As spring melts into summer here in Bushwick, we are greeted with sidewalk barbecues, doggy ice cream, and fresh roster of live music performances. If you’re going gallery hopping on one of these blazing afternoons, check out “SPF 32,” a group exhibition curated by independent curator, Madeleine Mermall, at the William Ulmer Brewery. Opening on June 15, 32 emerging and mid-career artists celebrate the onset of summer’s familiar feelings of freedom (both sexual and otherwise) tempered by melancholy through vivid, chromatic, neo-realist paintings.
“SPF 32 kind of has two points of origin,” says Mermall. “I wanted to highlight the re-emergence of neo-realism in painting while also celebrating the complex feelings of summer.” Consisting of primarily female artists, “SPF 32” explores the eroticism, nostalgia, and intensified self-awareness that are associated with eating a melting ice cream cone or shedding layers of clothing. In addition to the prevalence of woman-identified artists, many of the works hone in on the female point of view. Maddy Bohrer’s Sunbathing, for example, shows a girl’s hirsute crotch in a bathing suit. Nevertheless, Mermall asserts that the art isn’t inherently feminist. Works such as Sunbathing remind us of the aestheticization of summer that forgives the inevitable messiness and discomfort brought on by the season’s intensity.
Mary DeVincent’s Shake Up celebrates our primal side, which is often heightened when nature is in full bloom. Two naked figures are depicted with an abundant fruit tree, one swinging freely from the branches, the other lounging in the shade. The exhibit overall is even more nuanced. “Summer is associated with spontaneity and freedom,” Mermall says, “But it’s also temporary bliss. The works in the show really speak to the complex essence of feeling.”
Mermall is an independent curator who often works with alternative art spaces. When looking for a place to do the show, a friend and commercial realtor suggested the brewery. After viewing the venue, she knew it was perfect. The rawness of the brewery evokes feelings of summer nostalgia: “It just reminds [me] of flip flops sticky with beer, and high school parties in back alleyways,” she laughs. “The paintings really live and breathe in this space.”
The William Ulmer Brewery, Bushwick’s oldest brewery, is a historical landmark designed by architect Theobald Engelhardt. Constructed in 1872, it is one of the oldest Rundbogenstil Romanesque revival buildings and stands for the development of Bushwick as a community. As the developer explains, the brewery “will be reimagined and historically renovated to house an ecosystem of modern creative users with a shared sense of values and community.”
To Mermall, “SPF 32” came together quite organically. She has been involved in the emerging New York art scene for a few years, and though a lot of the artists exhibiting are from her personal contact list, she also found some of them on Instagram. “I’ve had my eye on a few of these artists for a while. Instagram is a great tool for getting to know about artists from all over the country,” she says. Many of the works in the exhibit were created exclusively for the show, and most of them have never been seen before.
Like all of the shows she curates, Mermall hopes to push the boundaries that exist on where and how artwork should be exhibited. “I want to ‘beat the cube,’” she says. “I think it’s important to bring art outside the white box gallery space, especially [the works of] living and emerging artists.” SPF 32 is meant to celebrate the intricacies of art and summer, and the magic that is created through this nexus.
SPF 32 opens on June 15 at the William Ulmer Brewery, and will be up until July 6. For the duration of the show, the space will be open from 2-6 p.m. every weekend. For more information, visit Mermall’s Instagram.
Cover Image courtesy of Maddy Bohrer
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