Last night the mask-wielding artists of the Bruce High Quality Foundation opened up the doors of their epic new studio space in Sunset Park. The excuses were a party and an exhibition featuring work inspired by French Baroque painter Nicholas Poussin’s landscapes, while the reason was fundraising for the Bruce High Quality Foundation University (BHFQU), an experimental, non-profit art school that offers free classes and an alternative to the MFA by separating art from careerism. Come January, BHQFU, which has had a home base in the East Village since 2013, will move its operations here to Sunset Park.
The story goes that Bruce High Quality died in 9/11 (in actuality, he’s a fictional character, and about as real as the History Channel’s pyramid-building aliens). But, since 2009, the nine artists who make up his foundation have been putting on events like this one for extremely chill causes.
There were many things to hold your attention at BHQF’s posh-ish party last night: dancey jams, an arboreal room-sized photo booth, and (because this was technically an Absolut Art Bar party) free drinks. The artworks– rather large, abstract landscape paintings with eye-popping color palettes made collectively by BHQF– were apparently the perfect size for selfies, while people with some sense of shame had a friend take the photo.
We heard one onlooker remark that the paintings reminded him “of early Jackson Pollock.” But we found it more entertaining to imagine how several artists managed to make such a consistent work together. “Decisions were made together about at what point it was finished and what colors, how they were gonna paint them,” a member of the BHFQU team, Sophie Oakley, explained over the phone.
There were some sparkly people (models and people who looked like models) in attendance and some recognizable art types including Cleo Wade and Christine Tran (co-founder of Witches of Bushwick). Apparently Dev Hynes was there, but I was too busy crunching on edible moss and chain smoking (inside the building, no less) to notice. The atmosphere was remarkably chill for an art opening– there was a serious lack of too-cool, so much so that people were not afraid to Instagram the fireworks going off over the Statue of Liberty in the distance. The Statue of Liberty, people– if there’s something more earnest than that, please let me know.
Maybe all these leisurely vibes had to do with the fact that BHQF is a rather playful, prankish art collective. But, more meaningfully, they’re also anti-establishment in their mistrust of the super fancy art world and its penchant for worshiping celebrity over substance, not to mention its highly competitive, exclusive nature and emphasis on money equals success.
BHFQU’s mission rebels equally against the art world establishment and MFA-industrial complex. “Being able to offer students and artists ways to communicate and learn from each other without having to go into debt, or without having to go through the accredited art education system, we’re trying to offer the good parts of MFA programs and give it to people more openly— that’s still our main focus,” Sophie explained. “Also to keep a creative community alive without it being pushed to the side or only available to certain groups of people who can financially afford it.”
I felt kind of bad about the whole smoking thing when Sophie confirmed this would be the new all-in-one home for BHFQ and the U. “We moved here in 2012, it’s the studio where we make all of the work, and as of January we’re going to be moving the school and the gallery to the studio as well,” she explained. “So it’s going to become like a Bruce High Quality Foundation headquarters, like a hub for everything, all of our projects this coming January.”
The reason? C’mon, you know the reason. Apparently not even a non-profit arts organization can cut it in the East Village anymore. “Rent prices, is one reason– practical costs,” Sophie admitted. “But it’s more that we want everything to be in one place so we can feed off each other.” Moving to Brooklyn would also mean access to this massive, 14,000 square foot space. “Mainly it’s just having more space and better facilities out here– we can offer a much bigger gallery space to artists exhibiting, we can offer bigger classrooms, we can offer better studios for our residents,” Sophie continued. ” We’re looking to be able to offer more focused, seminar-type classes, as well as lecture-type classes, and maybe even providing studio space [for artists] as well.”
BHFQU could use more space– the school’s popularity has only expanded since it re-initiated classes in 2013. This past semester, around 700 people applied but the non-profit could only admit about 300 of them. Despite the move, the organization’s mission will remain the same. “The biggest concern is that an art world with artists who have come from one place isn’t a very interesting one,” Sophie explained “The larger the difference, the better, the more interesting it becomes.”
Bruce High Quality Foundation studios are located at 33 34th street, Sunset Park Brooklyn.