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Looking to the Future
By Grant Moser

“This is an influential neighborhood in the art world,” Larry Walczak, founder of the gallery eyewash told me. “There are a lot of artists - and quality - developing here: emerging talent as well as mid-career artists. The energy here is making Williamsburg. It has become a destination with international appeal.”

Williamsburg: Mecca for art tourists. Bad or good news?

“I love this neighborhood, but the next couple of years will decide whether it can sustain its quality, its integrity in the face of all this attention and change. I think it can. But younger artists moving to this neighborhood who don't relate to the aesthetics of the mid-career art scene that exists here through certain galleries have to start their own spaces.” Noting the increasing competition for space with restaurants, bars, and shops, Walczak believes future galleries will lie beyond the BQE.

Walczak might have some authority to make these statements. One of the first galleries here in Williamsburg, eyewash began showing local work in 1998. It is also, in part, responsible for the attention so recently lavished on the area. Roberta Smith covered the gallery’s third show, centered around Valentine’s Day 1999, in a New York Times article. Like a shot heard ‘round the world, people took notice of this burgeoning, artsy little neighborhood across the water.

“There has to be galleries who are in it as a ‘labor-of-love’ and not obsessed with marketing and sales. When Williamsburg ‘broke’ in 1998 [through the Times article] that was the feeling it projected. Part Left Bank, part East Village -in Brooklyn,” Walczak said.

When Walczak first moved here in 1994, the diverse talent everywhere struck him. Opening eyewash was his attempt to recognize what was happening among local artists; to help the dialogue between them; and to show art that deserved to be seen and was not being shown.

“This place is wide open. There is so much new, unfound talent around us. And the art is so varied: new forms, installation, industrial. The work being done here has even given rise to talk of an ‘early Williamsburg aesthetic’,” he said.

Europeans visiting over the years have expressed their take on this “Williamsburg feel” to Walczak. “They held the view that our neighborhood is an alternative to Chelsea or Soho. If we don't give the art-viewing public real alternatives than we merely become a 'minor league farm system' to the Chelsea art market. That would be depressing.”

The solution is community. “A couple years back everyone got together and did ELSEWHERE; a weekend-long art event that brought lots of folks to the neighborhood, many for the first time. Things like this need to happen again.”

And he wants more galleries to open. “The more the merrier,” Walczak explained. “It’s a bigger neighborhood than it once was. It needs lots of galleries to accommodate it. How is it bad that there is more space for art?”

For now, at least, eyewash uses whatever space is available; it is a wandering show. Opened by Walczak in his residential building, “eyewash was closed by the building department due to a single compliant by an unsuccessful artist and rival gallery person. This doesn't bode well for a community many see as ‘supportive.’ But it did happen and in the process made me approach curating in a different way. By not having a permanent location, a curator is constantly challenged to create an experimental exhibition, public art event, or collaboration.”

eyewash is a migratory gallery, traveling from local gallery to local gallery, hopefully bringing the following and reputation it has developed to new, little-known spaces. In a turnabout from his original mission of giving exposure to local artists, he is now giving local galleries exposure.

In April, eyewash will sponsor an exhibition of work in the windows of several shop owners on Bedford Ave., as well as a controversial exhibition/installation on gun owners by Robin Michaels at ROMEarts on Havemeyer St. eyewash is also planning to take “Williamsburg art” to venues in Belgium, Amsterdam, and Germany. More information on eyewash and upcoming shows can be found at: www.eyewash.cc

-- Grant Moser



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Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | March 2002 | Issue 24
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