“This gallery is my baby,” explained Christopher Stout, founder of the Bushwick Art Crit Group. This fall, Stout will host his inaugural exhibition as a gallery owner at his new space, the first of several anticipated art institutions inside an East Williamsburg warehouse space. BACG is “a not-for-profit community resource for everybody,” Stout explained. “But it felt like it was increasingly challenging– in a negative way– to make programming that was about everyone.” In order to host exhibitions that relate to specific subjects that Stout is more personally invested in, without having to worry about “alienating everyone else,” he said, “it really needed to be separate and become its own thing.”
As a for-profit institution, the gallery will be a completely different beast. “It’s about these 11 artists, it’s about concentrating on solo exhibitions, and doing a gallery that looks and feels and runs its program with the same high-touch, white-box way it’s done in Chelsea,” he explained.
The Christopher Stout Gallery might be opening its doors in East Williamsburg, but the area still seems spiritually close enough to the Bushwick art scene that it maybe won’t seem too far. Though the relative distance actually might be a good thing since Stout is set on keeping the gallery and BACG apart. “At least for now,” BACG will continue to meet at Brooklyn Fire Proof. “I have two children now,” Stout laughed.
While living in San Francisco, Stout worked as the visual program director at Blue Room Gallery, so opening a gallery of his own is a natural next step. “I’ve always kicked it around in the back of my mind,” he explained. But it was actually the work he did for BACG’s booth at Miami Art Basel last winter that kickstarted his interest in having a gallery of his own. “Because if you’re going to open a gallery you have to think, ‘Am I willing to go bankrupt for this work? Am I willing to sacrifice everything for these artists?'”
Stout is an artist himself, so we wondered why take on yet another time consuming project that will take time away from his own work? Why put more effort into the work of other artists?
“I love my work, I’m an artist first and foremost,” he explained. “But subversive and difficult art is the work that I admire the most and feel passionate about.” And while he’d attempted to create pieces that could be described as “subversive,” he recognized his limitations.
“I came to a very distinct conclusion that work I made that might fall into those categories, did not pack muster and I wasn’t doing anything that added to the conversation,” he recalled. “So for me, it’s sort of a sociopolitical exercise but it’s also fostering something and making sure that something I can’t do myself through my own creative faculties, is protected and is given a voice and celebrated.”
Stout has demonstrated this same concern in his work for BACG as well. When we last spoke, he was defending BACG’s programming against accusations of exclusivity and upholding what one Bushwick-born artist, Anthony Rosado, described to us as “predominantly white space.” During a panel discussion at Bushwick Open Studios, Rosado had portrayed BACG as an organization that was not sensitive to the needs of the existing community. Following BOS, the art crit group met for a special “Native Bushwick” meeting where the lineup of artists consisted entirely of people born in the neighborhood.
The controversy was frustrating for Stout, who told us after the special meeting, “No one likes to feel like you are part of the problem, especially when you are working so hard to bring good into the world.” During the crit group meeting Stout told the crowd that his relationship with Rosado and the Native Bushwick artists would continue and they promised they would collaborate again in the near future.
The new art gallery will give Stout the opportunity to make good on that promise. “We’re going to do a Native Bushwick pop-up during Bushwick Open Studios next year because Open Studios is the time of year that the native community feels the least represented,” he explained. “It’s important for my gallery to take everything out and do a very specific native presentation, but give it the white-box treatment. It’s one of all kinds of amazing things we’ll do.”
Much like the programming at BACG, the exhibitions at Christopher Stout Gallery will spotlight “subversive” work. Materially speaking, the focus will be on performance work and video, with some secondary emphasis on sculpture and painting. “I wouldn’t call it forward-facing specifically, because those things are not new exactly,” Stout explained. “But in terms of gallery focus, we’re something of a minority.”
And while he admitted that “‘subversive’ has several different connotations,” the gallery will be exploring many different threads. Stout rattled off a long list of artists already lined up for solo shows whose output explore subjects ranging from feminist to queer identities, while others have anti-capitalist motifs.
Kelsey Shwetz, who paints nudes from the perspective of the female gaze (BACG included one at Art Basel last year) is lined up for a show at the gallery. “The work is lush, hyper-sexual, and exotic,” Stout said, recalling the painting they brought to Miami. “It was this huge, naked woman surrounded by orchids with menstrual blood down to her knees.”
Painter Linda Griggs will have a show in November called “The First Time Is Not Like Porn,” which will include “large paintings and drawings that parallel narratives of human sexuality (specifically losing one’s virginity)” alongside myths the porn industry perpetuates.
Work by performance artists Josh Kil (who was involved with Vector Gallery) and Brian Whiteley (whose work Stout described as “irreverent” art that “binds together things that are offensive, odd, and weird” while using elements of fun “to sort of dare people to like things they know they shouldn’t”) will also be on display.
The list goes on with Andrew Cornell Robinson (described by Stout as “a challenger of authority and systems such as corporations, government and is very much obsessed with exposing the plight of lower middle classes”), Eric Gottshall, Vincent Tiley, Phoenix Lindsey-Hall (last seen raking in $10,000 for the creation shown in the video up top), and more.
Needless to say, Stout has done his homework. The very first show, opening on October 2, “Shepard,” will confront a symbol of hate and anti-gay violence: a 14-foot replica of the fence Matthew Shepard was chained to while his assailants tortured him to death.
“It’s a very somber show,” Stout explained. “New York tends to show very serious work in the fall and it seems like a very important way but also a very different way to talk about some of the issues we’re interested in exploring.”
As far as the space itself is concerned, Stout is moving into the building that Art Helix (“one of the core tenants”) calls home. Stout described the gallery’s director, Peter Hopkins as a “behind-the-scenes leader in Bushwick for the better part of a decade,” and hinted that Hopkins has big plans for the rest of warehouse.
Stout declined to give away too many details, but said that various arts organizations located within the building are coordinating to create a cohesive space of sorts which will premiere sometime between late winter to early spring. “I’m really excited about our neighbors,” Stout said. “We all get to do something different, but [my gallery] gets to be the rowdy one.”
Since Stout has demonstrated his commitment to “subversive work,” we wondered if he would also be challenging the traditional white-walled gallery. “It’s actually the inverse,” he said. “Sometimes the challenge is that when people hear the word ‘subversive’ it can be thrown in with academic or student work, but there are so many artists who have made that their life’s passion. When I hear words like ‘youth’ or ’emerging,’ I literally vomit blood, because those kind of words are the enemy of what I’m trying to accomplish.”
Naturally, work created by marginalized people about experiences of oppression and art made with an anti-establishment bent risks marginalization as well. With that in mind, Stout says he’s consciously holding up the model of the white-box gallery. “To me, this gallery is a temple,” he said. “It’s very much about putting the work in a reverential environment so it can be respected, understood and embraced.”
Far from breaking down the white box and establishing a new model altogether, Stout said he wants his gallery, both in its existence and programming, to bring attention to his conviction that a certain kind of avant-garde art still exists in this city. “People decry of something lost to New York City– they say it’s all about rich people and condominiums and Chanel– but [this gallery] is more about us quietly raising our hands and saying, ‘Actually, this hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s still being done in New York, and it’s still being done in New York perhaps better than it’s ever been done before.'”