Walking into an art gallery opening, you aren’t normally greeted with the smell of sweat and ketchup while men in flannel stare at still-life paintings, holding a Big Mac in one hand and a Coors Light in the other. The burger was snatched from a towering shrinelike art piece and the ketchup was dripping steadily from a fountain. But this isn’t an ordinary show, and the folks behind it aren’t an ordinary gallery.
This Bushwick pop-up show, entitled “Feed Me,” was put on by Associated Gallery, a physical gallery turned curatorial platform that has recently begun doing shows again. Founded by artists Julian Jimarez Howard, Theresa Daddezio, and Jennifer Hitchings, Associated was born when they turned one of their former studios into a gallery on Johnson Avenue in Bushwick. When Daddezio began grad school, she decided to leave that studio, and Hitchings relocated to another one in Williamsburg. Because they were no longer based in the same building as Associated, they decided to end the lease on their physical space.
With that, Associated went on hiatus. Now, they’ve experienced a rebirth of sorts as a traveling curatorial team; the three still work together but intend on going from space to space rather than settling somewhere permanent. They participated in a collaborative show with several other galleries in October, but this is their first independent show in a while, and their first go at a pop-up show.
The venue for “Feed Me” was a space in their friend Chris’s loft on Varet Street, who is a fellow painter and has welcomed other curators in the past. To get there, one must go through an unassuming door, climb three flights of stairs, and clamber through a kitchen. Very appropriate for a food show, whether purposeful or not. This nontraditional way of working is consistent with Associated’s style. “I think for us the idea of Associated is looking at the unconventional ways in which you can approach what you might call art,” said Jimarez Howard. Their 2013 show “You Are My Sunshine,” displaying plants in various fashions, garnered critical acclaim.
“We try to have fun with our shows,” said Hitchings, who explained that when Associated began in 2013, Bushwick was almost overrun with galleries, and they needed to find a way to stand out. “That’s a really big part of our curatorial vision. We’re approaching it as artists, not necessarily dealers. We just try to keep approaching every show with a pretty solid conceptual idea, and that’s usually commenting on something a bit more broad and diverse than just visual art, approaching it with a bit of humor sometimes.”
Jimarez Howard mentions another past show, “Hot Mamas,” which from its title could easily be written off as reductive but rather explored the ways three artists with children incorporate (or don’t) this facet of their life into their artistic process. “[We’re] just walking the line between something that’s an incredibly serious and important topic and just trying to have fun with it, exploring something that maybe a more commercial gallery might find distasteful,” he said.
Taste was certainly a factor for “Feed Me.” Part exploration of how food has inspired artists throughout the years, part commentary on American consumerism, the show packed several pieces from eight artists into a modestly-sized room. The unmistakable star of the show was Paul Outlaw and Jen Catron’s two shrines to gluttony, entitled “The Deepening Mystery of the Iranian Capture of that U.S. Navy FOOD Boat (Make American
Strong Fat Again).” Indeed, these are boats, sporting a nacho cheese fountain and ketchup fountain respectively, piled high with fast food and decorated with American flags and tiny army men.
Some pieces were more straightforward, like Rachel Youen’s rustic still-life paintings and Luisa Caldwell’s tapestries of monochrome candy wrappers. Others were more subtle, like Joshua Liebowitz’s installation, which looked like powders arranged into stepping stone shapes. I figured they must be made of salt or sugar (someone next to me offered it was Dorito dust), but the title reveals something more insidious: “Chemical Compounds Used in The Production of Counterfeit Poultry Eggs.”
“For this show, there was definitely some cynicism on our part about food being something kind of secretly political. Everybody needs to eat, but what they eat or how they consume has this larger polemic about it,” Jimarez Howard said.
Instead of wine and crackers, attendees sipped domestic beers, and greedily gnawed at the fries, chips, hot dogs, and burgers stacked onto Outlaw and Catron’s boats. A small child in attendance had essentially entered into a committed relationship with the fries and ketchup fountain.
“We plan it to be interactive but we didn’t necessarily know the types of interactions people will be having. It was definitely consumerism, fast food, American, McDonald’s, Budweiser, Coors,” said Daddezio. “We kept talking about that– there’s so much of that weird self-consciousness people have at openings,” added Hitchings. “Especially with eating. At so many openings there’s food, but people are hesitant to eat it.”
I watched nearly everyone at the crowded, humid opening partaking in consumption. I was impressed so many were eating, as the hot dogs glistened with condensation and the cheese on the paper-wrapped McDonald’s burgers had hardened and congealed. I finally decided to sample some. Turns out the free-flowing nacho cheese was cold, and the chip was stale. I couldn’t help but laugh that I thought something celebrating wretched excess would prioritize quality. I decided it was better this way.
Jimarez Howard, who also runs Bushwick gallery Outlet Fine Arts, appreciates this alternative way of operating, free of constraints one might typically find in the gallery scene. “Now I’m working with other galleries in Chelsea trying to get loans for a Yoko Ono piece, trying to get a Sol LeWitt, really elevating the kind of discourse that’s happening within the community. That being said, I feel like the stakes are so much higher [with Outlet],” he said. “What I love about Associated is we’re able to do so many adventurous and interesting things by maintaining our stakes at a lower level. That’s not to say I don’t think we’re professional; we care about putting together a nice looking exhibition. I think a lot of spaces now feel the pressure to be, I don’t know, more serious, more market-friendly.”
They don’t have any concrete future plans just yet, but they’d like to explore pop-up shows more while still primarily remaining based in Bushwick. An idea they’d like to pursue is a show called Fun Zone, where they fill a gallery with artist-created toys that anyone is free to play with, subverting the long-held standard that art is something too holy for human hands to touch.
They all agree that the Bushwick gallery scene has shifted and waned as the market has.
“A lot of real estate has kind of determined the caliber of gallery spaces that have opened and can be sustainable, so good and bad,” said Daddezio. “I guess the good is there’s more a level of seriousness within the community that is here, where people are much more professional with the exhibitions they put on [and] the type of work.”
“A lot of spaces have left since we started, a lot of the more artist-friendly or underground spaces have left or just closed,” added Hitchings. The three of them easily listed off a handful, as if it was now almost monotonous to recall all the art spaces that have faded away. Jimarez Howard said the reason their friend is being so generous with his Varet Street loft space is because in eight months or so he’ll have to leave, the place will be gutted and turned into fancy apartments.
“We’re still hanging on. I think the people who were first on the scene as getting Bushwick known as an arts community, they still have so much passion for the area and helping out artists and other galleries,” said Daddezio. “The people that have been here for a while are still active members. So I guess people definitely stay.”
“If they can,” Jimarez Howard added.
Learn more about Associated Gallery, their past shows, and upcoming ventures here.
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to clarify it was Hitchings who relocated studios to Williamsburg, not Daddezio, and to correct a misspelling of artist Josh Liebowitz’s name.