For the most part, Greenpoint artists fly under the radar, and they seem to prefer it that way. Walking along Franklin Avenue last night, a street I walk every day, I caught a glimpse of a painters studio I’d never seen before. It was bathed in red light, hidden inside an industrial building.
“Definitely my whole approach toward the art world is a little quieter,” explained Kim Brown, the owner of Greenpoint Hill, a brand new gallery/retail shop that just opened near the waterfront last week.
Greenpoint is one of the few places where it makes sense to have an art space that doesn’t necessarily run with the heavy-hitting gallery scene in places like Chelsea and the Lower East Side. “I have this idealistic vision of this place being both for artists and the people who just appreciate art and who aren’t necessarily collectors or part of the scene,” she explained.
It’s also a fitting situation for Brown, who began her career as a professional artist and then tabled her work to go to law school. After a decade of practicing law, she branched off and started her own firm which gave her the ability to get back into art making. Now, she splits her time “50/50” between art and law.
Brown has solidified her return to the arts with the opening of Greenpoint Hill, which functions both as a small gallery with rotating exhibitions and an artsy shop that offers “a curated collection of handmade objects, art and jewelry.”
My first thought after walking into the place was just how North Brooklyn it really is– white-washed walls and a look that’s both polished and DIY, with plenty of pastel-washed ceramics, animal sculptures, succulents encased in gorgeously glazed, delicate little avant-garde pots.
But on closer inspection, the art pieces here are like the deep cuts of that aesthetic that’s so widely beloved and imitated across the world. You won’t find and “boob pottery” here, but you will find sci-fi-inspired ceramics. And the gallery has thankfully declined to put a bird on it, and made way for lamb sculptures instead.
Since Brown is a ceramicist, the place is overwhelmingly dedicated to her medium and even includes some of the shop owner’s own pieces, which lean heavily toward “usable objects.” There are also prints, photographs, woven jewelry, and more on the way. “I’m looking for other sculptors and woodworkers and stuff,” she said. “The emphasis is on the quality and soulfulness of the work, rather than the medium. So some of it has a bit of a social message, there’s definitely a bit of a feminist element going on here.”
The vast majority of the work on view and up for sale right now just happens to come from Brooklyn-based artists. “Almost all of them are from Greenpoint,” Brown pointed out. Many of them are people she’s met through Clay Space, a shared workspace for ceramic artists located just a few blocks north of the gallery. “I like the idea of keeping it local,” she said. “There are so many talented people here.”
Brown should know. She’s lived in the neighborhood– right down the block from the gallery, in fact– for the last eight years. And Greenpoint is definitely her own little world, just a short walk south is her husband’s shop, Pentatonic Guitars (“Brookyn’s wildest guitar shop”).
As a longtime resident, she’s also well aware of the changes taking place, and she’s designed Greenpoint Hill accordingly. Brown aims to straddle a wide ranging customer base, from broke jokes like me to the fancy condo buyers moving in on the neighborhood: “I want to have a variety of price points, so we have $35 prints, but we also have some $800 sculptures and hopefully we’ll have a few more things that go a little bit higher.”
All too often, “affordable art” is something of a cruel joke. But when Brown says affordable art, she means it– each of the prints on view by illustrator Libby Vander Ploeg are priced at $35.
It’s a smart move since this part of Greenpoint is about to see some major growth in the coming years– signs of development and construction are everywhere in the neighborhood, with truck traffic clogging the streets by day, and some massive projects are edging toward completion. The expansion of the Brooklyn Greenway will eventually transform sleepy West Street into a busy boulevard, and Greenpoint Landing will add around 10,000 new residents.
“I don’t want to exclude anybody,” Brown said. “Whether it’s the old timers or the newcomers, as long as they connect with the work.”
Even the local feral cats are already feeling the pressure, so further displacement can’t be far off for the art community which relies on reasonably priced and relatively roomy studio space to support emerging artists, and even mid-career ones. But Brown seems optimistic about the future of art in Greenpoint.
“To my mind, I don’t know if it’s a totally cohesive scene yet, but it is in transition. There has been a more of a push to make it more like Bushwick– we had Greenpoint Open Studios last spring,” she said. “There are so many different kinds of artists here–there are the young artists and the ones who have been here for a long time, but I think there’s enough room for everyone.”
Greenpoint Hill is located at 100 Freeman Street. This weekend, Friday October 28 at 6 pm to 9 pm, the gallery will participate in Norte Maar’s Beat Nite Greenpoint (a collaboration with Greenpoint Gallery Night).