By Jen Hitchings
Jane Fine and James Esber, invited me up to their Williamsburg rooftop to discuss GO! Brooklyn Art, the borough-wide open studio event/contest for a show at the Brooklyn Museum stirring criticisms, excitement, and curiosity. One reason for skepticism is that 1,806 artists registered for it, while 4,500+ did for Bushwick Open Studios. The most compelling reason for interviewing them was that Jane is participating in GO! and James is not, despite having been collaborating under the alias J. Fiber for years, sharing a studio, and being married. Jane and James have both been working artists in Brooklyn since the late eighties.
Jen: So Jane, why did you choose to participate, and James, why not?
Jane: After thinking about it, I ended up feeling like if I didn’t participate and I saw whoever got the show and felt like there work was awful, I know I would’ve been kicking myself for not doing it.
James: I feel like at this point in my artistic career, my studio is not really the best representation of my work. To some artists it’s less attractive. Plus we’re not in a building with a bunch of studios in it so not many people are going to come through. You also have to walk through mine in order to get to Jane’s anyway, so I guess it’s not all that bad.
Jen: I remember you mentioning the fact that you didn’t know about GO! Brooklyn Art until the deadline had passed, and you were curious about that.
Jane: Yeah a Canadian friend of ours knew about it, and she asked if we were doing it and I said “what are you talking about?” Then we were in Bushwick later that day and I guess they had flooded Bushwick with the fliers, and that’s when we saw the deadline had passed. A week later she emailed me and said the extended the deadline, so we had about 3 days to decide. The strange thing about it is that James and I and the Pierogi artists and those who have had reasonably professional careers didn’t even know about it. It seems so professional now. It’s beautifully organized, and it’s not that we should’ve been a priority, but it was just a bunch of emails, and why didn’t anyone get some of us on the phone instead? Is their intention to make it a success and then in the next years everyone wants to be a part of it?
James: I think whether or not it’s a success isn’t really going to determine the quality of the show. It should be more a celebration of artists working in Brooklyn. The idea of having a Brooklyn group show that takes place across the whole borough over two days and it just happens to take place in people’s studios, that’d be a really interesting idea. Then you’d also be showing art in a different context, because it’s in studios.
But the whole “People’s Choice” award thing, a curated show, is a bit bogus and isn’t going to work, because not everyone gets the same foot traffic.
Jen: I kind of feel like the foot traffic issue of the event is going to be centered on “hubs” like Bushwick, where all the condensed studio buildings of young artists are.
Jane: Oh yeah Bushwick is going to get the most foot traffic for sure. And then whoever can get the most people to come to their studios is more likely to ‘win’ the show.
Jen: Yeah, I noticed on the website they suggest having snacks and beverages, which makes it seem all about presentation and wowing the crowd. Did anything similar to this happen in say, the 90’s or early 2000’s?
Jane: Well there was Open House in 2004 at the Brooklyn Museum. Charlotta Kotik, the curator, it was her idea and in the beginning she said it wasn’t going to be a big salon show. As the months went by, we were lucky to each get two pieces in the show.
Over 200 artists ended up being in it, and that was really a celebration of Brooklyn.
“What produced this charged atmosphere would be hard to define… but there is certainly the sense of community and camaraderie here, so rare in the competitive arena of the art world.” Charlotta Kotik and Tumelo Mosaka, Open House catalogue.
James: There was also the Salon of the Mating Spiders exactly 20 years ago in 1992 curated by Annie Herron, over on North 1st between Berry and Wythe. It was just an open call to come bring your work and hang it yourself. By the time the doors opened, the line was around the corner. There was literally not a square inch of room from the floors to the ceiling that wasn’t covered with art.
In addition to these shows, the introduction to the Open House catalogue mentions the Gallery for Living Artists, “an exhibition space devoted to the work of those living and working in Brooklyn” in the 1930’s, exhibitions in the early eighties in the Gowanus Canal Art Yard, the All Fools Show which featured over 200 artists, many from the East Village, which happened in a 32,000 square foot loft in Greenpoint. Another bring-and-install-your-work show happened at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park in 1983.
Nowhere is it mentioned that any sort of juried open studio event or direct competition ending in a curated show took place.
Though GO! Brooklyn Art is a very unconventional approach to a curated museum show, maybe it takes something this rewarding and accessible to open the closed doors of the thousands of Brooklyn artists to the public. Maybe some are refusing participation out of principle. All in all, no one will be harmed by an open studio weekend, or a show at the Brooklyn Museum. And it does provide an amazing opportunity to all those underrepresented artists out there. So if you are an aesthetic individual, make sure to stop by Jane Fine’s studio, and say hi to James when you walk through his.