Apostrophe lies in a patch of Bushwick otherwise punctuated mostly by apartment buildings and bodegas. The precise definition of the space, which draws its name from the Frank Zappa album, varies with time of day. Tonight at 9 p.m. it’ll be a performance venue, as the bands Snow Wite, Nu Depth, and Fluct take the basement stage. On Thursday it’ll be an art gallery, as a recent exhibit of photos, “Villain People,” comes to a close. Usually it’s a living space and occasionally it’s a barber shop.
Owners Ki Smith, 21, and his brother Sei Smith, 23, grew up on Second Ave and Bowery. While the two attended Rudolf Steiner private high school, they were known for parties they threw when their parents were out of town — Ki hired bouncers and a DJ while Sei set out distributing fliers.
“Sei would meet people on the street and just bring them in,” remembers Lexi Quint, 21, an old friend of the Smiths. “Ki seemed to plan everything from there.”
One such event was thrown while the Smith’s childhood home was under construction. They labeled it a “Hoose” party, and pulled in over $1,000 in just one night. The next morning, Ki “woke up, smoked a spliff, and decided to fly to Barcelona,” where he ended up living and working in the artist residency Studio P52.
The brothers, who currently live in the gallery, are a fascinating pair. “We’re the perfect complement to one another,” says Ki. “Sei has big ideas, and I put them in perspective.”
“Hoose” parties (no relation to Hose parties) have become regular events at Apostrophe, but there are more artistic influences apparent here, too. The Smiths’ grandparents came to the States in the 1950s to make a living in the art world, and their mother continues to work as an artist. “The thing is,” Ki says, explaining his initial idea for Apostrophe, “We see people making money from art as very normal.”
At the Art Institute of Chicago, Sei caught a glimpse of the gallery scene he and his brother were hoping to create. “Everything was a bit more small and insular down there,” he says. “When I first saw apartment galleries listed with bigger spaces, I knew we could pull this off.”
By the time they signed the lease at 440 Irving Avenue, the brothers were confident they would be successful. “I found the building, and Sei said he didn’t care where we wound up,” Ki says. “He knew the physical space didn’t matter as much as what we planned to fill it with.”
For the past month, a batch of pieces photographed by 25-year-old Kaitlin Parry (aka Shoot People) and illustrated by 21-year-old Max Hodgson has hung on the white walls. The work has a distinctly haunting tone: one portrait of a young man — yelling, eyes closed, skateboard held up menacingly — has been enhanced with the addition of tentacles spilling out of his mouth.
One look at what Parry describes as these “surreal” works and you’d think she and Max have collaborated for years, but they only recently met through Ki. “I’m always helping people make connections with others,” he said at the opening of the “Villain People” exhibit, mentioning a hip-hop artist and video producer, among others.
Some of the Smiths’ other attempts at inspiration are decidedly less brilliant, but maybe that’s not the point. A skinny, blonde, who identified herself as AJ Burkie, saddled up to Sei. “He’s training me to be a rapper,” the 18-year-old grinned from beneath the Snapback hat, which she had paired with a lacy white dress.
“Yeah,” nodded Sei, stroking his dream catcher necklace, “She walked in one day, and I said, ‘You look like a rapper.’”
That Saturday, an actual rapper, Salomon Faye, took the basement stage for a musical “Extravaganza,” as Ki had branded the evening.”Shout out to the East Coast,” he yelled. “If you feel that shit, make some fucking noise.” Both he and his opening act, singer-pianist Gabriel Garzon-Montano, went to high school with the Smiths.
Upstairs, as the “15 hour” event raged on, Ki ran the bar, wearing a kimono. A trio of bouncers charged $10 at the door, but it seemed like Ki and Sei would make most of their money off of mixed drinks that evening, since almost everyone had one in hand.
The Smiths’ childhood friends mingled with out-of-towners, though everybody seemed to know somebody. Blaine Morris, 20, had come from Secaucus to see a friend perform. Noah Tavlin, 21, had ventured from Hoboken for the same reason. And for every Jerseyite, there was a born-and-raised New Yorker like Gabriel, Salomon, and Lexi, who grew up down the block from Ki and Sei.
Midway through the evening, a six-foot papier-mâché sculpture was carted in the front door. Asked about its origin, Ki merely shrugged. The artist, Alana Dee Haynes, 21, responded with a similar physical representation of apathy when asked how she knew the Smiths: “Friends of friends.”
While she explained her work, Ryan Bock interrupted Haynes to hand her a brown paper bag with two giant lashy eyes drawn on top. “It’s for my blog,” he explained, passing out the rest of his stack. “It’s called Bashful Bags.”
Suddenly, a group of nearly thirty people had appeared and agreed to pull bags over their heads. Daniel Leinweber, a photographer who likes to be called Razberry, crouched by Sei’s collection of painted shoes (which has been dubbed part of “Apostrophe’s clothing line”) to snap a photo of the now anonymous group. He turned to Ryan: “I’ll send this to you later, dude.”
Every pocket of floor was filled with “inspired introductions,” as Ki calls them. “The crowd comes from so many different demographics and underground scenes, that the parties don’t seem incestual,” he said. “You’re always going to meet someone at Apostrophe.”
“It’s all people who know each other from their past lives,” said Laura Paganucci, 21, sitting cross-legged under a one of the “Villain People” pieces. “Everyone is coming together and creating something incredible.”
And Ki and Sei are in talks to expand all that…in one way or another. “We might buy the building, we might buy a movie theater,” says Sei. “My plan is, I want to buy an airplane.”
In the meantime, the aforementioned barbershop has seen some minor success — Ki’s friend Jose-Luis Gorris used to cut hair, and wanted to continue doing so when he left the salon and went into sales.
“I don’t mind a slice of the profits, just for keeping some scissors around,” Ki says. “Like everything else around here, it’s easy, never stressful.”
A gallery, a club, an apartment, and a barbershop form a collection of spaces, that, as Ki says, “can’t help but overlap.” If it seems like Apostrophe is too many things, perhaps Sei’s abstract description of 440 Irving Ave is best: “It’s a galaxy…or it’s a solar system and the bands and the artists are the planets. The world is the universe.” He pauses. “Actually, the universe is still the universe.”