Back in early June, there was a big stack of hype for sale at Factory Fresh. Piled in the far corner of the Brooklyn gallery were wooden crates gathered in two pyramids, containers marked “HYPE” on one side and “READILY AVAILABLE” on another. Think Warhol’s Brillo boxes for the ballyhoo-bloated blog era. “What’s inside — it’s hype,” said Factory Fresh co-owner Ali Ha (a/k/a fabric artist Pufferella). “People always want to buy the hype.”
Here, the hype was priced at $750 a crate, mere pennies when you consider the millions spent annually on manufacturing hoopla, and it anchored “Factory Fresh Direct From Skewville,” the gallery’s de facto housewarming exhibition from Adam (“Ad”) Deville — Factory Fresh co-owner and half of the artist-duo Skewville. Previously, this Flushing Avenue spot was a bodega, so Deville used whatever materials the old tenants left behind (freezer door, metal backyard fence, etc.) to transform the site into a pop-art market for its debut show. Paintings of soda-pop bottles promised “More Flavor.” Framed glass cases beckoned “Get Yours,” “Big Deal,” and “Half Off.” A giant dollar sign made of pipe hung smugly on a wall.
But the boxes of hype cohered the show, both visually and contextually. (Their new exhibit, “Fresh Meat,” opens August 8.) Factory Fresh is the latest member of what Ad Hoc Art director Andrew Michael Ford offhandedly calls the “Gang of Four,” a scrappy ring of neighboring upstart galleries within walking distance of the Morgan Avenue L-train stop in Bushwick. This foursome, he says, is “totally in this to succeed together.” In addition to Ad Hoc and Factory Fresh, there’s English Kills, a warehouse gallery/ studio space on Forrest Street, and Pocket Utopia, a storefront nook on Flushing. In real estate and media, three is a trend, four is gravy — more than enough to label the slowly gentrifying area with atrocious marketing names like BuGa (Bushwick Galleries) or BAD (Burgwick Art District) and shill it to property buyers, sojourners, and editors (guilty).
Another similarity among the locals is that three of the four galleries share bloodlines with the street-art movement that’s presently enjoying the indoor spoils of the art boom. (And now receiving mainstream love, thanks to Banksy’s fabled superstardom and a Tate Modern exhibition.) As Skewville, Deville and his twin brother Droo have tossed two-dimensional wooden sneakers over power lines since before anyone considered such a project “street art.” Meanwhile, over the last six months, Ad Hoc’s group-show lineups have cycled through a motley cast of outdoor characters: old-school spray-can icon Lady Pink, handcut stencilist Chris Stain, iconic flower painter Michael De Feo. And English Kills recently ended an elaborate installation from Judith Supine, a collage-artist prankster who not only suspended one of his enormous fluorescent-green-skinned creatures off the Manhattan Bridge last August, but once wheatpasted a Times Square military-recruitment center in broad daylight. (The evidence is on YouTube.)
But Deville — who memorably planted the words “FAME GAME” and “HYPE” on street-art mecca 11 Spring Street before the Soho shrine was renovated, and who lived in the Orchard Street Art Gallery with his fiancée Ha before relocating to Factory Fresh — isn’t entirely comfortable with the gallery being cast as a street-art offshoot. “I don’t want to make money off street art,” he says. “Street art’s supposed to be free.” Chris Harding, who runs English Kills, agrees that the movement’s not as pure: “For some kids, [street art] is becoming this well-traveled path to making some quick money. If art’s good, it’s good — I don’t give a shit if it was on the street or not.”
That said, there’s no ill will that their friends at Ad Hoc have been wildly successful showing such public-space invaders. At the June opening of Ad Hoc’s “Poets of the Paste,” an impressive montage from wheatpaste disciples like Gaia and Elbow-Toe, there were red dots accompanying nearly every piece. “We’re not hiding the fact that we sell really well here,” says Ford, who’s booked the place through 2009. “Even though there are aspects of a commercial gallery here, there are also aspects of a community center, which you don’t find in mainstream commercial galleries.” True, Ad Hoc is genuinely inviting; there’s none of the cold, silent judging so commonly experienced in Chelsea.
If Ad Hoc is the business of this bunch and Factory Fresh the open studio, then English Kills is the workbench. Harding, whose business card reads “Art Conduit,” rents out studio spaces in English Kills to cover the bills, so there’s no bottom line to keep in mind. “I’m into the unsalable,” he admits wryly. Judith Supine’s solo show was an anomaly; dude sold out all but one piece. (Yes, Judith is a dude.)
Mostly, Harding’s taste favors dementedly ambitious installations like last fall’s Blind Spot, a meticulously rendered Brooklyn tenement engineered by Andrew Ohanesian and Tescia Seufferlein. From the front, the scene was an average row house, arranged down to every last detail, including cement stoop, working light fixtures, and wall-to-wall carpeting. Venture in further and you discovered a residential war zone after an attack, a disastrous confusion of upended cushions, crushed walls, and broken toilet bowl. It took the artists nine months to perfect, and no one made a dime. Harding, an ex-employee of Mary Boone Gallery, says: “Maybe English Kills is an answer to what I saw working at Mary Boone. This is the complete antithesis of that awful experience.”
Ah, yes. If there’s one unassailable generalization to be made here, it’s that these upstarts were all founded on the rejection of art-world assholes. Ford is downright gleeful that Ad Hoc’s owners understand that you shouldn’t be jerks to strangers. “When I got here, it was amazing to realize: ‘Oh, so there are a lot of people who hate the way most Chelsea galleries treat people!’ So then it became: ‘OK, let’s build our own community.’ ”
Now the community just needs a name. Hypeville, anyone?