Andrew Karpan


A few months after M. Sawyer Ballance had moved into a new apartment on Cypress Avenue, the managers at his new building had a proposition: he could take one of its currently vacated storefronts and turn it into a gallery for a month in exchange for a cut of the sales. Ballance is a tall, lanky freelance designer who wears a man-bun without irony and has a flair for pop art — according to his site, he takes credit for a display of “anatomically corrected mannequins” that briefly appeared at an American Apparel in SoHo in 2014.  He was ditching his Ridgewood studio for more of a “live-work” arrangement and his eyes had landed on one of the repurposed warehouses that dot the streets surrounding the nearby Jefferson L station. Ballance jumped at the idea and got in touch with a friend who recently graduated from Pratt, Michelle Wen. Together — with another Pratt graduate, Bryan Cabrera Perez — they founded the xxxiii Gallery, which opened its first month-long show on Friday. 

A creation of the pandemic, the gallery takes its name from the latest capacity requirements: 33% for arts and entertainment venues. A sort of serious playfulness abides. “We almost named this Daydream Nation,” Wen said about the name of the gallery’s first show. They had settled, instead, on “DAY | DREAM,” a group exhibition themed around the idea of “the duality of our constructed waking life and the escapism offered by our fantasized realities,” according to a gallery handout.

“Considering they can’t manage to sell it themselves — nobody wants this space, we should at least have something in there,” Ballance said. His eyes are pointed and intense as they look toward the gallery’s first room. “This is technically our waking room, our day-time consciousness,” he says. 

Throughout the month, the room will also host to a number of musical and conceptual pieces. Among those scheduled to appear include Akil Apollo Davis, a performance artist and adjunct acting professor at NYU, and Nick Zanca, a New York electronic musician who puts out records as Mister Lies.  

Top, EJ Jureller’s “Booty Call” (2018), center: Bryan Cabrera Perez’s “Star” and “ANGEL” (2020) and Meredith Hoffheins’ “The Lawn” (2018) Below, Michelle Wen’s “Scarface,” “Resistance” and “Savior” (2020). “What sets us apart from a white cube gallery is this grassroots effort, we’re not going to take any cut from this,” Wen says about the gallery. 

The former storefront had, most recently, played host to the studio-gallery of Olivié Ponce, an optimistic Mexican artist fond of the phrase “Do You Like Art?,” which he would print out on a sandwich board to invite in passersby when it would regularly open its door for Bushwick Open Galleries. 

Like Ponce, the trio behind xxxiii are also using the gallery as a chance to showcase some of their own work, which makes up around half of “DAY | DREAM.” But the concept is perhaps best evoked by the first work in the show, a small, impressionist canvas by Hank Ehrenfried, another Pratt grad. Titled “April 5, 2020 7:39am,” the subject is fitfully fighting off something so ordinary as waking up. Who can relate?

“What sets us apart from a white cube gallery is this grassroots effort, we’re not going to take any cut from this,” Wen says. The building management is taking its own 20% cut but Perez says that “we advise the artist to tack on the extra 20%” to the list price. The concept has its own kind of quaint neoliberal appeal; Bianca Fortis, a freelance writer doing publicity for the show, called it “a collaboration, of sorts, by stakeholders who want to see Bushwick thrive again.”

Some of the works aren’t going to be directly sold to passerby either: those interested in Chantal Feitosa’s “Imposter Syndrome is The Feeling I Get To Replace My Failed Attempts At Escapism” and EJ Jureller’s “Booty Call” will have to contact the artists directly as “the artists don’t want to just sell outright, they want to vet,” Perez says. A collage of ripped up magazine paper on cardboard, “Booty Call” is one of the show’s more mesmerizing works, a topography of intimacy and alienation that jilts the show’s dreamscape into a nightmare.

A Brooklyn native who now teaches wheel throwing at a studio in Prospect Heights, Wen’s work centers the second room in the show — a neighboring apartment that the building had included in the deal and which is themed around the world of dreaming, as opposed to waking. “Resistance” (2020),  the most elaborate of the three clay sculptures Wen has in the show, depicts a woman flooding a room below elegantly detailed and crumbling walls. Wen says the three pieces, like many in the room, were inspired by dreams. 

R–L, the xxxiii crew: Bryan Cabrera Perez, Michelle Wen, M. Sawyer Ballance. (Andrew Karpan)

“It was more of a political thing,” Wen said. “In this dream, it’s a political resistance protest happening in Mexico — this is all-made up in my dream — and that’s the reason why there’s all these cracks in the wall is because the protesters are throwing stones,” she says. Fittingly, the pieces are situated on gravel. In another one, the elegiac “Savior,” an elevator sits on top a pile of chalk, held up by a series of columns, a dreamscape whose subdued elegance evokes the mute, desolate assemblages of de Chirico, a popular reference point for recent art school grads.  

“These dreamscapes are crumbling and, often, [show] mismatched realities with almost historical, subconscious motifs. Spaces that I might not have been in but that always come up over and over again in my dreams,” Wen says. In some of her paintings, displayed nearby, more motifs appear: windows overlooking geometric abstractions; stairwells climbing nowhere in particular; an empty, colorful bathroom in small painting called “Bowie.”

The gallery’s future is less certain and Ballance confesses that there are no arrangements yet to keep using the space beyond the end of the month. But the trio is hopeful that xxxiii will live on. 

“The gallery will still exist at the end of the month,” Ballance says, “we’re really happy with the name.”  

“DAY | DREAM” will be on display at the xxxiii Gallery gallery at 10 Cypress Avenue until the end of April. Viewing times are Wednesdays-Friday from 3-7pm and 12-6pm on weekends. Catch updates at the gallery’s Instagram

Top photo credit: Andrew Karpan

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