For over five years now, Jason Andrew has been running the non-profit arts organization Norte Maar in and out of his living room at 83 Wyckoff Avenue. "When I found the apartment," he tells me over the phone, "I saw the front room and thought: 'This is my gallery.'" Andrew has been producing four exhibitions mostly by Bushwick artists every year in his living room, though this is just one facet of Norte Maar. The organization "doesn't have one specific place," Andrew explains, "it's based on collaboration between literary, visual and performing arts, and it happens wherever the collaborations are." So while the visual component hangs in Bushwick, as does an after school art program for local kids that Andrew operates in conjunction with community group Bushwick Impact, he's organized performances around the world, and helps to run an upstate art camp for adults every summer with Austin Thomas (founder of the now-legendary scene-sparking DIY gallery Pocket Utopia, about which more later). Big as it is, though, Andrew's living room has certain limitations. "I wanted to show these very large-scale paintings by Deborah Brown," he explains, "but in a space that would do them justice."
So Brown and Andrew signed a lease for a vacant retail space at 16 Wilson Avenue and opened Storefront, a commercial gallery devoted to promoting work by emerging Bushwick artists whose third exhibition (hanging through May 16) features Brown's eerily, unexpectedly beautiful oil paintings of the neighborhood's feral landscapes under spectacular skies. Only five months after opening, Norte Maar's for-profit offspring is already a success. "It's weird," Andrew says, laughing, "for some reason people who weren't willing to buy art that's hanging over my bed will come into the gallery, look around and buy works." Still, the gallery isn't just a showroom; Storefront's Third Thursday reading series features a new local writer every month; and during the typically slow summer months Andrew will foreground the work of emerging curators in a fast-paced series of themed, three-week group exhibitions beginning on Bushwick Open Studios weekend (June 4-6) and continuing through September.
Less than two blocks away at 114 Forrest Street, one of the booming arts community's oldest galleries, English Kills, is in the midst of its third anniversary exhibition (through June 20). Though he represents over a dozen artists, founder Chris Harding created the space in reaction to the Chelsea gallery model. "I scored a job with Mary Boone," Harding remembers of his time at the eponymous West 24th Street gallery, "and worked for her for a year. I think in many ways English Kills is a reaction to what I experienced there." Appropriately, there's a distinct emphasis on performance and installation in the work of the artists he promotes, many of whom live and work in Bushwick and take full advantage of the raw warehouse space. "DIY is self-reliance," Harding muses via email, "and that will always be an advantage."
Check out some photos of the DIY galleries
A DIY Art Scene
Last fall, another Bushwick resident informed by experiences in the Chelsea scene launched SUGAR nearby at 449 Troutman Street. Founder Gwendolyn Skaggs had started a tiny hallway gallery called Alcove near her day job in Chelsea back in 2006, and the idea for SUGAR grew out of that experiment. "When I left that day job a year and half later," she remembers, "I took Alcove with me." Running the gallery out of her own live-work space, Skaggs draws on her background in architectural technology. "SUGAR is an artwork in and of itself," she asserts, "Exhibiting two, sometimes three artists, I approach each exhibition as a work of art." Her most recent exhibition, a museum-caliber show of photography organized around the theme of humor and featuring works by Diane Arbus, Robert Smithson, Denis Oppenheim and more, certainly fulfilled that goal. Skaggs builds on the ethos of DIY: "To me SUGAR is a DIMOW space: Do It My Own Way."
DIY is also a community, though, and Bushwick gallery directors Ellen Letcher and Kevin Regan, founders of Famous Accountants, are very aware of this. "We wanted to continue, in our own fashion, what Austin Thomas started with Pocket Utopia," Regan recounts via email, "Ellen and I were worried that if we didn't do something that the special thing that Austin helped forge in Bushwick—a sense of community—might dissipate." And like any good member of a community, they're good friends with their neighbor, artist and experimental industrial music pioneer Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, whose late wife Lady Jane first started turning the space at 1673 Gates Avenue into a gallery. "We didn't know this when we decided to take the space," Regan says, "but it's since become a part of the Famous Accountants mission." That mission came full circle at the beginning of the month, when the gallery hosted a massive tag sale of P-Orridge's belongings. It doesn't get much more neighborly than tag sales.
Parlour founders Ciara Gilmartin and Leslie Rosa-Stumpf are also doing DIY in their own, very novel way, curating nomadic, salon-style exhibitions of artist friends and acquaintances in peoples' apartments all over the city, mostly in Brooklyn, since October 2008. "We were not responding to a post-crash art-world," Rosa-Stumpf explains via email, "but a pre-crash one obsessed with the art market." Like so many DIY art spaces in Brooklyn, Parlour started in Gilmartin and Rosa-Stumpf's apartments, but quickly evolved into something more ambitious. "We then thought it would be much more interesting to have the series be truly nomadic," Rosa-Stumpf recalls, "thereby giving us a fresh physical context for each show and a new person to collaborate with." Rather than seeing their lived-in exhibition spaces as a compromise that might lead to a permanent gallery, the duo of curators value these varied, unique settings. As Rosa-Stumpf puts it: "We believe that art is part of life, and we find the home a very rich context for exploring this integration." In many ways, this same outlook applies to all of Brooklyn's DIY art spaces: they're constantly blurring boundaries between art and life.
More DIY art spaces in Bushwick:
Beloved L Mag contributor Paul D'Agostino curates the exhibition series Centotto in his apartment at 250 Moore Street, and his next show Hinterlands and the Hegemon (opens May 21) includes works by rising Brooklyn artists like Brock Enright, Tim Kent and Nat Ward.
Artists Ali Ha and Ad Deville moved their LES art space Orchard Street Gallery out to 1053 Flushing Avenue back in 2008, renamed it Factory Fresh, and show works by locally and internationally renowned street artists as well as their own projects. Their next show features the mural-sized animals of Belgian street artist ROA (opens May 14).