On Sunday, Nov. 21, DorDor Gallery – located at 45 Irving Ave. – closed its doors, marking an end to a tumultuous tenure in one of Brooklyn’s premier art districts.
Since the return of in-person public interaction, DorDor has hosted numerous events, becoming a hive of artistic activity and activism. While some feel disappointment with the closure, the gallery’s curator and co-owner, Ekaterina Ovodova, is partnering with Bushwick-based entrepreneur El-Hadj Dieng to launch a new art commerce platform she believes is consistent with the gallery’s intentions.
“The initial goal for us was bringing artists from abroad, starting with Russian people,” said Ovodova. This goal soon proved impossible to achieve, as the Bushwick gallery opened on March 5, 2020, just two weeks before the state-wide shutdown was announced in response to the developing coronavirus pandemic, shuttering the gallery’s freshly decaled glass doors.
The Bushwick gallery’s opening came on the heels of a controversial closure of DorDor Gallery’s Moscow location, opened by Russian artist Ilya Fedorov in 2019. According to those who know Fedorov, the event was held on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s birthday, when the gallery featured political paintings of the Russian president and depicted the brutal tactics authorities used in suppressing anti-government protests. In response, police raided the gallery during the event and forced its closure.
According to Ovodova, it was during the months of lockdown in 2020 – when DorDor’s Bushwick location struggled to meet its rent as it was unable to sell artwork and had yet to establish a large following to support it – that she decided to become an investor in the space and took an active role in its operation.
Ovodova, a business analyst with an education in mathematics from Moscow State University, had no experience managing a gallery. Upon reopening, the gallery’s intention to host the works of visiting Russian artists was still unviable due to international travel restrictions, leading Ovodova to pivot to supporting local artists.
“I was taking a 20 percent commission and was repairing the walls every few weeks from the nails that I was frequently hammering in to hang the works, which many artists found surprising” said Ovodova, referring to the surprise at how eager she was to accommodate their works on her walls.
According to The Art Newspaper, galleries generally take around 50 percent of the sale, putting DorDor commission rates well below industry standard. This commitment to artist support made DorDor unique, according to Ovodova, but the lack of substantial revenue, high rent prices, and the absence of Russian artists coming to the Brooklyn location as intended led to the decision to cease operations and abandon the space.
“We were truly putting in all our money to help artists . . . we were not really doing business,” said Ovodova.
In the months before the closure, however, Ovodova met El-Hadj Dieng, a Brooklyn-born Boston College graduate who, after becoming frustrated with the limits placed on artists by popular social media applications, began developing the app All Hail Art, or AHA. According to Dieng, the app combines the social media elements and interface of TikTok with the low commission rates of digital commerce platforms like Etsy.
“I’m an artist that’s always found it pretty hard to grow a lot of the traditional growth platforms,” said Dieng. “I would come to DorDor over the summer and interact with this larger group of artists and found the problems we’re facing are really all the same.”
While continuing to host regular events at DorDor, Ovodova and Dieng began using the gallery as a testing site for understanding how a digital platform could address art commerce issues facing emerging artists, not just in Brooklyn but across the world. One of the aspects of accomplishing this, said Ovodova and Dieng, is that the company will give away shares to 50,000 onboarded creators, allowing members of the site to determine the direction of the platform democratically.
According to Dieng, the platform has an extensive roster of advisors, including former Google employees, a Ph.D. candidate from MIT and Philip Greenwald, former associate technology director at Harvard Innovation Labs.
While the prospect of the apps is exciting for Ovodova and Dieng, some artists will miss the freedom the gallery afforded the community.
“I feel upset about the closure, but not sad,” said Anastasia Samahovetc, a Bushwick-based Belarusian painter, intersex activist and personal friend of Fedorov, who she met in Russia. She believes that the space was important to the artistic community in Bushwick, but is hopeful there will be spaces like it again for artists both local and abroad.
Samahovetc held an exhibit at DorDor between August 27 and September 8 called Identity: Intersex Talks about Gender.
While the location at 45 Irving Ave. is indefinitely closed, owners of the gallery are still discussing the possibility of eventually reopening elsewhere in Brooklyn. Whether that will occur, according to Ovodova, remains to be seen.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Philip Greenwald’s name and title. A correction was made at 4:23 p.m. on Nov. 29.
All images courtesy of Ekaterina Ovodova.
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