It is Friday night and the commercial galleries have all closed. Naturally, one might say, but such a simple fact points to a more profound stipulation: that most of the art one can visit in a city as a sleepless as the Big Apple has a curfew. Like a patient in a hospital, art has viewing hours. This sociological constraint unwittingly links the art object with every other saleable commodity in town. It’s hard to say whether a work of art would strike one differently at noon than it might at midnight because the midnight hour tends to be off-limits. Really, how often does the opportunity to see a work of art even extend past ten o’clock? If you were to ask the artists who founded Glasshouse they would likely reply, far too rarely.
Manhattan is the best place to be if one’s goal is market oriented. If it’s not then there are options and for most artists opening up spaces to show work success is measured in terms other than fiscal. Brooklyn is the hotbed of activity and in the big picture of artist-run spaces out here Lital Dotan and Eyal Perry have founded something unique with Glasshouse. Their motto is that “art should be experienced in a place that allows staying,” and this place happens to be the artists’ home. In the past they’ve staged twenty-four hour exhibitions, and depending on when you visited you might have found the gallerists or their assistants catching a nap. Surveillance cameras are conspicuously installed in each room of the apartment and they never stop recording. A note near the kitchen explains that this is part of an ongoing project, which gives you something to wonder about as you watch the flat screen that is plays back the camera feeds in real time.
Their most recent event was a four-hour homage to the Cuban-American performance artist Ana Mendieta (1948-1985). Six artists, including the founders, engaged in separate durational performances so arresting that the beer sipping audience was compelled to speak in whispers. No one asked for silence; the artwork simply created it. The domestic context kept visitors on a bit of an edge as they gingerly navigated the network of rooms. For those that hold to the belief that the right amount of discomfort can increase one’s awareness of one’s environment and therefore make one more highly attuned to the artwork, Glasshouse is a case in point.
Nicolas Ceccaldi, Wearables; Courtesy Real Fine Arts.
Many artist-run spaces are founded in the name of a desire to challenge the conventional mechanisms through which we experience art. Glasshouse evolved out of a concept that began as a series of videos shot in the artists’ home in Tel Aviv. In other cases the physical space precedes the conceptual program. Tyler Dobson, co-founder of Real Fine Arts, tells a story about how he and his partner Ben Morgan-Cleveland were looking for a place to live, found something beyond their expectations, and decided it would make for a nice space to show art. Real Fine Arts may look like a conventional white cube, but it’s so far away from any other white cubes that it really stands alone as something different. “People don’t just wonder in,” Dobson says, “they come out here for the exhibition.” At the beginning these people were pretty exclusively the artists' friends, but over time the pull has grown immensely.
Does running a gallery burn time that might be better spent working in one’s studio? Dobson admits that it can be a challenge, but he’s also quick to point out that he’s met a lot of people he might not have otherwise met through the gallery and some of those people have been instrumental in moving his own career further along. Might that have happened without running the gallery? “Maybe,” Dobson says, “but I suppose I’ll never really know, because we did start the gallery and the gallery has been great.” There are many ways to judge greatness, but the fact that Dobson and Morgan-Cleveland think about the future of Real Fine Arts in terms of years rather than seasons gives an idea of how serious they are.
Somewhat less conventional—by which I mean willing and able to rip up the floor and replace wood slats with loose brick for a six-week exhibition—is the bodega-size gallery Soloway. Run by artists with graduate degrees, the gallery hosts exhibitions that regularly nest sophisticated thinking within sensual experiences. To hear Annette Wehrhahn, co-founder of the gallery, talk about the space you’d think it could be a laboratory. Experimentation and exploration are exciting, sure, but also nerve racking when there is no budget. When Graham Collins suggested pulling out the gallery’s flooring for his exhibition, Shade Tree, Wehrhahn realized he’d also have to replace a door. Well, now the floor is brick and the gallery has a new door.
Flat Files; Courtesy Pierogi.
Depending on how you count them there are dozens of artist-run spaces in Brooklyn. Some, like Cinders Gallery, don’t even operate out of a physical space. But if there was an anchor to the whole scene it would be located in Williamsburg, in the front room of Joe Amrhein’s gallery Pierogi. Pierogi’s “Flat Files” are legendary. Drawers upon drawers of artist portfolios—drawings, prints, paintings, photography, collages—are on hand and accessible to anyone who cares to peruse them. Back in the mid-nineties, when Amrhein conceived of the idea, it was simply to make artwork available to a wider audience. Since then the files have been the subject of exhibitions and have become a resource for curators who tend to use them as one might use the circulating collection of a public library. And though Amrhein runs not one but two spaces in Williamsburg, which can accommodate up to three solo exhibitions during any single month, he still makes paintings.
(Image on top: Ivy Castellanos, performance at Glasshouse; Courtesy of the artists.)