The Bushwick Biennial opened last week and we caught up with Ben Evans, NurtureArt gallery director and curator of their show, to ask him about themes for this year’s show, emerging artists, and the art scene in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn The Borough: Is the Bushwick Biennial sort of like a staycation for those of us who aren’t traveling to Venice this summer?
Ben Evans: Not exactly. But it DOES provide a wonderful showcase of local talents!
BTB: Nurture Art’s focus during the Biennial is on ideas of utopia and urban change, and how a place relates to artistic endeavors. Can you give examples of how the artists in your showcase reflect these ideas in their work?
BE: Many of the artists in the NURTUREart portion of the exhibition address themes of utopia/dystopia and the way a place can inform one’s practice and identity. Rahul Alexander‘s work, for example, deals with advertising imagery from the 50’s, spaceships, and fashion photography, all of which are elements that speak to a longing for a “perfect” world (or self). Kim Holleman‘s “Trailer Park” is, like much of her work, about transforming a mundane domestic space into a sort of natural paradise, and the difficulty in the attempt to do so. Radek Szczesny‘s paintings and drawings are portraits of the mutations left behind in the world he sees all around him – he turns the characters he sees on his local streets and the settings they occupy into an entire dystopian universe.
I think all of the artists treat these issues in one way or another, and I tried to describe my thoughts on each of them in their particular section in the catalog.
BTB: Everywhere you go these days galleries and museums are touting the “emerging artist.” Why is there such a value placed on the “emerging” part now?
BE: The emphasis on “emerging” artists has been a large part of the art world for quite some time, in some ways the result of the proliferation of “professional” artists that resulted from the recent invention of the MFA degree. Non-profit galleries like NURTUREart are interested in “emerging” artists because we see it as our role to bring whatever exposure we can to new artists that haven’t yet established themselves. The idea is that the rest of the art world is deeply nepotistic and doesn’t easily admit new artists, so in part galleries like ours are mandated to give such artists a start. However, in more recent times, things have changed and there is a much stronger sense that the art world just runs through new “emerging” artists quite quickly, and the role of places like NURTUREart and the other non-profits is starting to be re-evaluated. I think Eric Heist at Momenta Art (another Brooklyn non-profit) is well ahead of the curve on this issue and has been doing some really great work to question our fetishizing of the word emerging, and I’d like to bring some of those ideas here too.
BTB: How do you think Brooklyn has influenced some of the work you will be presenting?
BE: That is a very difficult and very large question. Obviously the Williamsburg and Bushwick areas house one of the most (if not THE most?) dense concentrations of artists on the face of the earth. So any artist, particularly any not-yet-too-established artist is going to feel the influence of being in such an environment. One of the issues I was interested in raising by calling the show the Bushwick Biennial has to do with how the perception of a “scene” influences the production and reception of the work. Would the perception of the show been very different if it had been called the East Williamsburg Biennial? But as far as Brooklyn goes, I think Brooklyn is enormously important both as a site for practicing artists to live and work and as an exhibition venue. There may be some tongue-in-cheek rhetoric about the overriding importance of Bushwick involved in the show, but the galleries of Williamsburg have all kinds of great work going on, the Red Hook artists are constantly doing studio tours and events, and of course Dumbo is its own utopian/dystopian dreamworld. Brooklyn rocks!
BTB: Is this the beginning of an era? Why should New Yorkers stop and take a look at the Bushwick Biennial?
BE: I’m pretty hesitant about talk of eras. The New York art scene is so utterly drenched in nostalgia already that I would hate to contribute too much to it. I suppose if anything the word that has been going around has more to do with the END of an era. What interests me is the fixation on beginnings and endings and our need to conceptualize (and therefore tame) the essentially anarchic character of art in general. Much more could be said on this matter.
But as to why New Yorkers should stop and look at the Bushwick Biennial: In short, because there is some genuinely interesting works being displayed out here! The different galleries and curators have very different approaches to what they do, while all showing some really strong stuff. Looking at the different visions of contemporary Bushwick arts practice is reason enough, and this diversity of work will ensure that there will be lots to talk and think about.