In Defense of New York City’s “Creative”
By most metrics, I have not lived in New York City long enough to call myself a “true New Yorker.” By most pretentious standards, I am not in-the-know enough to consider myself “in-the-know.” But contrary to the claims of some of the elites of New York City’s past creative glory who have recently been declaring the City’s creative community dead, I believe that it is still very much alive. I’m looking at you, David Byrne. This past June, I attended the annual event known as Bushwick Open Studios for the second year in a row, and left, for the second time in a row, enthusiastically inspired by the creative energy that resides in North Brooklyn. Although only peripherally apart of this community, both geographically and artistically, I feel present enough to make this claim. I moved to the border of Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant about 18 months ago and I have completely fallen in love with this little part of New York. Bushwick Open Studios has become one of the primary reasons that I give when explaining why.
Once a year, many of the multitude of artists who reside in Bushwick and the surrounding neighborhoods open their studios, galleries, and homes to each other and the public for a rare glimpse into where they live and work, a rare glimpse into the process behind their work, a rare glimpse into the lives of New York’s contemporary creative communities. The event, which has had over 500 artist participants and drawn thousands of visitors each of the past few years, has become one of my favorite things about New York City. It is an incredible opportunity to meet the people who live and work here and to gain invaluable insight into how they work and the methods behind their art.
For the entirety of this weekend every year, the streets are alive with the creative energy of the area which is so often hidden in studios, apartments, bars, cafes, restaurants, and everywhere in between. For this one weekend, Bushwick is turned inside out to unabashedly reveal its beautiful innards. I have come to appreciate this annual event as an incredibly strong counterpoint to anyone who would argue against the creative virility of this city. Although it is true that the cost of living here is an increasing challenge to underprivileged creatives. But this has been true for generations and it will continue to be true for generations to come. Creative people will always find a way to live in New York City. I would challenge anyone who does not believe this to attend Bushwick Open Studios, because I believe that they will discover that a great volume of art is still being made in New York City.
For better or for worse, art is almost exclusively viewed in a static manner where a piece of work is conceived of as an object or an image which is displayed, without context, in a gallery on a white wall. For me, this can be a very challenging way in which to truly understand and appreciate the full weight and meaning of a body of work. The majority of what is on display during Bushwick Open Studios is not displayed in this manner at all, which I believe is one of its strongest assets. Here is the opportunity to see a piece hung over the bed where the artist sleeps, propped up on a bookcase full of the artist’s own heroes and inspirations, on an easel still unfinished, or even directly on the wall, floor, or ceiling of the studio itself with debris scattered about and paint drips dotting every surface. The insight that such context can provide is unparalleled. It is, perhaps, an enviable condition that has ruined galleries for me.
For those who prefer the more traditional settings for viewing art, though, Bushwick is constantly expanding its gallery scene, as well. Although the vibe is a little less polished and a bit more industrial, at times you can forget that you’re even in Brooklyn at all and not across the East River in Chelsea while exploring some of the more established galleries. This event, though, really is about the streets and the studios, though, and for me the majority of the highlights did not occur in galleries. Accompanying this text is a collection of photographs documenting a small selection of what I saw this year. This survey is focused primarily on the behind-the-scenes and live nature of the event, but there are also a few artists highlighted.