One of the many blessings in Greenpoint is that there’s no shortage of artwork and galleries. Wandering the alphabetical streets, main drags, and waterfront, it’s not hard to spill into a new pop-up or gallery, each with its own flair and flavor. Now on the second floor of 681 Morgan Avenue, POMPEI is carving its niche in the nabe, creating a space not just for rigorous art but also community via its studios and, in a purer sense, open arms: co-founder J Grabowski describes POMPEI as a place “that encourages the ‘in-between’ moments.” Yes it’s where you can create and gaze at art, but you can also just stop by and vibe (socially distanced and masked, of course).
Here, J and co-founder Jacqueline Pompei discuss building a space, their current Thomas Burke exhibit “Appearances,” and more. Read about their work, and give POMPEI a follow on Instagram.
Greenpointers: Before we get to your current works, let’s rewind a bit: how long have you been on Morgan Avenue and what’s the origin story of the gallery itself?
Jacqueline Pompei: We’ve been on Morgan Avenue for a year, but we opened POMPEI last October. For the past couple years, we often talked about starting a gallery space. It wasn’t necessarily a planned timeline, more of a fun thing to think about for “one day.” Technically, our first show was in my apartment in 2019.
J Grabowski: I had been looking for a studio for a little over a year, and my friend Tommy (Thomas Burke), who I know through skateboarding and The St. Mark’s Poetry Project, called me and told me he was moving to Boston and asked if I wanted to take over his studio. I signed the lease two weeks before the shutdown last March. It was a pretty tough time, but we made the most of it and got through it.
JP: In May of last year, a studio in our building became available, and J and I decided the time was now to start our project space.
JG: We spent the summer renovating and that fall had our first show, misc. portraits by Drew Dominguez.
I love your write-up on Thomas Burke’s current show, Appearances. What excites you about this work that’s now on display?
JP: Thank you so much for saying so. Writing about the show came from a series of interviews and conversations. Like J mentioned, he and Tommy became acquainted through the art and poetry communities, so we were lucky to invite in some additional writer friends to help us form ideas and edit.
I met Tommy over the last year, and we all became closer working in the studio during lockdown. We were already excited to see his finished work, but having a chance to show it in the building it was made seemed even more special.
JG: A little over a year ago I asked Tommy if he wanted to do the cover artwork for the book I was publishing for John Coletti through PUSH, a small poetry press I run with Jason Morris. Tommy and John had been friends for over a decade, and I thought it would be a great opportunity for them to collaborate.
Tommy worked in what is now my studio for 12 years, and we wanted to show his larger works before they moved to Boston and give him a proper New York farewell for his friends and family.
You share on the website that you’re also a creative work space. Does that mean you offer a place for artists to congregate or studio space?
JG: Studio spaces. Our building has been an artist studio space since 2003.
JP: We’ve been happy so far to host a couple safe, socially distanced indoor/outdoor openings with friends and family, and we’re looking forward to hosting future events, poetry readings, and dinners.
You’re mostly open on the weekends for the public. How has that been going?
JP: It’s been great so far. We’re still quite under the radar, so people usually give us a heads up to let us know they’re coming. People find us largely by word of mouth.
JG: Jackie will often pick up something to share from Fortunato’s or I’ll run over to Brooklyn Standard or grab some Polish food from Busy Bee. We see the project as not just a room to show work, but a place that encourages the “in-between” moments. People usually come by and stay for a while.
JP: Our friends bring their friends, and so on. The gallery has become a place to meet, and it’s important for us to make people feel welcome and at home.
Any upcoming shows or events you want to tell us about?
JG: We plan to host an upcoming virtual reading for John Coletti’s new poetry book, Peppermint Oil. While working together on the cover art for the book, Tommy and John also created a broadside that’s available, along with the book, through the gallery.
JP: We are working on a couple group shows for the summer. More details are still to come. We feel very grateful to be participating in the local community and we’re excited that we’re just getting started.
JG: I lived in Greenpoint for six years and I ran Heliopolis, a small storefront project space on Huron Street, with a group of fellow artists and curators from 2010–2015. It feels good to be back in the neighborhood… but I miss Photoplay.