On Grattan Street in Bushwick sat a U-Haul truck, covered in vibrant gold party decorations and sparkling poster board. Down the block, on Bogart Street, an artist showed off his butcher-bought lamb organs, which he punctured with needles. Behind him, a naked man was being photographed while onlookers watched. On Sunday, Nov. 14, Beta Spaces 2010, a daylong event, featured collaborative artists across Bushwick showcasing their work.
Beta Spaces 2010 was sponsored by Arts in Bushwick, an organization started in 2007 whose mission is to “provide a framework for the artistic community to express themselves in our vibrant neighborhood,” according to volunteer Ali Aschman.
As described on its Web site, Arts in Bushwick “was founded by a group of roughly fifteen local artists and community organizers, and has continued to operate on an all-volunteer, non-hierarchical, break-even basis through three full years of programming.” Aschman said that there is no board. It is up to the volunteers how much they prefer to take on. Funding is based on donations.
Beta Spaces was one of the group’s three annual events and comprised of almost 40 shows. Approximately 400 artists participated. According to Aschman, the artists had to have a theme and be in specific geographic quarters. It was required that there were at least six artists for every show, and few exceptions for less were made. Some shows, she said, included 20 or 30 artists.
One of the day’s opening events, a panel with local curators about Bushwick’s DIY (Do It Yourself) galleries, took place in an alley behind a decrepit warehouse, complete with missing window glass. The artists planted flowers and hung light bulbs to improve the alley’s otherwise aesthetically displeasing look.
The curators host shows once a week, on Sundays, out of their storefronts, studio spaces, and apartments. Jason Andrew, curator of Norte Maar on Wyckoff Avenue, said at the discussion that the way the art is installed is most important, so that “you get an experience.” He also said his goal is to “promote the artist best [I] can.” While Andrew does try to bring in people from Manhattan, his top priority is the art scene in Bushwick.
Paul D’Agostino, who has been involved with Arts in Bushwick since 2008, has hosted 14 shows in his own apartment. But, he wants to stay away from the label “DIY,” comparing it to Bob Vila, Martha Stewart, and “building your own deck.” D’agostino said, “It’s not quite the same thing. You don’t have to have a gallery in your living room. You don’t need it.” He continued, “If you bake cupcakes you’re a DIY baker. Al Qaeda is DIY militia.”
Sam Simon, an artist who was returning to Beta Spaces for the second year, rented out a U-Haul truck for his “Sparkle Motion 2: Motionier and Sparklier” show. Simon said he did it because he wanted a mobile show and for the low cost, only $19.95 a day. He said the event on Sunday was “totally fun. Mother Nature obviously loves Sparkle Motion.”
Joseph Shahadi pierced sheep and lamb hearts and testicles for his display. Shahadi, whose parents are from the Middle East, was born in the United States. His show represented “in the most liberal terms, [that] my heart is breaking,” he said. The art was “a visceral reaction to the radical expansion of executive powers in this country” that target Muslim and Arab rights. He used lamb because his family is Catholic and it carried a great deal of symbolism. Shahadi’s piece was part of “Home-Land,” a collective exhibit on Bogart Street that showed artists living outside of their native Middle Eastern lands.
The creator of Beta Spaces and founding member of Arts in Bushwick, Steve Weintraub, said that Bushwick is about “this greater consciousness about art, about collaboration and producing in this manner.” And what is so unique about the neighborhood, compared to communities such as the East Village and Williamsburg, is that “Everyone is sort of working together to create a better community,” he said. “I would say this is more about those, instead of alternative, collaborative spaces. There’s more experimentation, there are more conceptual works. There’s more room to create a transformative, participatory environment. There’s the possibility of talking directly to the artists, directly to the curators, [and] there’s more of a freedom and more flexibility. Bushwick is a really great environment. It’s where the work kind of develops.”