Family Values


Left: Cinders co-owner Sto. Right: Artist Brian Bibbo.

The crowd at the tumbledown space on the Williamsburg rim that houses Cinders—storefront gallery, one-stop shop for every variety of DIY geegaw, and social hub for Brooklyn artists—was in high spirits on Friday night. In fact, good cheer was a stated aim of “The Family Room,” a two-part group show of twenty-seven artists from around the country. Small works were hung densely in the eponymous room, a lavish if largely two-dimensional simulacrum of domestic leisure with a clumsy crackling trompe l’oeil fireplace, trinket mantle, and overstuffed love seat. The show’s celebration of home comforts was scheduled to straddle the turn of the year, its glittering potential and immediate aftermath. Here are “the seeds of a New Year planted and promising,” read the optimistic (and impressionistic) press release.

It was a party geared toward creators, specifically those on the younger end of the scale, and the histories and connections between those present were unfathomably convoluted, focused on covert cultural exchange conducted through secret agreements, oddball care packages, and coded email messages. Seemingly every limb on this family tree has a fable explaining its existence. Owners Kelie Bowman and Sto quickly explained that the gallery is called Cinders because Bowman’s house burned down while they went on a ten-minute beer run during a celebration of their newly signed lease. When I spoke to avid supporter Patrick May, one of the founders of the older, storied (and now dormant) Open Ground Gallery on nearby Grand Street, he added further anecdotal wallop. “Sto put on a great show in my space a few years ago. He brought a live rooster in for the opening, and it was such a hit that they couldn’t kill it afterward. It lived with them for a year.”

Left: Cinders co-owner Kelie Bowman. Right: Artist Patrick May.

Much of the work on view was plainly derivative or tributary. On this particular evening it was hard to miss the nuances of technique and mood that Chris Johanson, Brian Calvin, Brian Chippendale, Tom Friedman, Marcel Dzama, and Jim Houser have popularized recently. But idolatry is a happy symptom of youth, much like a style––also prevalent here––that’s baldly emotional or confessional. An advantage to this simple candor is that there’s no leader and no star of the group: Marquee names like Phil Elverum (the Anacortes, WA, guru best known as The Microphones) and Ginger Takahashi (of cult journal LTTR) make work that is more polished, but no more important, than anything else on the walls. Speaking with Brian Bibbo, whose pixelated portrait formed from gridded, differently-puffed-upon cigarette filters was a popular talking point at the opening, I learned of another pixelated work in progress, in which pigments were created by orally mixing different flavors of chewing gum. Asked the subject, Bibbo said, chewing, “a set of teeth,” and after a pause, let out a giggle as if newly struck by the literalness of his endeavor. “When it comes to my work I like to keep it so that I can understand it.” The crowd surrounding us roared affectionately. Bibbo’s creation reflected the general mood, which was all about openness and ideas. Folks not only talked, they listened!—and ideas ricocheted about the place without any loss of momentum.

Sto opened up to me as I made for the door. “It seemed so hard to get anything done through the mainstream channels, to show and to tour and for creative tokens to be exchanged. I just figured that I knew a lot of people who felt the same way as me, and that we could create an alternative. I grew up in DC, with the Dischord Records community, thinking about Ian Mackaye [the label’s founder and the accidental architect of the straight edge movement], and it seemed so easy and obvious to make a parallel world.” I heard a fair amount of chest-thumping that evening, but this boast took me by surprise. Not without legs, this analogy—and a strong model to live by. Sto contended that the alternative music scene of the ’80s prevailed because it was able to grow stronger and hammer out its working methods without resistance or pressure from more established outlets. It wasn’t interested in what was happening where the money was, because the insecurity and jealousy caused by that kind of thinking would weaken its ideals. Outside, two bike messenger types engaged in an elaborate secret handshake. “So dude, I got a job at Pace Wil-dun-steen,” said one to the other. Unsure of what to say, dude exhaled an arid “Wow” in response. But that was all I heard of Chelsea. The names hoisted high tonight were New Image Art in LA, Lump Gallery in Raleigh, and Space 1026 in Philadelphia. More-than-possible dreams, and worthwhile ones. “They look happy, and if they look happy things are going well,” May said, warmly. “The most I can honestly say about my space is that we threw good parties for five years.”

Left: Two revelers at the opening reception of “The Family Room.” Right: Artists David McQueen and George Ferrandi.