The New Gallery District

03/02/2011 4:00 AM |

“I was looking at the Wagmag recently,” says Chris Harding, founder of one of Bushwick’s older DIY galleries, English Kills, referring to the ubiquitous Brooklyn gallery guide. “There are a dozen Bushwick galleries in there now, and a lot of them aren’t much more than a year old.” I ask him if he’s heard that Luhring Augustine, a major Chelsea gallery, bought a large warehouse three blocks away last fall. “Yeah, I remember seeing the Craigslist post for that building,” he recalls.
”It’s like a reverse migration.”

Harding’s gallery is my first stop on “Beat Nite,” an event organized every few months by Jason Andrew, who co-founded the tiny gallery around the corner, Storefront, and runs another out of his apartment. On this exceptionally warm February evening, ten galleries across the neighborhood are staying open late. It’s only 7pm, but a steady stream of visitors trickles into English Kills’s backyard entrance. Some are regulars, but most seem to be newcomers. A college-aged pair walking hesitantly through the gate asks in unison: “Is this the art gallery?” In addition to regular participants like Harding and Andrew’s spaces, and other apartment galleries like L Mag contributing editor Paul D’Agostino’s Centotto and Gwendolyn Skaggs’s SUGAR, there are two newcomers on the evening’s itinerary, both differently emblematic of the Bushwick scene’s rapid expansion.

Set up spartanly on a residential Boerum Street block in what resembles an unfinished condo with a fenced-off cement patio and guard tower-like second floor, Fortress To Solitude wears its name well. The tall, white walls make even larger pieces like Anthony Patti‘s colorful lightbulb-embedded, custom-painted snowboard deck seem tiny. Twenty or so visitors mostly stand near the beer, keeping at the edges of the imposing space, its brutality diminishing the impressive group show, but not the festive mood. Six blocks east, just past the inland-most tip of Newtown Creek, Curbs and Stoops takes up the entire second floor of the three-story warehouse at 566 Johnson Avenue. An impressive new facility divided into studios and residency spaces, it hosts an uneven but at times excellent series of group exhibitions in its many rooms and hallways, and feels like an open house at a way-too-cool art school. Despite being at what feels like the end of the universe, large groups keep arriving and there’s a palpable sense of excitement over the vast space’s immense potential.

Intermittent teams of pedestrians trek along the desolate blocks between Curbs and Stoops and Wyckoff Avenue. At Laundromat—a gallery formerly housed in a loft above a laundromat and now located in a ground-floor apartment—a performance just ended and spectators start heading across the street to Jason Andrew’s apartment gallery, Norte Maar. A large window onto the street reveals an already crowded living room, but there’s space to stand and chat in his bedroom and office (and gawk at a beautiful Alex Prager photo). “Beat” walkers keep pouring in and by the end of the evening new visitors can only enter as others depart. It’s an art world migration, Bushwick-style.