Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York
Billed as an exploration of “what’s next” in music, arts, film, entrepreneurship, the Northside Festival took over Williamsburg and Greepoint last weekend, and we were there to experience the Open Studios. When we got off the L train on Bedford Avenue, we were hit immediately by vibrant happenings everywhere we looked. We almost couldn’t decide where to go first – we had a small case of “Eeeny Meeny Miney . . . WOAH” as we looked at the list of over 30 open studios and a number of group shows and street art sites as well. Luckily, the weather was beautiful, and after downing strong coffee (on Bedford and 8th) we were ready to get our art on. Let our reflections be your tour guides to the front lines of north Brooklyn’s thriving art scene.
Wide Open Studios
What we saw on Sunday was, if not the most avant-garde of contemporary art, definitely diverse and fun. We began by venturing to a few studios in Greenpoint, and were immediately struck by the warmth and accessibility of the artists showing their work. The first studio we visited was filled with friends of the artist and visitors discussing the ambient work; at the next studio, the artist (a sculptor, videomaker and photographer) invited us to a post-festival cookout in his backyard.
An Oral History
At Oak Street Gallery, we eavesdropped on a conversation artist Beth Goldowitz was having with another visitor and quickly entered the conversation ourselves, leading to an impromptu history lesson of the transformation of Williamsburg and Greenpoint since her 1984 arrival.
She stressed what we all know: artists have been a force of gentrification in New York for decades, due, in part, to the incredibly fast pace at which this city moves. Neighborhoods transform from being populated by art-makers to art-exhibitors to art-buyers. (see: SoHo and Chelsea).
When Beth first arrived in Williamsburg, she was able to rent large loft spaces with eighteen foot ceilings and so her art eventually grew in size as well. This freedom and new space allowed her to explore her own artistic identity: she found herself straying from her roots as a classically trained sculptor and using multiple different media to create huge installations. But the cheap rent that allowed her to have such a large studio went along with a far less safe iteration of Williamsburg: She recalled stones flying out of windows at her and her punk posse as they walked on Berry Street. She spoke of the packs of wild dogs by the water that greeted her when she visited the area seeking any detritus that had washed up on the shore, for future projects.
She also spoke of some of the earliest Williamsburg open studios. One of the goals Beth and her fellow artists hoped to achieve by opening up their simple studios in the 1980’s was to illustrate to their neighbors that they were not a privileged, careless force of gentrification and eviction, but a community that also fought through financial troubles to pursue happiness and inspiration. She stressed the need to become politically involved in the community, and spoke of how she and other artists joined community planning boards in order to assimilate better with (and better) their surroundings. That conscientiousness has continued: today, Beth is both an artist and art educator who teaches art workshops at the Greenpoint View.
Unofficial Destinations: Sculpture and Polish Spies
After leaving Oak Street Gallery, we stumbled into Ted Lawson’s studio next door. Though not included on the official map, his studio became an unofficial festival destination due to his positive reception of the many travelers who accidentally made their way through his door, thinking they were somewhere else. Ultimately, his Eve and Mortality is a Myth were two of our favorite pieces of the day. Ted’s studio was also notable for us because it was there that we acquired our Polish trail: a couple with a sleeping child in tow who would follow our route for the rest of the festival. Secret agent jokes commenced.
Fowler Arts Collective: NYCGo Snark and News Knits
Our next stop was the Fowler Arts Collective show, Space Half Empty . Curated by Keighty Alexander, James Vanderberg, and Elizabeth Grammaticas, the show featured the work of 14 artists in the nearly two-year old collective. The show was in a warehouse on West Street in Greenpoint right by the water; the bottom floors seemed to be occupied by furniture design studios, which enhanced the idea of the warehouse as a site for the creation and design of different objects. Venturing up to the second floor of the warehouse, we entered the show. Different paintings, including the work of Artsicle’s Kate Nielsen hung on the walls, and in the center of the room was a hanging work made from woven newspaper threads, finished with a pair of knitting needles.
Beyond the show were the open individual studios of the collective’s artists. We especially liked Cal Siegel’s Not A Match, Rebecca Senn’s seascapes and portrait of a girl, and Keighty Alexander’s riffs on the NYCGo.com’s advertisements. Rebecca Senn emphasized the easy, collaborative nature of the collective’s ethos that was reflected in Space Half Empty ’s emphasis on the influence the artists have on each other.
We left the festival with a strong sense that the Northside Art Festival and the Open Studios were a wonderful setting for art lovers (and particularly first time buyers) to see a wide body of work, make judgments about what speaks to them, and continue articulating their taste. The artists we encountered were humble, approachable, and excited to discuss their work. Northside, job well done.
Photography and Text by Alice Losk and Tamar Nachmany
Photo Credits: a Greenpoint artist's studio, Beth Goldowitz at Oak Street Gallery, detail from Space Half Empty, Cal Siegel's Not a Match, Rebecca Senn's portrait of a girl; Rebecca Senn's seascapes