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Home is where the art is

rooftop2.jpg

The rooftop at Junto Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. (Courtesy of Valeria Forster)

Blanka Amezkua didn’t change anything about her home when she began displaying artwork in her bedroom. The shabby linoleum, the bare light fixtures and the robin’s egg blue walls are all still there, but now every month an artist comes into Amezkua’s apartment in the Mott Haven neighborhood of New York’s South Bronx and installs a work of art.

There’s an opening on the first Saturday of every month, and on Thursdays and Fridays the public is free to wander in to view the work. Amezkua sleeps with the art at night, and during the day, she rolls the mattress up and stores it in the closet.

Artists have always come to New York City to make it, but with real estate at a premium, there isn’t enough room in the galleries in Manhattan for many artists to show their work. These space limitations have led artists to expand the definition of a gallery by opening their doors, of those of friends or sponsors, to the public and displaying artwork in their homes. Not only do these not-for-profit galleries give artists a place to showcase their work, but the emphasis on collaboration, rather than competition, also nurtures artistic communities outside of the mainstream art world.

“It is difficult to show in Chelsea or SoHo galleries. This space is less intimidating,” said Hayato Matsushita, who curates a gallery–named Junto–at his home in Bushwick, Brooklyn. “It just seems genuine, we’re not doing it for money.”

Four years ago, Matsushita, a Japanese-American artist, had to move out of his studio in SoHo. They were tearing down the building and he had one month to find a new space. He came across a listing on Craigslist for two lofts side by side in the basement of an apartment building in the gentrifying neighborhood of Bushwick. He now uses this space as both his home and to showcase his artwork and the work of people he knows.

The walls, the floor, and the exposed ducts on the 13-foot ceiling are all painted white. The only furniture is a rectangular table, and four chairs, in the center of the main room. The other room has a bar with a refrigerator and a movie screen hanging from chains bolted into a wooden beam. Matsushita describes the space as minimal, and zen-like–a nod to his Japanese roots. He explains that the clean, white space is like a blank canvas. The minimalist aesthetic allows the work he exhibits, done by local artists, many of whom live in the same building, to speak for itself.

Collaboration is the overriding theme at Junto. Matsushita describes the lofts as a multi-creative space. Two modern dancers currently live there with him. They sleep in the tiny living quarters that lie behind a white curtain at one end of the room and they rehearse in the large room while Matsushita stays in another loft next door.

Matsushita pays his rent by making models for architectural firms. He has managed to establish himself in the Manhattan art scene–a couple of years ago he worked at Museum of Modern Art doing art installation and he has had two solo shows at Christopher Henry Gallery in the Lower East Side–but he likes the grassroots feeling of Bushwick.

“I wanted to promote young artists, to show their work,” he said.

Matsushita publicizes shows using postcard fliers and on the gallery Web site, but the people who attend generally hear about the event by word of mouth.

The artists initially funded the Bronx Blue Bedroom Project but now the project has a grant from the Bronx Council on the Arts and other arts programs in the city, to encourage home galleries.

This month, at the Bronx Blue Bedroom Project, Michelle Frick has made bird’s nests out of intravenous cord and placed tiny eggs that have the names of different heart diseases imprinted on them. There are syringes and other hospital materials strewn about the room and the sound of birds chirping is playing on a stereo.

Blanka Amezkua’s lifestyle changes according to what work is being exhibited in her home. At the moment, she’s sleeping on a futon in her living room because she doesn’t want to disturb the fragile nests.

Amezkua said the project is a huge commitment for the artists and for her, but she finds it very gratifying. She is almost maternal toward the artwork. Every night she covers each one of the nests with fabric to avoid getting dust on the eggs.

The informal events in these spaces–somewhere between a private and a public venue–have made the artistic community more inclusive

“Sometimes I call people up and say I’m having a dinner party, bring over a painting so we can talk about it,” said Jason Andrew, who displays art in the windows of his ground floor apartment in Bushwick. The gallery, called Norte Maar, is a perfect square, with all white walls, and lots of natural light. Andrew said that a painting is finished when the public sees it, and his home completes the circle.

Andrew said he is not opposed to the mainstream galleries, which do something very different from what he is trying to achieve. He describes his home as a relaxed setting that facilitates conversations about art in the community.

“It’s way off the beaten path of the critics and collectors,” Andrew said, “the driving machine that is the art world.”

E-mail: lac2166@columbia.edu