My friend Kyle is a musician, an artist, a designer, and now a gallery owner. There’s nothing like motivated friends to get your ass moving back to that magazine you planned on making …
Signal Gallery in Brooklyn is the conception of three ambitious 20-somethings who decided to try and help facilitate a venue from which their friends and fellow artists could share and discuss their work. It’s been a year and with eight exhibitions already behind them and another opening this evening, I was able to snag them for five minutes to discuss how things are going.
Tell me about yourselves. What projects are you involved with outside of the gallery?
The gallery is run by three of us: Kyle Jacques, Alexander Johns, and Mckenzie Ursch. We each have jobs and various side projects going, which at times cross over into the gallery (when things are working right). Kyle does a wide assortment of freelance design work under the moniker The Holy Holy. Alex is an editor at a small artbook publisher called Gregory R. Miller & Co., where he oversees the production of artist monographs (most recently Kara Walker: Dust Jackets for the Niggerati and Sarah Sze: Triple Point). The GRM offices are actually run out of Signal, and Greg has been a friend and supporter since the start. Kenzie is a student and art handler, but primarily operates as a kind of spiritual sherpa.
How did Signal come about?
K: Alex and I were introduced by Mckenzie, who at the time was on hiatus living in Washington. We were both roughly familiar with the idea that each other had a studio practice, and our vibes were sympathetic enough that it made sense to go in together on a studio. Somewhere along the line it became clear that we were happier helping other artists to realize their visions, and we felt maybe we could do so in a way that we didn’t see being done around Brooklyn. After a few months of searching we finally found this warehouse, very serendipitously. It was totally raw; it had been a musky wholesale rug storage space for the previous 20 years. The idea has been shaped a lot by the process of renovating and maintaining the warehouse: the physical labor involved has a kind of clarifying effect. Putting up drywall, mopping, and painting a space this large provided a lot of time for reflection.
What is the criteria for the work you show?
A: There’s no rubric or anything. Hopefully it inspires us, excites us. We set out to stage the shows we want to see. We focus on solo exhibitions, large-scale works, installation, and presenting things in a clear, focused manner. I think other people want to see that as well. Kind of trying to bridge the DIA and commercial worlds without capitulating to either. Staging a show can be physically and emotionally exhausting, but potentially replenishing as well. Some of the time there’s going to be nothing for sale. So the work should be worth that act of devotion, which is a pretty abstract criteria. The space makes its own demands as well; there’s plenty of art that we like but that just wouldn’t work in a big, somewhat raw, warehouse.
What’s the neighborhood like?
We’re on a particularly industrial stretch of Johnson Avenue in Bushwick; we’re joined by metal shops, HVAC fabricators, stone suppliers and the like. We’ve come to have good relationships with some of our neighbors, and have found a few opportunities to collaborate with some of them.
How often do you sleep there?
K: Geez, I guess it’s more like how often don’t we sleep here? Since we all have other jobs to pay the bills, this gets all our extra time. We have a few hammocks and couches that see a lot of use.
Which artists do you gravitate towards?
A: Our contemporary tastes are pretty wide-ranging, but something we all connect on is that we’re suckers for that DIA kind of stuff. Who isn’t? At the Art Book Fair this year I was going through a bin of Matthew Higgs’s old books, and found a great book on the Saatchi collection’s minimalist holdings that we’ve all been drooling over: Sandbeck, Lewitt, Agnes Martin, Andre, McCracken, Judd, Hesse. The reproductions are fantastic. Obviously that connects a little bit with our gallery as a place to showcase art but also as a space that’s been designed. Art can be funny too. A sense of humor is crucial. I’d like to plug UBU Gallery, which is right under the Queens-borough bridge and is an amazing gallery that shows strictly 20th-century European surrealist artists’ works and ephemera and is really worth visiting. Also, I volunteer occasionally at La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s Dream House and I cannot enough recommend a visit if you haven’t been.
Which 5 artists should we look out for and why?
1. Bennet Schlesinger is a good friend of ours, and a smart and gifted artist who works in a wide variety of mediums. His first show here – the first show here – was a large-scale sculptural installation called “Atlas.” That definitely helped to set a tone for us. His practice is more about the particular lens through which he views things and less tied to any particular medium or style. And he’s a total dreamboat. What is it with dreamy artists?
2. Anna K Miller did another large-scale installation here: semi-translucent cheesecloth curtains that were frozen into rippling folds, sectioning off the gallery floor to ceiling, turning the place into a ghostly sort of hedge maze. This still sticks with me. It was a departure from her mostly sculptural, object-based work, using a lot of honey, canvas, beeswax, and wood. At the core of her practice is a relationship to material that gets meaningfully expressed in all sorts of ways. She’s been bridging out into performance lately. I’m excited to see how that develops.
3. Reid Strelow is a highly skilled woodworker, and his practice sees him applying some occasionally profound conceptual frameworks to construct intricate and seductive objects. One of the pieces of his that we showed was a massive, slatted, wooden wheel built into a frame with a rolling pin beneath. The whole thing was a printing press taking the imprint of the wheel’s slats onto a 30-foot long print. His work is a great example of the sometimes staggering results of combining rigorous formal expertise with play. I guess that’s a bit of what attracts us to those Modernist figures right? Okay maybe I’m getting long-winded …
4. Greem Jellyfish is an artist/work of art in herself. She’s pretty tireless in her multi-disciplinary efforts and support of the art community around here. Musical, sculptural, literary, curatorial, she’s got her tentacles in everything.
5. John Bianchi‘s work is a revelation. Come and see his show!