We’ve all had moments when, while sitting around with a group of friends, we collectively have a brilliant idea to start something together, something all at once tangible, important, unique and timely. But, what happens in the rare instance that this kind of wistful conversation becomes a reality?
That is the lingering question for a group of seven Brooklyn-based artists, designers, and visual thinkers who opened a storefront gallery in Greenpoint back in August. They named it Beginnings; it was the start of something, to be determined. Now, on their second show, they are still learning the ropes and reveling in the process of making it all happen.
The group includes graphic designer, Joel Speasmaker, his girlfriend, artist and fabric-based illustrator, Caroline Hwang, Archie Lee Coates IV of Playlab, former gallerist and artist, Andy C. Jenkins, Artypes organizer, Matthew Giordano, and former Space 1026 members, Matt Leines and Anni Altshuler.
Along with the challenges of opening a new space, all seven curators have to balance the art of shared responsibility—evenly taking part in running the gallery, from each curating one show individually to taking turns manning the front desk, meeting the passerby’s and local artists who wander in.
“Beginnings is a combination of ideas and brains.” said Speasmaker, “It’s kind of an experiment.”
The members leased the space for a year when the storefront on Meserole became vacant, and are ready to see where it takes them. The first exhibition was a group show aptly titled “The Beginning”—each of the seven curators picked several artists (29 total) that they wanted to show. With no unifying theme or concept and a widespread array of mediums, including but not limited to painting, drawings, “marks on paper and cloth,” and 3D installations, the show was a chance to brainstorm onto the empty walls and invite the public in to make of it what they would.
Tomorrow is the final day for the current show, Heap Gives Up, which features work from two commercial illustrators of opposite coasts, San Francisco based, Leigh Wells, and local Pencil Factory member, Leif Low-beer. Well’s series, titled “Deception,” is composed of sculptural stacked and layered collages, reminiscent of stone bodies in motion, at once contorted and at peace. Her geometric cutouts and subtle colors lend contrast to Low-beer’s playful 3D abstractions, many of which interact with physical elements of the room (like the gallery’s own electrical outlets).
Although the seven members have a mixture of tastes and styles, they have one definitive thing in common—they have all felt the frustrations of being working artists in New York, trying to walk the fine line between the loft shows, underground studios, and D.I.Y. scene in Brooklyn, and the polished, professional, and exclusive gallery sphere of Manhattan.
“We wanted to be somewhere in between the two extremes,” said Jenkins.
The group has made an effort to pick artists that might not have the opportunity to be shown at more established venues, yet provide a professional space, expertly designed exhibition materials, and a wide network of friends and art enthusiasts for support. The benefit is, with seven curators, there is no shortage of approaches, ideas, and friend groups to draw from. Speasmaker has designed neat, monochromatic exhibition papers for the shows thus far, which, printed on newsprint, have an endearingly zine-like quality. With all these people involved, the space itself and the art within it becomes a surprisingly coherent spattering of who they know, what they like, and what they see as a group.
“A big part of the process is figuring out what an art gallery can be –the excitement of showing art and what that means.” said Lee Coates IV “I want to figure it out by doing it.”
It is, after all, 2012, and most of us are viewing art on screens of different sizes, by ourselves, rapid firing images in and out of our consciousness. In an age where everyone with a Tumblr account is a curator, actually seeing work in a physical space is genuinely refreshing. One of the main thrusts behind the creation of Beginnings is to bring people to the space, together, to actually spend meaningful time viewing something in the presence of like-minded neighbors. Sure, it sounds idealistic, but people behind Beginnings are nothing if not serious about showing work from artists they love, helping those artists live off that work, and building new relationships with the community and each other.
For those who miss the shows, the gallery has a thorough inventory online, displaying everything they’ve ever hung on their walls. And for everyone else, they will be hosting some pretty tempting events in between shows, most notably a Mini Pie Social and Hot Toddy Night on the 18th, where attendees are encouraged to bring mini pies to trade and share.
Maybe the essence of Beginnings can be summarized best by the curator’s own words, taken from the description of their first group show: “What’s art for anymore? How can contemporary art be bought and sold in a healthy, progressive way? How can new artists support/be supported in their community? In the 21st century, what are the most satisfying and effective roles of the gallery? The gallerist? The gallery-goers? …. We got no idea, but we’re happy to present this art and these artists.”
The beauty of this experiment is exactly that- the seven curators don’t know all the answers yet, but if their taste, ambition, and honest appreciation of the art they know is any indication, the space will surely evolve into something great. After all, this is just the beginning.