Inside a building on Metropolitan Avenue owned by Embee Sunshade, one of America’s oldest umbrella manufacturers resides Camel Art Space. Twenty artists work in the building’s lofts, and on the second floor, in the middle of various spaces, lies their gallery.
Currently, it’s filled with space-themed artworks. Upon entering the gallery, the first piece one sees is a representation of the Large Hadron Collider sucking up all the world’s happiness into a black hole. Other works include comic book-like illustrations of men landing on the moon next to a painting of an American flag. Although the show, called “Cordially Yours,” was not intended to be about space, it developed organically, according to Gallery Director Rob de Oude. In the back, separated from the current show, is work by Kerry Law, who painted pictures of the Empire State Building from his window every night.
De Oude, a painter and illustrator who has occupied his space, an old sewing factory, for 10 years, said the show consisted of pieces artists had submitted over the past year. “It’s like we’re extending the letters to the public from artists that were written to us and signed ‘Cordially Yours.’”
Camel Art Space is made up of six artists who volunteer to choose the pieces for upcoming shows, set up the gallery for openings, and reach out to the community’s artists and curators. “We’re not in a position that we need to make money and we have no overhead in terms of the space that we use, so we’re really free in picking what we’re doing,” said de Oude. “It’s not with the intent to make a buck or geared towards a specific type of art that’s for selling.”
Started in 2008 when many gallery workers were being laid off, Camel Art Space decided to participate in Bushwick Open Studios that year. Though they didn’t have the intent to expand the space and actually open a gallery, de Oude said it just grew from there.
Before the collective started, the space was empty. Member Chris McGee said, “We really have made something out of nothing. When I subleased a studio there it was a crumbly hallway most people knew by its fragrance of cat urine. But, a hearty joining of forces and a sustained effort to consistently put shows together has kept Camel alive. We’re scrappy. With the little time we have in our lives, we all make contributions that collectively keep the space going.”
The group receives submissions from around the world. “Cordially Yours” includes two artists from Canada, one from Germany, and another who lives in Ireland. In the past, Camel Art Space has put up shows whose themes have included social interactions on the Internet, and anxieties about the art world. One show about the burst of the real estate bubble was called “The Promise of Real Estate,” which de Oude said “had comical elements. But of course, the underlining was dead serious.” This October, they’re setting up a landscape-based show that will contain the documentation of an artist making an actual crop circle in Texas.
Aside from taking part in Bushwick Open Studios, Camel Art Space showed their work at Fountain Art Fair this past spring, which took place on a boat at Pier 66 in Chelsea. They also contribute to Williamsburg Art Walk the second Friday of every month, and in the fall are hosting a show with Round Robin, another local artist collective.
To member Enrico Gomez, the space is a combination of traditional and alternative galleries. “We are a sort of bridge between the loose and informal and the more established commercial gallery structures of Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, and Chelsea. We have nice lights and pristine walls but are still a bit rough around the edges.”
De Oude said he believes that Camel Art Space fits into the neighborhood because of their do-it-yourself approach to showing art, no matter where galleries are located. “[We have] a very Bushwick attitude. You find a space and you just do it whether it’s your apartment, a storefront that’s been empty for years, or an artist space.”
Gomez said the end goal for the collective is to create a place that both challenges and serves the local art community. He also wishes that people will get as much out of it as he does. “Just this past Saturday, I had a pleasant conversation with a young artist/art writer who had wandered into the art space. She mentioned that this visit to Camel Art Space left her feeling inspired and encouraged in terms of possibility. I shared that I feel a bit of that every time I’m in the space and that, generally speaking, that is the desired effect of the space; We hope to have a space that inspires, challenges, and offers real opportunities to artists and curators.”