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Don’t Panic: A Veteran’s Take on Surviving Art Movements

By Sean Alday

By Sean Alday

[quote]Personally, I’ve been in the luckiest situation, surrounded by amazing art, living with it every day. [/quote]

At 18 Michael Kronenberg moved to New York to study naked people at Parsons School of Design. He lived through several art scene collapses including the 80’s East Village downfall and the mallification of SoHo. After a divorce he moved to Bushwick when it was still an cachet free post industrial wasteland, taking advice from the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Gallery” which is to say “Don’t panic.” He has been a Bushwick resident for most of the past eight years, hiding in plain sight a block from the Dekalb stop at 950 Hart Street during this time.

Kronenberg’s art is a reflection of his personality, spirituality and energy.

“The Garden of Eve” a painting completed in 2011 serves as a symbolic guide to the personalities of over 25 people who have resided in his space as couch surfers or roommates. The artists, musicians and models who have come into his life at perpendicular angles have added their energetic contributions to numerous drawings and paintings that litter his studio. It speaks to his ability to put the people in his life in perspective and also let them know that he notices them. He has advised numerous artists at different points in their careers.

One goal he always hoped to meet, was to run an art gallery. The blooming of the Bushwick art scene, which has pumped air into the tires of the neighborhood, allowed him this chance.

In 2010 he and a group of artists at 950 Hart Gallery joined other apartment galleries such as Norte Maar and Centotto. The hard working crew at 950 Hart have put on 21 shows in the past 14 months and have been invited to join Beat Nite 7 on March 10th, a Bushwick gallery walk put together by Jason Andrew.

It’s been a little over a year since he began the art experiment known as 950 Hart Gallery. With the help of Antoinette Johnson, Mikki Nylund and Sean Alday (disclaimer: this is a true story, I was there) he began a community art experience focused on the love of art.  This is an assessment of that year from a personal standpoint as well as a gentle reminder for anyone who cares about art: Don’t Panic.

[quote]In chaotic times we can take advantage of the general confusion to be completely free to do absolutely anything that we want to do. We battle daily to preserve the space, and try to enjoy the cumulative adrenaline rush that comes from fighting against fear and lack of resources. [/quote]

Where are you, in your creative mind?

Two trains of thought are running through my head at this point, fear of disaster and a quiet confidence that if we can hold our intentions we can accomplish virtually anything.

In chaotic times we can take advantage of the general confusion to be completely free to do absolutely anything that we want to do. We battle daily to preserve the space, and try to enjoy the cumulative adrenaline rush  that comes from fighting against fear and lack of resources.

I personally feel that my work is in transition of late. Running this space and managing egos and expectations has taken away from my art making time.

What’s the point of art?

Artists hold a mirror up to the face of God so he can admire his reflection.

What or who influences your work?

My family history belongs to storytellers, religious types and refugees.

I’m telling my stories when I draw. I’m painting my personal worlds when I paint. I’m a Buddhist, a lapsed Buddhist [laughs], and the influence of my meditation practice on my art practice is considerable. I look for things that can be hard to see if I don’t keep my mind’s eye open.

In practicing my drawing and painting I’ve finally come to a place where I’m not thinking when I work, my work exists and I exist.

Any artist’s in particular?

I love German Expressionism and Tibetan Iconography.

Christian Schaad and Alice Neel understood that there’s an endless battle between inner life and what you actually see. I’m influenced by a large number of artists, from old masters to 20th Century cartoonists. I’m also inspired to work harder by people we show [in 950 Hart Gallery], I get a terrific charge when they get it right.

Chance encounters are also extremely powerful. Jim Herbert has been one of my personal heroes. I remember watching his videos, discovering his photo-books and his paintings. We went to the English Kills show last year, and talked with him about his work. That’s inspiring to me, he’s in his seventies and is painting like a master.

What art are you enjoying?

Well, I’ve been going to shows in the neighborhood for the most part lately. I like figurative work, and I encourage that in our space because it needs to have a forum. The Bushwick aesthetic of “found art” or “recycled art” is interesting as well. That is, when it’s done with some aesthetic consideration it can be very interesting.

Paul’s show [Appearance Adrift in the Garden] at Norte Maar is in line with that aesthetic. He has the chops to back it up and make it engaging, which I respect.

I always look for something that is emotionally expressive. Some people go internal like Antoinette [Johnson] and some go external like Grant [Stoops]. There are circumstances and stimuli that form around the artists work that engage different viewers on different levels. We try very hard to have art that is engaging and emotional.

What makes people like Nick Greenwald interesting is the execution of their mark-making and the attitude they express. It’s simple. It’s raw emotion versus emotional rawness, like painting versus photography.

[quote]There is a definite decline in the level of craftsmanship in some of the stuff I’ve been seeing out and about. This could be a misguided attempt at modesty, the result of ADD or the latest attempt at irony.[/quote]

Can you tell me what painting has that photography doesn’t?

A painting is many different things. It’s an object in three dimensional space that exists, it’s a crystallization of the artist’s Chi that went into it. The best paintings, or the ones that interest me most, are the purest distillation of the artist’s life force.

That’s what most photography can never have. A photograph is a reflection, with photography it’s mostly the  case that what you see through your device is what you get. In painting, it’s not like that. Painting relies on the conviction of internal vision. Painting is ruthless [laughs], because, what’s in your head may not be that interesting, or you may not have the craft it takes to communicate what’s there. Photography is always one step removed from where your head is, whether it’s staged or digitally manipulated, it depends on a plastic device to some degree.

When it comes to photography I like Worm [Carnevale], he’s as close to painting as a photographer can get. He is relentless in exploring how to make an conventional photograph more personal.  You look at his work and it’s like looking into his mind. What you see in there may freak you out, and that’s what makes it so interesting.

If art is a mirror telling us about ourselves, what are we seeing?

There is a definite decline in the level of craftsmanship in some of the stuff I’ve been seeing out and about. This could be a misguided attempt at modesty, the result of ADD or the latest attempt at irony.

I am also heartily sick of art that comments on the social media phenomenon.

What’s next on the agenda?

Personally, I’ve been in the luckiest situation, surrounded by amazing art, living with it every day. We’ve carefully curated this gallery to show positive artwork and I think we have been successful at it, but we can always do more. I want 950 Hart Gallery to continue expanding and growing and I look forward to meeting and showing more new artists, and expanding the available options for our existing crew.

What’s the future of this space? I don’t know, we could all be evicted. I think that we have to acknowledge that this has been an immense labor of love which came at great cost to the chief operators, both in treasure and in emotional strain.

So let’s look at where it got us. One of the most amazing years of my life. Antoinette, Mikki and I have produced incredible bodies of work given what we had. You’ve documented this whole process and probably have enough material for a series of novels.

Have the benefits outweighed the costs? Well, yes and I’m not panicking.

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