Successfully running a small business entails more than just abundant patience, energy and entrepreneurial ardor. As many shopkeepers and small business owners would agree—whether they’ve been at it for months, years or decades—it also entails a great deal of compromise, creativity and unforeseen adjustments. It’s not exactly a stretch, then, to say it involves a particular sort of artistry.
It was perhaps with a keen awareness of such aspects of entrepreneurship that artist and small business owner John Avelluto, who manages The Owl’s Head wine bar in Bay Ridge, conceived Storefront Art Walk, a.k.a. Bay Ridge SAW, an annual affair that brings artists into collaboration with shop owners up and down the neighborhood’s bustling Fifth Avenue to create exhibits in storefront windows and waiting rooms. If the creative aesthetics of running a small business might seem unsung with respect to those of the visual arts, Bay Ridge SAW is an ode to the relative beauties of both.
Now in its fifth year, Bay Ridge SAW will feature 15 artists and their host businesses, and it will be on view from May 17 to June 28. We asked seven of this year’s artists working in a variety of media how they’re merging their work with their respective hosts’ spaces and commercial scopes.
Chris Bonnell, Galaxy Comics
I’m partnering with the store on an installation of an “antique map” that works a bit like SimCity. I have a dedicated webpage that people can join. As the population of the “city” grows, I’ll return to the installation to add more houses, buildings and other features to the map over the course of the month.
Maureen Drennan, Fritsch’s Upholstery
This is a multi-generational shop that’s been in business in Bay Ridge since 1961. Fritsch’s is solely an upholstery workspace; they do not sell any furniture. My proposal to the owner, Fred, was to represent his business and the community by taking a few hundred pictures of his fabrics used for upholstery to create a large mosaic of the Verrazano Bridge, which rises over the neighborhood. Fred is a kind man and has many thank you letters and gifts from pleased customers. His integral role in the neighborhood led me to consider how community is like a fabric, made up of many parts, all together creating something unique. This is a radical departure from my narrative-based documentary photography.
Samantha Fein, Long’s Wine and Liquor
I’m working with the liquor store to create a window installation depicting a bursting piñata. Sprinkling out of the piñata’s midsection are confetti pieces marked with the reason why customers are buying alcohol (i.e. “Daughter’s Graduation” or “Tuesday”). I arrived at this idea from a desire to fabricate a piece related to the business. The purchase of alcohol signals a special occasion, and this piece allows viewers to consider the myriad events being celebrated throughout the neighborhood. For me, the challenge of this project was to create a piece specific to the business while still expressing my artistic voice.
Katya Grokhovsky, Bay Ridge Bakery
This has been a local family-owned and -operated business since the 1970s. After an initial intensive stroll along Fifth Avenue, I kept coming back to the bakery’s smell of freshly made goods. I proposed to the owner and chef, Nick Nikolopoulos, the creation of a performance for video installation, imagining working with one of his baked creations. He suggested we collaborate on decorating a custom cake in the bakery’s kitchen and film the process. The work will be exhibited in one of the bakery’s storefront windows, as a site-specific video installation, involving a TV screen and a soft cake sculpture. The collaboration with a chef is new to my way of working, as I normally work alone in the studio or collaborate on live actions with other artists.
Phyllis Ma, Dante Zeller Tuxedo
The shop is on a corner, with two long windows facing Fifth Avenue. I basically told Carlos, the manager, that I wanted to make a giant tuxedo. I then decided to make just the top, the part the eye is drawn to the most. It will look as if a twentysomething-foot-tall man had his tuxedo chopped off from the chest up. I was also really excited about this giant tuxedo having a flower in the lapel. Serendipitously, the dollar store a block over was selling giant carnations, and I took it as a sign that this project was meant to be. This is the first site-specific artwork I’ve done, but it befits my practice because I’m interested in subverting conventions of fashion with humor.
Vincent Romaniello, Le Petit Salon
I am focusing on the history and diversity of Bay Ridge rather than my current personal obsession with drones and doodles. The proprietors of Le Petit Salon and I settled on a collage of area icons, drawn on clear dura-lar, sized to fit the entire 4’x6’ window. Gumball machines, a Norwegian flag, halal text, the Verrazano Bridge with a tug boat, bikes, kids and more will probably factor into my scenery. Since the media is transparent I might also trace people onsite. I liked Le Petit Salon from the outside because it has good sight lines to the interior. I met with the owners, who are also the stylists, on a cold, gray, rainy day and found them and the atmosphere inside to be very cordial and warm.
Emily Weiskopf, Verrazano Bicycle Shop
I’m excited to work with this shop, which is packed with amazing bicycles from ceiling to floor. When I met Tomas, the owner, he was similarly excited about working with me, and he liked my ideas as I showed him previous work. He was immediately on board and happy to assist, giving me full range. Much of my work has a natural connection involving cycles, paths and roads, and most recently my practice has involved a lot more site-specific work, which I will also be doing for this project.
You can follow Paul D’Agostino on Twitter @postuccio