If a defunct bodega seems an unusual space for a curated art show, how about the wall outside a still-functioning deli? ANON (A Number of Names), the newest unorthodox art venue to materialize on Avenue C, shuns interiors entirely in favor of a door-sized vertical in the heart of Alphabet City.
“I’m trying to step away from the word ‘gallery,’” says ANON’s founder and director Jon-Paul Rodriguez (herewith known as JP), as we stand contemplating the current exhibition in the sweltering late-summer sun. “Because of the sorts of expectations that word raises…I’d call it maybe a ‘street exhibition space,’ rather.”
ANON is JP’s baby—although his fiancé lends a hand as co-curator of the two-month-old project. As it’s still in its infancy, JP acknowledges that the space is “bound to evolve” over time, but the through-line will remain a mixture of documentary and fine art that aims to “show the motion and language of the city through photography and the physical space.”
The current exhibition is a single, large black-and-white photograph by Leonaldo Fernandez. The piece is entitled “Middle Class Sand Castles,” and features a desolate line of trashcans on a nondescript beach. To JP, the simple, evocative image represents “the American Dream, and how you can’t get it—it’s false.”
JP hopes that some of the significance of the art he presents will stick with the casual passerby. “I wanted to make photography more accessible,” he explains. “Even for me, a white wall gallery is kind of intimidating.”
Growing up on the Lower East Side, JP was taking photos and doing graffiti from the age of 14. He went on to study fine arts at FIT and now works as an art director for a Soho clothing store.
He continued to pursue photography throughout, and tried his hand at curation. In 2007, he started Photodrifting, a photography collective, which grew from a small circle of friends to some 60 contributors. He’s held shows once a year since then, and in May 2013 curated a group show called Mourning Song in The Stand—a pop-up gallery on the corner of Avenue C and East Seventh.
Lori Der Hagopia, The Stand’s director, was clearly impressed. And though her gallery mostly shows outsider art, Der Hagopia offered JP a permanent spot on one of The Stand’s external walls. Thus, ANON was born.
The space has shows lined up for the rest of the year—and each new exhibition will be celebrated with an opening on the first Friday of every month. The next photographer has plans for a show that, JP says, “might shut us down.”
She Was Asking For It, a series of works envisaged by photographer (and ANON curator, and—it just so happens—JP’s fiancé) Naya Urena specifically for this space, will deal with issues of rape and sexual harassment. “I can’t wait to put it up and see what happens,” JP says, smiling.
He’s not courting controversy for the hell of it, though, and community is immensely important to him. He’s especially impressed with the vibe on ANON’s block—where you get the sense, he says, that “a lot of people have been living here for a long time.”
Although he himself now lives in Bushwick, JP feels no qualms about leaping from the Brooklyn bandwagon. In fact, he’d rather curate shows in his old neighborhood than anywhere else. “I’ll forever be a Manhattan kid,” he says. “I have a sense of pride of being from here. And I guess there’s not a lot of people who can say that now.”
He’s also just stoked to be doing what he loves. “I think that’s what life’s about,” he says. “I’m easily bored with the day-to-day, so it’s nice to have something to channel my attention into. And especially since it’s a project that provides benefits for others—the artists, the viewers.”
“You need your day job, but.” He smiles. “Maybe this will turn into that? Who knows.”
ANON is located on the corner of Ave C and East 7th. The current exhibition will be on display through September 30. “She Was Asking for It” will be on display from Friday, October 3.