Somewhere between the Broadway G and Montrose L train stations, you just may stumble upon a hidden gem — a quaint gallery located at 93 Montrose Ave called Mt. Rose Space.
Situated in a small room, the gallery includes one wall with lush pink flower wallpaper to add in an extra homey feel. I enjoyed this added touch and paired with the coziness of the interior scale, Mt. Rose Space veered in a much-needed direction away from a typical ‘white wall’ gallery. Turns out, Mt. Rose Space, co-founded by Leah Schonberg and Caedron Burchfield, has a detailed provenance as an alternative arts space in Brooklyn.
Leah grew up in New York City and as a teenager she helped open Jane Doe Books at 93 Montrose Ave, a women’s lending library. Leah moved from the city for a few years and the space then became Crows Space, a DIY gallery for local artists. After Leah moved back to New York, the room became just that, a bedroom that dually operated as a studio space for Leah’s then roommate. Now married, Leah and Caedron even met in this room for the first time seven years ago. Prior to its indictment as Mt. Rose Space for Bushwick Open Studios in 2014, the room operated as the couple’s bedroom and Caedron’s personal studio. The name Mt. Rose is a testament to the couple’s combined backgrounds—Mt. Rose is a peak in the Sierra Nevada Mountains where Caedron is from and is also a play on Montrose Ave where Leah learned to ride a bicycle.
Rising rents and the high cost of living in NYC is potentially driving artists from its grasps, but on a brighter note this inflation is also jump-starting alternative projects like Mt. Rose Space. Refurbishing an unused room into an art gallery is a profitable, but mostly passionate, way to exhibit up-and-coming local artists while at the same time stabilizing expenses.
Leah believes the space to be a point of departure for nascent artists struggling to catch a big break, stating, “Our personal ethos most definitely influences our choices with the gallery—we work to destabilize the idea that having a show is relegated to only a small and privileged population of artists. The most gratifying part of running the space is seeing how empowered people feel once they have executed a show or performance.”
Currently on view is an exhibition by local NYC artist Naomi Frank titled “Life in Plastic.” Naomi attended an opening at Mt. Rose Space in March 2015 with her friends Lauren Pistoia and Ryan Blackwell where she met Leah and Caedron for the first time. Naomi was looking for a place to show her work, so she inquired about an exhibition at Mt. Rose Space. Leah and Caedron set up a studio visit and from there, the three began preparations for Naomi’s first solo show in New York.
Her style is photo-realist yet expressive, with subjects ranging from sparkling gems and wildlife to portraits of her beloved family members and friends. Naomi explains her style as figurative with elements of abstraction due to the colors and shapes created by the lighting and reflective objects she depicts. Her sense of light is extraordinary in her works—whether a canvas packed full of glistening jewels or a dramatic portrait of her sister, each subject is illuminated with an aura that transports the composition from reality to a hazy dream space.
Hanging on the wall with the fauna wallpaper is a striking portrait of the artist’s mother. Half of her face is bathed in a red glow while the other half in a brilliant cerulean blue. This commingling of realism and abstraction takes an age-old artistic trope of portraiture into a contemporary direction that makes viewers linger on in order to decipher the hidden truths behind these symbolic artistic decisions. Naomi explained that her biggest influence is her mother, Sarah Ratchye, who is also a painter and is responsible for Naomi’s artistic and feminist beliefs that greatly affect her work.
Her adept technical skills as a painter is a way to use beauty for more political reasons—as the façade captivates with brilliant hues and dynamic lighting, each painting is fleshed out with a deep conceptual underpinning. Naomi critiques how beauty is exploited in contemporary society, stating, “As a feminist, my political alignment is extremely important to me, and it intersects with my views on the role of art in society. I wanted to make work that reflected both my history as a creator, my training in classical painting, my background in performing arts, my politics, and a very personal cultural critique of value and beauty.”
As an alternative gallery, Mt. Rose Space becomes a perfect alignment to Naomi’s thoughtful artwork. Her work engages in tensions between authentic and artificial as well as learned conventions versus the actual or hidden truths in society. Naomi challenges viewers to face a different side of beauty, one that is more thoughtful and politically charged. In the end beauty is never lost but transformed from a façade that is merely striking to a deeper attraction embedded in an intelligent ethos of cultural critique.
“Life in Plastic” is on view through July 12 at Mt. Rose Space, 93 Montrose Ave, East Williamsburg. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, 11a.m. – 6p.m.