I don’t think I am alone when I say that art can be intimidating. I understand that in this neighborhood many will argue with this statement. Still, I can find few things more menacing than walking into a space where the aesthetic appreciation is amplified and almost forced; the spaces where the audience cannot separate themselves from the display. It’s difficult to not feel the pressure of appreciation or the anxiety that comes with it. Sometimes I think that this city is an epicenter of intimidation, often of an aesthetic nature. Personally, I find it painful to put myself in that position, of being appreciated for appreciating.
I remember borough president Marty Markowitz once saying that people watching was invented in Brooklyn. In this neighborhood, specifically down Bedford Ave., I can hardly tell the difference between spectator and spectacle.
This past Sunday “ARTWALKING: Bedford Avenue” held its opening reception along the sidewalks that flank the artery of cool that is Bedford Ave. from North 3 to North 9 streets.
The exhibition, curated by local residents Larry Walczak and Donna Kessinger, is an invitational, a sort of migratory gallery described as the “marriage between art and commerce, creating a bridge to a Williamsburg neighborhood in transition from a new generation of store owners to an artist community over twenty five years old.”
Over thirty Brooklyn-based artists have created original storefront installations, often in collaboration with storeowners, giving “window shopping” down Bedford a twist. It’s probably the only occasion where I can remember looking at a video installation and having people looking right back at me (from behind the glass).
According to the press release, “This is a springtime celebration for all of New York City and is accessible seven days a week (with the best times being noon to 8p.m.). Bedford Ave. will be sprinkled with all shapes and colors and mixed media including video monitors, neon and computer graphics.”
It wasn’t too difficult making the trek to Bedford Ave. and meeting curator Larry Walczak, who was kind enough to take a few moments to talk with me about the event.
Walczak, a native of Eerie, Pennsylvania, has been a Williamsburg resident for nearly twenty years. Ten years ago, he started eyewash, a migrating gallery with the mission of “promoting emerging and mid-career artists to an increasingly diverse audience through presentations in a variety of mediums, in traditional and non traditional venues.”
In his time here, Walczak can tell you about change.
“It’s not the same as it used to be,” says Walczak, sipping on a beer in Spike Hill, a bar on Bedford and N. 7th St. “Rents are higher. The twenty to thirty year old artists are moving east to Bushwick where the spaces those artists need are cheaper. If you don’t own something from 20 years ago, or have a rent-controlled place, you are gone.There might be more galleries, but the overall quality of the art [scene] has declined, diminished.”
I ask Walczak how this is possible given the increasing number of galleries and the increase in what seems to be an aesthetically susceptible, young population with spending power to boast.
“It used to be more a visual arts neighborhood. Now it seems music scene thrives. Which is good, because of the great venues, but the visual stuff is disappearing,” said Walczak.
Inevitably, yet cautiously Walczak brings up the hipster migration to the neighborhood.
“These new 20 to 30 year olds, the so called hipsters, care more about their haircuts or what they can wear. They tend to their wardrobes and gadgets but not much else… they aren’t so culturally astute.”
“The hipsters might look at the storefronts (participating in ARTWALK) if their faces weren’t glued to their blackberries… these people want to be shut off.”
During my own walk, I was fortunate to meet local artists Catya Plate, a German-Spanish artist and current Williamsburg resident who is participating in ARTWALK with an installation in EyeCo Vision between N 8th and N 9th Sts.
Plate walked up to me on Bedford, and we spoke casually about various topics – kaleidoscopes, galactic measles, memorable movies that aren’t quite good, and the narrative quality in her art.
“It’s really the opposite of minimal,” says Plate, gesticulating wildly in front of her installation THEY LIVE, a spoof on a horror movie by the same name.
Plate was able to choose the store in which she would exhibit, making her installation not only unique to ARTWALK, but also to the storefront, incorporating many of the eyeglass frames for sale.
“It’s great, because I love glasses. I think I cornered the EBay market for tiny miniature frames,” joking about her installation. “They [EyeCo Vision] were so great, they let me do what I wanted and let me have anything I needed. I was very lucky to have chosen them.”
Plate has lived and worked in Williamsburg since 2005. She hails from Tribeca. When asked why she left I get a familiar response.
“ It’s not how it used to be…. the rents are too high.” You guessed it. “I am really lucky to have found a good, affordable place here, one where I can both live and work… obsessively.”
Despite the development of new condos, new businesses and the new faces that come with both, both Plate and Walczak have their roots firmly planted on this piece of land. During the time I spent Plate and Walczak, people constantly approached them eager to say hello, or ask them about their work. Some of them seemed to be strangers, but I couldn’t quite tell because they treated them like old friends.
The installations will be up until June 8th, that’s plenty of time to go, or even better, to find yourself there.
For images & additional information on ARTWALKING:Bedford Ave. contact: Larry Walczak firstname.lastname@example.org or call eyewash at 718-362-9813
Artist and Artwork Locations
Thomas Broadbent@The Bagel Store
Tom Brumley@Bedford Fruits & Vegetables
Asha Ganpat@Blackbird Parlour
David Kramer@Trojanowski Liquors
Peter Krieder@Bedford Cheese Shop
Yuliya Lanina@Mini Mart
Jeesoo Lee@Kings Pharmacy
Lisa Levy@The Health Food Store
Nora Ligorano & Marshall Reese@Reel Life
Rebecca Major@Peters since 1969
Ben Marxen@Northside Pharmacy
Sebastian Masuelli@Spike Hill
Shari Mendelson@Uva Wines
Vikki Michalios@Angelicas Beauty Shop
Diane Nerwen@Ugly Luggage
Rune Olsen@Victoria’s Coffee Shop
Catya Plate@Eyeco Vision
Bob Seng & Lisa Hein@NYC Pet
Ishmael Randall Weeks@Oculus 20/20
Tamika Kawata@N7 Deli
Gandalf Gavan@Brooklyn Industries