Dec 21, 2015
Best of Brooklyn Art 2015: The Past Conditional Edition
I was fortunate enough to see, experience, ponder and absorb a great deal of wonderful artwork all around town this year, and I was happy to be able to write about quite a lot of it for The L and Brooklyn Magazine.
Had I my druthers, though, and perhaps a few fewer part-time gigs—and maybe also the super power of ubiquity, likely wished for by many others who cover art in New York City—I would’ve written about so many more artists, exhibitions, galleries, performances, events and particular works.
To that end—if only in part, given my basically borough-centric approach here—I thought it would be fun, while compiling my list of favorites and highlights regarding Brooklyn art in 2015, to avoid more or less entirely all of the shows, works and suchlike about which I’ve already written this year. That is, I thought it would be a joy to think and write about all the things I didn’t cover, but would’ve really liked to cover in some way.
To be frank, though, I was completely wrong. It wasn’t a joy, and it wasn’t fun. In fact, it might’ve been something along the lines of the opposite of that, given what a dauntingly prodigious backlog of great stuff there was to reflect back on and assemble into something cohesive, coherent, comprehensive.
On that latter note, what follows is, of course, anything but complete. As everyone knows, with sprawling best-of pieces like this, incompletion is ineluctable—made even more so by my perhaps foolishly devised ‘past conditional’ angle.
But anyway, here it goes!
I wrote about art in Bushwick on many occasions, but there were plenty more intriguing or somehow noteworthy art-related things that I would’ve liked to cover. I would’ve written, for instance, about how Bushwick Open Studios, whose growth has been of steroidal proportions from one year to the next, seemed to have plateaued in a nice way this year after kicking off with its most blockbuster benefit show yet, one that featured around 400 works by as many artists, and one whose opening very entertainingly rattled the long walls of its host space, Storefront Ten Eyck. And I would’ve written about how a growing trend within BOS in recent years has been for lots of artists—local and otherwise—to band together in the mounting of massive group shows in studios and pop-up spots, and revelling and networking in those over the festive weekend, rather than tending to their studios for two days straight. Such shows during BOS have a history as long as the event itself, and a number of the neighborhood’s art spaces have generally done shows like this for years, but there were many more such shows this time around, it seemed, and the quality of most all of them was of a new, better sort. One of the more exceptional among them was “Reactivator”, at The Active Space, not least because of the wading pool of newspapers visitors were forced to navigate to view the works. Anyway, BOS was a delight as always, and everyone is looking forward to BOS 2016—including, for better or worse (worse), the ever more thirstily vampiric developers who’ve been looming with decreasing unnoticeability in the event’s midst and at its perimeter, salivating.
On that note, I would’ve written about how studio rents in Bushwick, for sure, but also in much of Brooklyn, not unlike apartment rents, have really become just ridiculously, almost unethically…
Ugh, never mind, I already wrote about how much that whole situation generally sucks. And anyway, it’s a real bummer. (And anyway, I’m still betting, perhaps naively, that many of those developers are making bad bets.)
So, back to ‘fun’ things!
For example, I would’ve written about how fun it was to witness all the hustle and bustle of artists, shows, collaborations and so forth that rolled on and on at the art spaces at 1329 Willoughby after their christening in early 2015. TSA and Transmitter joined Microscope there, and then Underdonk opened up there as well, and then Rob de Oude and a few other artists and curators put together some shows in a huge warehouse loading-dock space next door, temporarily dubbed Space Available. And I definitely, most assuredly would’ve written a whole lot about the truly superb Paolo Gioli show at Microscope, and about the quirkily killer “Lesser Deities of Summer” at Underdonk, and about how some of the shows at TSA and Transmitter—never physically separated by more than a thin, open-portaled wall—registered as so complementary to one another as to seem almost one and the same.
Regarding other moves and christenings in and around Bushwick, I would’ve written a bit more about how Norte Maar’s transfer to Cypress Hills only encouraged its directors, Jason Andrew and Julia Gleich, to spread their curatorial love around Brooklyn even further, by doing things like launching Beat Nite Gowanus and promising to consider taking that nocturnal gallery tour elsewhere in the borough as well, all the while maintaining their massive program of creative collaborations all over town. I also would’ve written about a particular Norte Maar event that had a crowd of only thirty or so people, but that made thirty or so people very lucky that day: Norte Maar’s presentation of two collaborative books: “Tobacco Hours,” by Dara Mandle and Brece Honeycutt; and “A Modicum of Mankind,” by John Talbird and Leslie Kerby. It was an excellent event for two excellent books, and the readings were commensurately excellent. More excellent yet, the whole thing took place at Luhring Augustine Bushwick while one of their most excellent shows there to date was on view, one that perfectly showcased a suite of stunning new paintings by Philip Taaffe—which I once said made me nostalgic for Pangaea, a claim by which I still stand very firmly, imperceptible continental shifting underfoot notwithstanding.
I did write a bit about a wonderful new space called Christopher Stout Gallery, but I would’ve liked to write a bit about Christopher Stout’s great solo show at ArtHelix Gallery as well, and about how that show was apparently, in part, spawned by another great show there by Kurt Steger. I also would’ve written about a similarly named yet programmatically very different space in those environs as well, Stout Projects, which opened in painter Paul Behnke’s studio. Not far from there is another space that art folks should keep an eye on, Idio Gallery, where some very nice group shows and very earthy, so to speak, performances would’ve been great to ‘dig into’—I’ll never forget the sound of all that shoveling—with some verbiage.
Speaking of marvelously weird performances, I also would’ve written about one orchestrated by Dan Bainbridge that took place during his very strong solo show at Art3. Droning music, huge animal heads, implied ritualisms, a child smoking, exposed breasts, clunky puppetry with musical instruments—quite a perfect ordeal of performance bizarreness. Another great performance, actually a whole series of great performances was at Songs For Presidents, where over the summer I saw someone writhe her way into a corner and all around a kind of bean bag for quite a remarkable duration. Oh, and then there were some performances at Knockdown Center (Queens, yeah, fine) that might’ve even almost been beyond description, or for which you really needed to have been there, such as Lucas Abela’s definitively smashing sound act involving distortion pedals, a sheet of glass, copious spit and, ultimately, lots of blood. Onlookers who brought little kids with them grasped their beloved tikes, covered their eyes, walked them away, many of them with slightly horrified expressions on their faces. I bet I know what those kids will remember when they’re angsty teenagers! (Here’s a sample of what they might recollect, shot just moments before the unforeseen spewing of indirectly vitrified gore.)
Well, now that I’ve ventured into the barely-beyond-Brooklyn stretch of things, i.e. Queens, I might as well add here that I would’ve had some great fun writing about Fred Valentine’s new space located a bit further into Ridgewood than his former pad, because I would’ve written about how his Panglossian philosophy on life, art and other things potentially ‘fantastic’—his adjective of choice—seems to truly come full circle in his well appointed backyard. And I would’ve written about the really impressive, materially very extensive show at Outpost devoted to works exploring grids of all sorts. Something about it made it feel like a very perfectly NYC show, somehow made even more perfect by being situated so far out into an outer borough. Also at Outpost, in fact directly after the grid show, was a weekend of lovely nebulosity and exquisitely performed music, “The Earth Poised in the Enveloping Air,” featuring paintings by Cathy Nan Quinlan and a score by Giancarlo Vulcano. (Here is but a whisper of a hint of the same.)
I did get to write about art in Bay Ridge on a couple of occasions, but I would’ve also written about how one of the biggest promoters of art initiatives over there, artist John Avelluto, has begun to form quite a group of like-minded folks eager to curate and collaborate, and about how perhaps some of that was born of the now quietly, now raucously entertaining series of monthly poetry readings—helmed by writer, Bay Ridge native, co-founder of Hey Ridge blog, and part (mostly) Viking, Henry Stewart—that he has been hosting at his wine bar, Owl’s Head, for years. Just a theory.
I also would’ve written about the many challenges that the directors of The Invisible Dog have consistently overcome to keep producing more and better art programming over in Boerum Hill. And I would’ve liked to explore how certain other Brooklyn spaces, such as Five Myles, Trestle and Ethan Pettit Gallery, have used deep rooted connections to bring various parts and generations of the NYC art scene into confluence on many occasions in somewhat further flung (in very relative terms) places, and about how these patterns suggest that art kind of functions like a curiously material machine manifesting the collage-like aspects of our existences as social beings, now especially thanks to social media. Or something like that.
I would’ve written, too, about how Auxiliary Projects is still an extant art space of a very occasional kind, having moved from Bushwick to Greenpoint. Also in Greenpoint is Owen James Gallery, where I went on a very, very, very rainy weekday afternoon over the summer and found a robustly colorful, totally charming series of little sculptures by Adam Frezza and Terri Chiao, in a group show called “Materials / Abstraction”. I would’ve written about those. And about how certain measures of color can render rainy days radiant.
Regarding a newish sort of space in Williamsburg, I definitely, most absolutely would’ve written about Weathervane, a kind of 24-hour ‘gallery’ situated behind a gridded-glass garage door that hosts installations to be viewed all day, essentially, but especially at night. A couple great installations there about which I would’ve said a thing or two include one by Bob Seng and Lisa Hein, and another (currently on view) by Nathaniel Lieb. Keep an eye out, a nocturnal one in particular, for this gem of a spot at 76 North 8th St.
It might’ve occurred to you that this perhaps already long enough piece has been slightly Bushwick-heavy. But there’s a good reason for that: There is a fuckload of art in Bushwick. Also, many of the already strong programs at some of its longer-standing galleries have gotten much, much stronger from one year to the next, and there are now around 70 galleries in the general area. And most of the galleries there are still artist-run.
So no apologies for this being Bushwick-heavy. In fact, I’m getting ready to tip the scales that way even more.
Because I also would’ve written about a very cool, very well sequenced trio of shows at Interstate Projects, “U:L:O”, part of which could usually still be heard if you happened to pass by at night, especially when summery breezes kicked up just a bit to set the ever-stirring wind chimes into more dramatically sonorous motion. And I would’ve written about a stellar video work by Kristen Jensen, who typically works in ceramic, that I saw at Outlet Gallery, and about a car show of sorts that John Silvis had curated there earlier in the year. I might’ve also written about a very good group show at Parlour Bushwick that was about irony, allegedly, because I would’ve had a lot of fun digging into the reasons why the exhibit wasn’t really about irony at all—which would’ve been ironic, perhaps, thus making the show totally about irony all along! (Clearly, no one missed out on anything by me not writing that piece. Not even Alanis haters.) I also would’ve liked to write a bit about Thomas Lendvai’s most spatially transformative show at Odetta Gallery.
I definitely would’ve written about what a treat it was to see some exquisite works by Eduardo Paolozzi at Clearing Gallery, and about how tempting it was to climb around on the large steel sculptures that the artist had conceived, at least initially, for use in public playgrounds. In addition, I might’ve written about how devastated I was to learn that some visitors had been invited to climb around on those sculptures by the gallery’s directors, or so I was told, and that I visited the gallery a couple more times in hopes that I might’ve been permitted to do the same—to no avail, because no one emerged from the back rooms despite my lingering about. I might’ve also chosen to not write about that after all, because now that I’m doing it, it sounds rather pathetic. Had I written about that show, though, I might not have been able to resist including a bit of speculation about the re-outfitting of a huge warehouse next door, as it was once one of my favorite industrial bakeries in the neighborhood—in part because of the beautiful aroma of sugar vapors that used to pour forth from the exhaust fans, and in part because its blue and white exterior walls were long frozen in a poetic state of leprotically curling peels of aged paint. My conjecture at the time would’ve been that a huge night club of some sort was going to open up there, given the building’s new all-black outer aspect, and its awnings stretching along the facade, and the fact that other clubs, official or not, had popped up nearby. I’m delighted to report, however, that such conjecture would’ve proven quite far off, because as it turns out, it’s just a huge ramen factory! Long live light manufacturing! Well, unless it’s a club called Ichiran Ramen Production Facility, which isn’t unthinkable. Assuming it really is an industrial noodlery, I’m looking very forward to breathing in its exhaust fans’ out-churned steams of doughy bliss while tapping into my cognitive treacle of sugar vapors past.
And yes, yes of course, although I certainly wrote about a lot of shows and so forth at the 56 Bogart building, I easily could’ve and would’ve written about that art hub a great deal more. I would’ve written about certain comings and goings of a number of spaces, for instance, like the very unfortunate departure of Mellow Pages, because that DIY library was just the coolest thing, and of Chasm Gallery, because its very active and promising exhibition program was far too short-lived. But Soho20 Gallery came from Chelsea to fill in the chasm left behind by Chasm (irresistible, sorry), so that’s very nice. And Rafael Fuchs moved his photography studio and gallery down the hall to set up shop where Mellow Pages used to be, such that the space is now occupied by one of the least mellow—in a good way, indeed a great way!—fellows around. Rafael’s space, meanwhile, was taken over by Zaltar’s Gallery of Fantastical Art, about which I don’t know a great deal yet, but whose name reminds me of the Zoltar fortune-teller machine in Big. A few other galleries that moved in are Victori+Mo, Anthony Philip Fine Art and Black & White Gallery / Project Space. Among the exhibitions at the latter, Anastasia AX’s would’ve been great fun to write about. A space called Galerie Manqué seems to exist only occasionally, thereby living up to its name in a way by usually being absent, while playing neighbor to another occasional gallery, Fridays, which keeps a much more regular schedule, and where I fondly recall seeing a nice suite of small paintings by Danny Licul.
Speaking of paintings I fondly recall seeing at the 56 Bogart building, I saw a great many of those at Life on Mars Gallery this year. A few that I’ll never forget include one by Brenda Goodman, a bit misleadingly titled Self-Portrait, that features a kind of compositionally voracious figure of absolute, suggestively regenerative art-historical autophagy; an arresting, broadly horizontal yet very energetic, spectrally quite deeply inhabited canvas by Karen Schwartz, Ethical Culture, in which a great deal of chunky whiteness culminates, on the right, in a bird whose linear accents are in such brilliant pinks that all-but-audible are chirps from its beak; and a big ol’ painting of a big ol’ playful, somehow friendly, rather chromatically nostalgic treehouse by Todd Bienvenu, called Treehouse. I would’ve had a lot more to say about those artists and their paintings, for sure.
I also would’ve been glad to write about the now long-ongoing series of percussive storytelling performances by Matt Freedman and Tim Spelios at Studio 10, although the only truly useful thing to say about those events is to make sure to see one or two of them sometime soon, or to regard them as a sort of subscription that makes your regular attendance obligatory. Another Studio 10 show I would’ve written a thing or two about was Richard Garet’s “Meta-Residue”, because it was a fecund exhibition for thoughts, and because it was quite interesting to witness gallery visitors interact with one of its constituent projections. I, for one, enjoyed doing handstands in front of it.
I also would’ve written about some other great shows up and down that hallway, including Stephen Eakin’s world of wooden wonders at Honey Ramka; an excellent pairing of paintings by Catalin Moldoveanu and sculptures by Ben Godward, at Slag Gallery; the somewhat spatially befuddling collages of Sharon Lawless at Robert Henry Contemporary; and Samuel Laurence Cunnane’s suite of small-print analog photographs at Theodore:Art, exhibited in such a handsome, evocative, exquisitely quieting circuit that viewers could well conjure the sound of an egg being removed from a styrofoam carton, or the smell of gathered dew rising from impeccably green grass in a field.
Also in the 56 Bogart building is Momenta Art, and something that would’ve been interesting to write about regarding that space this year is how much more political its programming has become. In 2015, indeed, it might be that the gallery’s characteristically politicized pitch was more strident than ever. And for the better. Momenta’s kindred non-profit downstairs, NURTUREart, carried on with lots of great programming, including exhibitions, talks and publications, and I would’ve liked to conduct interviews with every single kid from Juan Morel Campos High School involved with the exhibition “What It Was”. Also downstairs is Fresh Window Gallery, where a really great show of strangely viewer-reflective, space-sundering structures by Karyn Olivier would’ve provided me with ample foundation for critical deconstruction. What I mean by that, of course, is that they were very cool.
Well, shit, what else?
Oh, I know!
I lied about what it was like to think about and put this all together. It actually was a fun and joyful endeavor after all. I just didn’t want to tell you that until you read through (or suffered reading through) the whole thing, which I thank and congratulate you for doing. You, reader, you’re the best.
So anyway, I’m happy that I came up with the ‘past conditional edition’. Completing it, on the one hand, means that many of its inherent conditions have now been at least minimally met. On the other hand, it might also mean that I’ll have to take better notes next year if I intend to do this again.
But I don’t want to think too much about next year just yet. There’s still over a week of 2015 left, after all.
Perhaps I’ll take 2016 into consideration in a subsequent piece, though. About things forthcoming, there’s only too much to say, right? In a sense, there’s almost everything to say!
At any rate, for now, thanks for reading, and happy holidays!
I mean that, of course, unconditionally.
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