbagger” yet. “For the last three, four years, [NEWD co-founder] Kibum Kim has brought groups of Sotheby’s students to Storefront,” she said. “They’ve always been very respectful, and they always do their homework. I don’t see [Kim] as an outsider.” Brown will be participating on one of the fair’s panel discussions.

Bushwick Open Studios organizers maintain a similarly reserved civility. “We have encountered a few other organizations who have not been willing to engage in constructive dialogue and have made it quite clear to us that they are simply capitalizing off Bushwick Open Studios in a way that was not productive for anyone,” Arts in Bushwick co-organizer Lucia Rollow told me via e-mail. “We felt it was very important since it was clear that NEWD was going to happen with or without our approval that we established a relationship with them and avoided controversy about capitalization of the festival.”

Bushwick Open Studios organizers might help lead collectors into the outskirts of the neighborhood, for example. When I asked Rollow whether Bushwick needs more collectors, she said yes. “One of the significant factors of our mission as an organization is to provide opportunities for exposure to under represented artists,” she wrote. “There are so many artists in this neighborhood that in my view bringing people into the neighborhood who want to buy art is not a bad thing.”

Fair founder Kibum Kim agrees. “Obviously, the development of a vibrant cultural scene has brought the gentrification beast to the neighborhood, and artists are feeling the squeeze from rising rents,” he wrote in an email. “One might say that bringing more collectors to Bushwick will only accelerate gentrification. However, we feel that collectors who are committed to supporting emerging artists can play a critical role in keeping the art community in Bushwick.”

“The artist William Powhida has urged artists to band together and buy property in Bushwick, which is a huge challenge for artists,” he continued. “We believe that getting more collectors to see the special, organically-developed community in Bushwick can foster conversations that lead to collaborative investment that would keep artists in the neighborhood (like the Naftalis have done with their building in Chelsea).” In the 1974, Gloria and Raymond Naftali purchased the Wolff Building on 26th street and filled it with artists, who now include creative agencies, architects, filmmaking and commercial photo studios– still worlds apart from the low-rent artist studio building which William Powhida and Placeholder envision.

Considering that cultural distance, Bushwick is a relatively risky destination for an art fair. “We are cognizant of concerns about the commercialization of Bushwick’s art scene and, on the flip side, the challenge of getting collectors to come out to Bushwick,” Kim said. He hopes that despite “fair fatigue”, the fair model will showcase fresher curatorial approaches by exhibitors like Regina Rex. “Our participants are artist collectives, project spaces, and nonprofits, most of which are managed by people who have other full-time jobs and individual artistic practices,” he wrote. “We feel supporting these rigorous curatorial initiatives with sales opportunities and critical attention benefits the emerging art scene and stays true to the Bushwick spirit.”

For now, Deborah Brown will be keeping these ventures in perspective. “Every year, it seems there’s some [new venture] which makes people raise their eyebrows a little bit. One year it was Luhring Augustine opening…but so far, it’s remained fairly steady. I think that’s because the community keeps things in perspective; many players know each other and work together well. I think that’s the secret.”

  • Cheryl Gross

    Again there goes the neighborhood. It’s just a matter of time before ALL the artists are priced out no matter how well intended these so called art developers are.

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