In Its Sixth Year, Arts Festival Spreads Out And Looks Within
Now in its sixth year, Bushwick Open Studios (BOS)-Arts in Bushwick’s annual weekend showcase of local artists-was more than ever a happy mass of contradictions.
Under new leadership, the festival brought more artists and more collectors from outside Bushwick than ever before. Yet many exhibits cast an eye inward on the neighborhoods these artists call home, looking at the past in an effort to better understand the present and honoring Arts in Bushwick’s mission to bridge the divide between its new artist community and its longtime residents.
An early opening & a search for space
Before Bushwick Open Studios formally opened for business, in the stairwell of the original home of the Ridgewood Times at 852 Cypress Ave., Rafael Perez and members of Paint Straight-a program designed to push graffiti practitioners away from illegal vandalism and toward positive uses for their craft-unveiled The Stairwell Project, a mural in one of the building’s stairwells.
They were joined by tenants of the building, which was renovated in 2010 and transformed into loft buildings, as well as State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, Evelyn Cruz of Rep. Nydia Velazquez’s office, Peter Pottier of City Council Member Diana Reyna’s office, Theodore Renz of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, and P.O. Justin Dambinskas of the 104th Precinct’s Anti-Graffiti Unit.
Cruz told the crowd that she and Velazquez visited over 400 artist studios throughout her congressional district, which includes Williamsburg, East Williamsburg and Bushwick.
Renz stated to the Times Newsweekly that he hopes to invite local artists to contribute art to the Ridgewood Youthmarket at Myrtle and Cypress avenues, which opens for business on July 9.
The event’s real start was later that evening with several events in and around Bushwick.
At 44 Wilson-an event space on 44 Wilson Ave. so new painter’s tape was still on the floor-a mixture of bands and comedy acts performed at a launch party, while Ray Cross of Bushwick Print Lab made BOS shirts at the bar.
Meanwhile, at The Loom, a large artist loft space at 1087 Flushing Ave., Jill Salik was putting the finishing touches on “Seeking Space,” BOS’ annual event for those artists unable to find studios of their own.
“It’s a really sort of unique event,” said Salik, who noted that “Seeking Space” had over 70 submissions and over 30 participating artists of all kinds from around the world. “There’s a correlation to be had between the growth of Bushwick Open Studios and our show.”
Sailk doesn’t live in Bushwick works at Talas, a family-run company offering bookbinding and art supplies that moved from Flatiron to 330 Morgan Ave. three years ago.
Unlike many BOS events, “Seeking Space” will continue its run past BOS weekend, until June 20.
Bushwick captured in photos
Deeper inside The Loom lies The Living Gallery, a new art studio run by Nyssa Frank, who lives upstairs in the building.
Adorning the small gallery’s walls are old photos by Meryl Meisner, a former Bushwick teacher, which have been combined with essays from former resident Vanessa Martir for “Defying Devastation: Bushwick In The 1980s.”
Meisner used to take photos of the neighborhood with “a little pointand shoot camera that looked like a bar of soap” while teaching at the since-closed Bushwick High School. Many of them captured areas that would become familiar sites such as Hope Gardens Community Center.
She told the Times Newsweekly that she had archived many of them until a former colleague emailed her in 2007 looking to use the photos as part of a show about Bushwick with the Brooklyn Historical Society. Local artist Deborah Brown saw the show and emailed Meisner seeking to use them for a presentation.
The photos “captured the beauty and the distortion” of Bushwick in that time period, according to Martir, who was also teaching in Bushwick. While writing her own memoir, she found Meisner’s photos online, discovered herself in one of the old pictures and emailed Meisner in January, eventually leading to their collaboration and friendship.
“I photographed her childhood and didn’t know it,” said Meisner.
Martir chose Meisner’s photos and grouped them among certain themes: survival, family and love, and ruins. The photos, she said, show “the plus side of gentrification.”
When I was growing up,” said Martir, “no one came to Bushwick.”
Now, Martir admitted that with the change in the neighborhood, she feared residents would be priced out of their homes.
For Frank, meanwhile, “this is exactly what I wanted to do-I wanted to test the limits of gentrification in the sense of ‘is it positive, is it negative.'”
“[The gallery] is a platform for what needs to be seen, and I felt like this needed to be seen,” she added, stating that residents needed to “take into consideration the local people who are out here and how being here affects them and how to do it in a positive way.”
The kind of socially conscious art exemplified by “Defying Devastation” is a goal of the Living Gallery, which also runs classes and even a weekly philosophy night.
“What really turns me on,” Frank said, “is something that needs a platform.”
Also looking inward at his neighborhood, but all the way across town, was Drew Hamilton, who constructed a to-scale replica of his street corner at Graham Avenue and Meserole Street in East Williamsburg, complete with miniature litter and cigarette butts and a mini food cart.
Hamilton displayed the replica on the street on Friday and Saturday, allowing residents of the neighborhood an opportunity to stop by and view their street from a completely different perspective.
Starting Saturday right
On Saturday, art lovers got an opportunity to get an early start on the day’s events at “Maps & Mimosas,” a get-together at Norte Maar at 83 Wyckoff Ave.
Local artists and BOS volunteers were able to mingle while enjoying bagels, fresh fruit and the aforementioned mimosas, and were also able to pick up this year’s exhaustive directory.
With over 500 sites in East Williamsburg, Bushwick, Ridgewood and Bedford-Stuyvesant participating, the salmon-colored booklet was about the size of this very newspaper. Arts in Bushwick also unveiled an iPhone app for the first time.
The sheer size of the festival may seem daunting, but “people have said that every year since the first year,” said Arts in Bushwick’s Laura Braslow.
Braslow, who has organized all previous BOS festivals, is taking a back seat for the first time, looking to organize other events throughout the year.
“Now that I’m not spending my time focusing on logistics,” she said, “I can spend time focusing on what I really care about.”
A short distance from Norte Maar, one could find one of Arts in Bushwick’s new organizers, Julia Sinelnikova, putting the finishing touches on “Figure Fragments,” her group show, in an empty space on Starr Street that was loaned by a real estate broker for the weekend.
Sinelnikova, in her third year working with BOS (she previously pitched in with “Seeking Space”) coorganized this year’s event with Lucia Rollow.
“I wanted to get more involved since last year,” she said. “I just love providing a forum for emerging artists.
Next door, “Alltogethernow,” a collaboration between artists from all over the nation and the world curated by Bushwick resident Julie Torres, was on display.
Torres noted that the use of the space was a win-win, as the artists get to use the space while the broker is able to use the promotion to advertise its availability.
For Peter Shear, an Indiana native, it provided a chance to visit New York City.
“I had a lot of anxiety about coming to New York,” he said, but found that “it feels familiar; it feels comfortable. … I feel like I need to move here right away.”
His small drawings and canvas paintings reflected what Shear called “a reverse pissing contest,” an attempt to hammer home an artistic statement in a smaller area.
Art everywhere you go
One of the interesting things about Bushwick Open Studios is that art can be found anywhere-from large studios to small apartments to local eateries, and even outside.
For instance, local artist Sean O’Connor spent the weekend hard at work on a mural at the corner of Grattan and Bogart streets, on the metal façade of a local shop.
O’Connor knew the owner and asked for permission to paint on the site; the landlord agreed.
“She was sick and tired of all the graffiti,” he said on Friday.
O’Connor invited other artists to join him in the weekend project, and hopes to bring artists from around the world to contribute.
A block away, at 56 Bogart St., an unremarkable beige building houses one of the densest concentrations of art galleries in the neighborhood, with four floors of artist studios. During BOS weekend, there was something for everyone, from a guerrila Bollywood movie being filmed in one studio, to the paper sculptures of Kyu Seok Oh’s “Counting Sheep,” to Oliver Warden’s carnival-game-like “Untitled Box 2.0.” which featured the artist in a box behind a one-way mirror.