Making Space for Manhattan Artists That They Otherwise Couldn’t Afford

Mr. Brathwaite’s studio, a capacious 1,000 square feet of white cement and pipes, lies beyond a series of twisting hallways and doors. Canvases scrawled with his distinctive tags against backgrounds of mini subway cars, boomboxes and tiny Campbell soup cans line the walls. There are also large black and bedazzled portraits from a series featuring Jack Johnson, the heroic turn-of-the-century boxer, and Bumpy Johnson, the notorious Harlem gangster.

Adrian Kondratowicz, perhaps best known for creating polka-dot trash bags to beautify garbage day, occupies a space down the hall. He has had a studio in Harlem for the past decade, most recently at 142nd Street and Fifth Avenue. Last year, the landlord arrived and told all of the tenants they had to get out.

He is, for the first time, feeling secure in his studio. “The community is just great, in terms of mutual studio visits or just being here while the work is happening,” he said.

An advantage to such a rough-hewed space is that the landlord does not especially care what the tenants do to the building. Gustavo Prado, a sculptor who employs convex mirrors, among other media, in his work, has bolted a number of pieces to the large beams and pipes that run through his studio.

“I didn’t even make that hole,” he told Mr. Solomon, grinning. “It was there already.”

Hercules Art Studio

“I just can’t believe my good fortune,” Jenna Westra said standing inside her TriBeCa studio, barely a year after earning an M.F.A. in photography from Hunter College. Large portraits of friends, models and strangers striking angular, almost geometric poses hung on the walls.


Jenna Westra moved into a studio in TriBeCa shortly after she received her M.F.A. “I just can’t believe my good fortune,” she said about her place.

Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

These days, it really does take a good fortune to afford a loft in the neighborhood where artists thrived in the 1970s and ’80s. For Ms. Westra and six other recent graduates, the monthly rent is a mere $1 per square foot through the Hercules Art Studio Program’s two-year residency.

Their patron is Andrea Woodner, a designer, artist and philanthropist. She owns 25 Park Place, where the studios are on the third floor. Her inspiration came last year at a symposium at which everyone was talking about complicated ways to keep artists in New York City.

“It’s simple,” Ms. Woodner recalled thinking. “Just charge less rent — and I was in a position to do that.”

When an electrical union’s lease expired at 25 Park Place, Ms. Woodner teamed with Claire Weisz, an architect friend, to create Hercules there. Their research found there were less than 100 nonprofit studio spaces in the city.

To select the first group of residents, students from Columbia, Hunter and New York University were asked to apply, and then Ms. Woodner and some colleagues visited their thesis shows. Ms. Westra and six others, including two painters who got the end studios for their natural light, were chosen and moved in in March.

“I was in a shared space in New Jersey paying twice as much for half the space before I came here,” said Ilaria Ortensi, an Italian artist who creates architectural sculptures and paintings.

Already the Herculeans’ ambitions for their space have grown. They plan to host exhibitions for their contemporaries’ work, as well as lectures, salons and the occasional dance party.

“We’re so lucky to be here, so we want to share it,” said Ofra Lapid, an artist from Tel Aviv and makes collages heavily inspired by its Bauhaus buildings.


Ilaria Ortensi, an artist from Italy, in her studio space at 25 Park Place.

Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

Ms. Woodner agrees they should not be the only ones. Her ultimate goal is to demonstrate that studios can be a viable business for landlords, especially if the city and the state are willing to offer incentives like tax breaks that might offset foregone rent.

“There was no Plan B for these kids,” Ms. Woodner said. “They were going to be artists, and they were going to be in New York. And we have to help them with that.”

50 West Street

Being in proximity to other artists is not the only appeal of working in New York.

“I love being influenced by working-class people,” Bahar Behbahani said last week inside a studio downtown. “That was never a problem in Iran, but once I came to America, I never get to do that, except with the cabdrivers.”

Now she does it almost every day. Since September, Ms. Behbahani has been working out of the 15th floor of 40 Rector Street in Lower Manhattan — and a construction site a block south, 50 West Street.


50 West Street, a condominium tower that is nearing completion off the Battery.

Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

She shares the space with three other artists, and the sales gallery for 50 West, a curvaceous 64-story condominium tower nearing completion off the Battery. Francis Greenberger, the developer, is a noted collector.

“We wanted art that was of the building, not just decoration,” said Jennie Lamensdorf, the in-house curator at Mr. Greenberger’s firm, Time Equities.

While each artist is obliged to create a series of works of the new building — the ultimate in lobby art — they also have round-the-clock access to the studios, where they can work on any projects they desire.

Ms. Behbahani completed an entire series of new works while in residency, called Garden Coup, now on view at the Thomas Erben Gallery. So, too, did Hugo Bastidas and Paul Anthony Smith, who both focused on making portraits of the project’s construction workers.

“I’ve never had so much space to work in before,” Ms. Behbahani said, wearing a pair of paint-splattered Uggs.

Noa Charuvi, an Israeli artist living in Brooklyn, was the first to take up residency there, sharing the space with the tower’s general contractor. Her art typically addresses the conflict in her native country, including paintings of bombed-out homes.

“My work is around ruins and rubble,” Ms. Charuvi said. “This is a completely different subject matter, but the materials are the same, working in a construction pit.”


Bahar Behbahani, who works at 40 Rector Street in Lower Manhattan, pointing at floor plans for a new building at 50 West Street a block away. She is among four artists selected to document the construction of it.

Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

Like Ms. Behbahani — who created large paintings that overlaid the penthouse floor plans with scenes of equally luxurious Persian gardens — Ms. Charuvi had hoped to work on other projects. But she quickly found herself so consumed with scenes of mud, muck and rebar that they became almost all she has painted since, even after her residency ended.

“I just couldn’t stop,” Ms. Charuvi said.

Now she does not have to. With the tower nearly finished, Ms. Charuvi has been invited back.

Continue reading the main story

Source link

About admin

Check Also

Living Way Off Campus, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Mr. Hutchinson also noted a lack of electrical outlets. “I don’t like the idea of ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *