Bushwick Gallery Makes Art Free for a Night
On Monday night, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., artists and art enthusiasts filled the Living Gallery in Bushwick to the brim, sipping wine from plastic cups and admiring the paintings, photographs and prints adorning the walls.
The rules of the event were simple: each attendee was allowed to claim a single piece of art by signing a Post-it note and placing it next to the work. At the end of the night, attendees would then get to take home the art they had claimed—for free.
It was only a few minutes before every piece in the room had been claimed.
Monday's “Free the Art” exhibition was a first for the Living Gallery, which has been the venue for other atypical art exhibitions, such as “BYO Art,” when the gallery opens its walls to any artists who want to exhibit and sell their work.
The gallery also hosts art classes, open-mic nights and Wednesday night “Drink 'n' Draws,” during which the gallery provides participants with drawing materials, drinks and a model for $10.
Nyssa Frank, the 31-year-old artist who owns the gallery, says that the gallery doesn't make much money from these events or from its own exhibitions.
“As a business we don't really sell art,” she said. “We make money by renting our space out for other events.”
Frank founded the Living Gallery in 2012, hoping to “offer emerging artists and teachers a platform for dreams to manifest,” according to the gallery's website. The gallery is also “dedicated to enriching the Bushwick Community,” and has donated its space to non-profits in the past in order to do so.
Brandon Sines, an artist based in the East Village, first exhibited art at the Living Gallery in 2013. Sines, 30, is the creator of the character Frank Ape, a New York-based "skunk ape" who features prominently in much of Sines's work.
"This one's unique," Sines said, referring to the exhibition. "If you're a person who just wants to appreciate art, you can get some for free."
Another artist, Mike Serafino, said he liked the concept of the free exhibition.
"We all do this because we love it," Serafino said, "and it hurts a little to have a definite number attached to what we love."
Serafino, 31, frequently comes to the Living Gallery. He describes it as more of an alternative space. Like many who frequent the gallery, Serafino lives in Bushwick.
Because the art on the walls was claimed so quickly, Frank tried to get more early in the night.
"Bring some more art!" she shouted to an artist who was about to exit the gallery.
When asked if he was going to bring more art, the artist responded, "I will. I don't know if they'll like it, but I will."
For much of the night, Steven Gewirtz, a 54-year-old man who lives in Marine Park, photographed the event.
Gewirtz read about the event in his local newspaper, the Mill-Marine Courier, and decided to attend. Monday night was his first time at the Living Gallery.
"[I came] just to meet the artists," he said, "and to get an idea of why people believe that art should be free."
Siddhartha Mehta, a Bushwick-based artist, believed that putting a price tag on a work of art excludes those of lesser means from enjoying it.
"Art is absolutely elitist. What you're looking at is an elite group of people who are exchanging money," Mehta said. "You see color on a huge canvas and it's like, millions of dollars."
"This is super anti-corporatism, super anti-establishment," he continued, referring to the free exhibition at the Living Gallery.
Mehta, who is 33 years old and goes by Sid, also owns a music store. In addition, he makes and plays the khartal sheets, a south-Asian percussion instrument that he describes as a pocket drum set.
Bushwick is a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn that has become popular with artists for its low rents and thriving cultural scene. Small alternative galleries like the Living Gallery do a great deal to drive the cultural life of Bushwick by hosting exhibitions, classes and other events, as well as by functioning as hubs for the many artistic communities that live in the area.
Over the course of the three-hour event, hundreds flowed in and out of the Living Gallery to admire the work of more than 50 artists who participated in the exhibition, as well as to chat with other attendees about the philosophy behind free art. Although not every visitor got to take home a piece, many did. Gewirtz, who captured the night with his photographs, was among them.
"I put my name on one," he said. "Something my wife said she liked."