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Wonky - 31 Grand
By Grant Moser

"Wonkiness. You know, just kind of off," explained Megan Bush, co-director of 31 Grand. That might be the perfect description of the gallery, what it aims to show, and how it has fun doing it. Past shows have included: an exhibition of skulls made of bread which guests could sample; an artist who painted vases found on Ebay and then sold those paintings on Ebay; and a joint exhibition featuring a maker of miniature houses with porcelain figurines of glamour models, and a photographer who is a part-time model.

"We like artists who enjoy what they're doing," said Heather Stephens, the other co-director. "We don't necessarily show 'outsider art' in the sense that they have never had formal training or were found at random outside the art world, but we try to incorporate the essence of outsider art - someone who is interconnected with their art, that uses the other parts of their lives in their art."

31 Grand is two and a half years old, and in the beginning was planned as studio space for several artists with a small gallery up front. That idea evolved to its present incarnation as a formal gallery. It shows artists from the world over, as well as from Brooklyn. Both Bush and Stephens have creative backgrounds; Stephens is a printmaker and Bush is a clothing stylist and has her own clothing line and store in the East Village. And both were in the Williamsburg area well before the gallery began.

"The growth of the neighborhood has been great for us," said Bush. "Visitors to the gallery have picked up, and collectors are making their way out here in greater numbers. They are showing interest in the work, but for the most part are still waiting to buy. Though I think that's beginning to change."

"Of course, as it grows it loses some of its flavor and might turn into the same-old neighborhood as you see in Manhattan," Stephens added. "I've heard the rumors of an artist exodus and the complaining of the rising rents, but I haven't seen an exodus really. And the art community is still very supportive here; everyone comes out to openings and helps out if they can."

Still, the rise of the neighborhood's profile in the art world brings with it money and expectations. "Sure, it's crossed our minds when putting on a show: Will this sell? But it never happens that way. We always end up putting on the art that we really like, that's really good," Bush said. "The idea of Williamsburg as an idea or a genre is misleading. There is so many different types of art happening here that generalizing about it is just false and limiting."

When asked about what the area will be like in five years, Stephens said: "More clothing stores. You know, like Chelsea or Soho. The galleries remaining will be more established. And the exodus will probably have occurred by then because of those changes and the increased rents."

Still, 31 Grand is optimistic about the neighborhood and the talent they've seen in it. They are committed to continuing good shows. "We care about the artists we show, and the viewers. We'll explain about the show if they want, or we'll leave them alone - whatever they want," Stephens said.

Bush added, "It's very important to let people make their own opinions about the work. I hate having artist statements shoved down people's throats. Good work doesn't need a statement."

One of their recent shows is a good case in point. The statement of the artist, Edwin Vera, was: "I am inspired by the beauty and perfection in fashion magazines and by my pets."

Wonky. But good.

31 Grand's next show is Pop Life (featuring David Henry Brown, Jr., Michelle Cortez, Juno Doran, Greg Goldberg, Philippe Nuell, and Sherri Wood) dealing with the pop subcultures that mold and define the artists' lives. It opens June 8 with a reception from 7-10pm featuring DJ Kid Magic, and runs through July 14.

31 Grand is located at 31 Grand Street and is open Saturday and Sunday from 1pm to 7pm, or by appointment. For more information, visit, or contact the gallery at [email protected] or 718.388.2858.

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Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | June 2002 | Issue 27
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