“Art is Hardware, Hardware is Art” Chat With Joe Franquinha of Crest Hardware Art Show
It’s not your typical art show, nor it is your typical hardware store. Walking down the aisles of Crest Hardware Store (558 Metropolitan Ave) while the annual Crest Hardware Art Show is on display is a surprising challenge for anyone, art seekers or hardware shoppers alike. While much of the artwork is obviously “art,” like the giant portrait of Joe Franquinha, the art show’s Producer/Curator and Owner of Crest Hardware, which is above a sculpture of a dog taking a dump, some of the items for sale require a double take, like a row of brightly colored neon garden hoses.
Note: Crest Hardware Store will be open late tomorrow Friday, June 12, 2013 to participate in Williamsburg 2nd Fridays.
Joe, a Queens native, spent a lot of time at the Williamsburg hardware store growing up. The art show, which was originally organized by the Brooklyn artist Gene Pool between 1994-1999, inspired Joe after an 8 year hiatus to get the show running again in 2008.
“It was a treasure hunt, great for a kid with massive ADD,” he joked,”The show had a huge impression on me. My mind could keep running because I kept finding things.”
While the world inside the hardware store was a safe haven for an active kid, he remembers that Williamsburg was a different kind of place when he was younger.
“I had to keep my bike in the warehouse because I wasn’t allowed to ride it to McCarren Park. Who tells a kid you can’t go to a park?”
By 1994 when the art shows began Joe started to see a change in the demographic and his father Manny, who saw the show as a great way to get foot traffic into the store, taught him to be “mindful of the past but to continue to embrace change.”
This “inclusive mindset” serves as a bridge between the older generation of customers and the new artists moving into the area, and also between the “veteran” artists who almost 20 years later still participate in the art show and the “new blood” of young artists who are showing their work for the first time.
He described a piece in a previous show by artist Richard Humann, who printed his face onto sandpaper in such a way that it looked like his face was trapped inside the sandpaper. When he described a customer finding the artwork embedded in the sandpaper for sale he said, “No matter who you are. You can’t get mad at that. You can appreciate it and laugh. You don’t need to be an art history major to get it.”
And while some of the art may be “cheeky” in subject matter, like Scott Chasses’ “Webcats Gold 99 Problems” displayed near the help counter in the back of the store or the more realistic oil painting by Linda Andrei called “Man with a Hammer” in the context of the store’s Plumbing section, other pieces are not laughable, like Greenpoint artist Leon Reid IV’s “Welcome Home Soldier” a sculpture of a foreclosed upon veteran’s home as he returns from war.
Joe appreciates Leon’s “soft and very carefully thought out way of presenting serious issues.” He explained that Leon lost all of his belongings during Sandy at his Commercial St studio and it’s the “resilient” nature of Leon’s personality and artwork that Joe appreciates.
“I like his art and I like him as a human,” Joe said.
Curating a show with over 150 artists can be a challenge for his small team made up of Producer Liza Shields and Promoter Jeremiah Davidson. Especially when the artists are customers.
“It’s a tough line to walk,” Joe said.
While he tries to keep an open state of mind when choosing the work he also needs to be tactical when turning work down. He feels that as the show has become more “established” he has “sturdier ground to stand on,” and over the years he has learned how to “separate the customer from the artist/curator relationship.”
After lunch we sat upstairs in the office and went through the massive list of over 250 artworks to correspond with my photographs. Joe knew each and every artist by name from just glancing at their work and had something thoughtful to say about each piece, a sign of a curator who truly appreciates and sincerely respects each artist and their process.
Installing in the space, far from a blank walled gallery and instead a massive retail space that has long aisles lined with product, is something that Joe puts a lot of thought into:
I can’t put everybody on the end cap. Some artists thrive on hiding and somehow organically it finds its balance between a piece that commands its space and immediately commands attention with artists who appreciate the reverse shoplifting spirit of the show, where things are embedded and really blurs the line between what is art and what is retail… We can’t hide the whole show, either. The bigger pieces have to be magnets that draw you into an aisle where the experience begins, when art is hardware, hardware is art.
He used the example of a piece by Judy Thomas’ called “Ultra Green Thing,” who he described as “the queen of hiding her work” that mimics an actual product, an automotive sponge, that is sold in the store. In contrast, a $99 art deco garden table a customer thought was “a steal” asked which artist made it only to find out that it was actually a product for sale.
“The show changes peoples’ perspectives on objects and it changes peoples’ perspectives on price.”
The loosely interpreted theme of the show that is “art made with, about or inspired by hardware,” seems like it would create a welcoming and accepting environment for artists. Joe agreed, adding that while they are confined to the theme, artists use it as an opportunity to showcase new mediums, like the work of Laura Meyer, who he called a “remarkable painter” who only creates sculpture for the show. Thus, the show can be a “confidence booster” for artists who get positive reinforcement and a positive reception of their work, even outside the traditional gallery show context.
Asked how he feels to be the subject of work, he said he is humbled and reminded me that many more artworks portray Franklin, the pig.
Joe intends to continue the Crest Hardware Art Show and mentions taking Crest Arts to new venues like Fountain Art Fair in the future.
Sadly to many though, Crest Fest, the big day that features local vendors, food makers, and a line-up of incredible musicians, will not continue.
“I’m 99% positive that was the last Crest Fest,” Joe said.
The production itself, an enormous feat for any team, is a huge challenge when also running the hardware store during the peak season. Joe said that while it’s sad, he’d rather Crest Fest go out on a high note.
All works on display are for sale with a % of the sale benefiting City Reliquery.