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Scene Making
Bellwether Gallery

Wayne White at Bellwether

The Williamsburg scene and mystique is simply demographics, said Rebecca Smith, owner of Bellwether gallery. The neighborhood has the highest per capita population of artists in the world: around 14,000 according to the 2000 Census. "It is the artist-run-space-community of New York. Artists run the galleries, so it's not purely commercial. That's why the art here is more experimental. You will come here and see people's first time out; not big, established artists."

"My mission is to show young-in-career artists," Smith said. "The entire reason for this gallery is a peer group gesture. Those people are in the same boat as me. I do for people what I wish people would do for me."

Smith looks for artists that are looking at their careers as long-term prospects, not overnight sensations. "I like the tortoise approach versus the hare. I want artists that really want to develop."

Bellwether shows varied forms of art, but Smith leans towards work that is visually-oriented; she likes art that is "good to look at." It should contain beauty and presentation, while still maintaining an intellectual subplot. She also likes the presence of humor in art.

Smith sees Bellwether as "scene-making." She started the gallery to create something akin to an indie record label for art. "I am creating a context for myself and my generation here."

Having a gallery allows Smith to "hang out with the most talented artists in the world," but it also allows her to "show I care about this artist and think they are important enough to be shown. It makes me put my money where my mouth is."

Most of life comes down to money: how to pay the rent, how to keep food in the refrigerator, how to buy a beer on a Friday night. However, many see money as a corrupting influence on art; stealing its integrity and placing it at the whim of the marketplace. Not Smith.

"The selling force is good. It improves the integrity of the art; it makes the work better. This is the elite art world here in New York: the cream will rise to the top; the great work will get supported. The market is too sophisticated here to ignore what is good. If an artist is good, they will find support."

And Smith believes there are good artists in Williamsburg. However, she thinks there aren't enough good galleries. Perhaps ten galleries in the neighborhood are good, but only four or five are don't-miss. "There are galleries here that are very important to the art world. But there's not enough for people to warrant coming out here. Not all galleries are showing good things."

Money is also the downside of owning a gallery for Smith: she has lost her innocence. She quickly learned about the economics of the art world and how collectors - who hold the purse strings - rule the roost. But she also thinks if a gallery is good enough, it can turn the scenario around.

"I see these collectors circling, waiting, watching the scene out here. They need to start collecting now. I've gone way out on a limb for young-in-career artists here. I have no backer. Everything I have is in this gallery. So the collectors of young artists need to come out to Williamsburg. It [the work] is good enough now."

Bellwether is located at 335 Grand Street. It is open Friday to Monday noon to 6 and by appointment. For more information, contact the gallery at 718.387.3701 or visit

---by Grant Moser

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Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | April 2002 | Issue 25
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