We might be seeing some serious changes to the Bushwick/Ridgewood gallery landscape in the coming months. While the news has typically been about new galleries moving in, this most recent change will be a huge blow to the local art scene. We have just learned from a number of tenant sources that David Steinberg, the landlord at the 17-17 Troutman building, will no longer be allowing galleries to operate in his building. This surprising news has led the gallery residence of the building being forced to choose if they will quietly move out or fight the landlord’s decision, leaving the future of this building and the galleries in a very tenuous position.
17-17 Troutman building is currently home to six promising galleries- primarily artist run cooperatives: Parallel Art Space, Harbor Gallery, Regina Rex Gallery, Bull and Ram, Ortega Y Gasset Projects and Underdonk. Similarly to 56 Bogart Building off of Morgan Avenue, the 17-17 Troutman building (located just on the Bushwick Ridgewood border) has become a stronghold of the Bushwick-Ridgewood art scene and a proven hub to a large number of promising galleries that have been an integral part of transforming the neighborhood’s art scene. After several months of trying to negotiate and reason with the building’s landlord after complaints about the galleries being a threat to the building’s security, the galleries have all been given notice that either they must cease operating as galleries immediately and many have been given notice that their leases will not be renewed.
Regina Rex Gallery will be one of the first to leave; after the end of their most recent exhibition yesterday, they will be closing up shop and looking for a new location, a member of the artist-run cooperative told Bushwick Daily. While they are unsure of where they will end up, the gallery has considered leasing a space in the Lower East Side. Other galleries in the building are still open for now, but have also received notice that their leases will not be renewed.
The building has been the home to these artist-run spaces for several years, and had only become more populated with galleries within the last couple. Longstanding spaces like Regina Rex and Parallel Art Space were joined by newcomers Harbor Gallery, Bull and Ram, Ortega Y Gasset Projects, and most recently Underdonk Gallery, and together had become a hub for galleries in the area. Spurred by complaints by the landlord that the galleries’ openings were drawing too many people to the building and were creating a security issue, the galleries repeatedly tried to compromise with Mr. Steinberg. The galleries worked together to consolidate their openings to one evening, and even posted security at the entrances to the building, but this has done little to placate Mr. Steinberg, and ultimately he still maintains that he no longer wishes to allow tenants to operate as galleries.
“I feel like it’s a bad situation but I really hope something positive comes out of it,” said Alta Buden, an artist and one of the directors of Harbor Gallery in the building. They will be leaving the building in June, along with Ortega Y Gasset Projects. Harbor Gallery’s lease officially ended in December, but they had been allowed to remain on a month to month lease until Mr. Steinberg ultimately gave them notice that they would have to vacate in June. Leeza Meksin of Ortega Y Gasset said that they too tried to compromise with Mr. Steinberg as well, with no results and will also be moving out in June, hoping to relocate and resume operations in September. Both galleries plan to stay in Bushwick.
While Harbor, Regina Rex and Ortega Y Gasset were all given notice that they would not be able to renew their leases if they planned to use the space as a gallery, Parallel Art Space’s situation is much different, as they are still finishing out a three-year lease that is not up until early 2015. When I spoke to Enrico Gomez and Rob de Oude from Parallel, they told me that they received an email last week from Mr. Steinberg officially notifying them that they must cease using their space as a gallery. Mr. Gomez and Mr. de Oude said that Mr. Steinberg was fully aware of their intentions to use the space as an artist studio as well as an artist-run gallery when they signed the lease, and even helped them convert the space to be usable as a gallery. “We have maintained the studio space and artist-run art space as it was two years ago,” Mr. Gomez explained yesterday. Now that Mr. Steinberg has changed his mind, Mr. Gomez feel that the landlord has an obligation to hold up to his end of the bargain, until their lease is up. “That’s why you have contracts,” he explains. Mr. Gomez and Mr. de Oude told Bushwick Daily that they have hired legal counsel to formulate an official response, but as of now, Mr. Steinberg is still holding firm.
Why the sudden shift by the building’s management? Most of the galleries had maintained positive relations with Mr. Steinberg from the beginning, even citing his strong support of their operations. What started last fall as a complaint about security reached a head in March, when many of the galleries were first notified to cease gallery operations. Most tenants feel that openings were never an issue, and had never led to any sort of theft or other problems. There are speculations by some people in the building that this is an excuse that Mr. Steinberg is using, and rather he is worried about drawing too much attention to the building which has had a history of trouble. One tenant told me that she thinks that Mr. Steinberg has done nothing to help make the building sustainable, and he is worried that the success of the galleries in the space will draw scrutiny to the management of the building. We tried to reach out to Mr. Steinberg for comment, but the phone listed for his business, Troutman Business Zone LLC, did not go through.
The landscape of the Bushwick art scene will be transformed dramatically with the loss of this building as a gallery center, but the consensus seems to be that this is the start of something exciting. While there has been talk of some of the 17-17 Troutman galleries working together to find another space to house multiple galleries, at the same time there is also the feeling that each space will go its own direction. “Each gallery has its own priorities,” Ms. Buden explained, although she also said that she hoped to have future collaborations with the others in the future. Despite Parallel Art Space’s position to fight Mr. Steinberg, most of the galleries are collectively deciding not to fight, and are looking for gallery space elsewhere. “This building will be less interesting,” Mr. Gomez said of the galleries leaving. Even if they were to work out an arrangement with the landlord through the end of their lease, Parallel would be the only gallery in the building.
While the camaraderie and zeitgeist of the building will be impossible to recreate, the spirit of the place already seems tainted. As unfortunate a loss as this is, all the galleries seem determined to move forward to exciting new endeavors with renewed energy.
Keep supporting the galleries for their final exhibitions! Harbor Gallery will be opening a new exhibition this Saturday, May 17, Parallel opens on Saturday May 24th, and Ortega Y Gasset will be having a performance-based show Friday May 30, in line with Bushwick Open Studios. All of the galleries will still be open and running during BOS as well.