More than a year after Agozar closed shop after a decade and a half on the Bowery, its colorful, brick-lined interior has been replaced by sleek, white walls, and its Cuban food and mojito happy hours have been replaced by Ceylon fresh milk tea and bento boxes with tofu. Today, a tea house/art gallery celebrates its grand opening at 324 Bowery.
The hybrid space, By Name, hopes to attract the interest of the Bowery’s many passersby as well as those would might also be visiting the New Museum and the International Center of Photography Museum, just a few blocks down.
“As an artist, you know, when you finish school, you’re really looking for space and galleries and wherever that you can show your work,” said Junyan Hou, a recent School of Visual Arts graduate who founded By Name with Shuyu Nin and Linna Wang, all originally from China. They intend to rotate exhibitions periodically (monthly, most likely). The present one showcases the work of artists Brett Henrikson, Jonathan Ellis, Yi Chen and Hou himself.
Working primarily with photography, the exhibition provokes the audience to reflect about the ways in which technology corners human experience. “The work is an experiment of human interaction when binary is taking over the space and dominating one’s experience,” reads the description of Hou’s piece.
The place plays into the division separating audience and customer, or lack thereof. Visitors get to enjoy the arts while eating some food or holding a drink. The tea, Hou explained, will “relax the nerves” of spectators so that they not be “intimidated by the pieces on the wall.”
Once the white, glass doors close and the racket of the Bowery is dimmed, visitors enter a sobering, corridor-like space. At the front counter, they can choose between an assortment of teas or sandwiches. The ola powders are said to be organic and sourced from Uji, Japan, and professional matcha maker Janiya Whittington assured B+B they really take their time preparing them. “We make sure to put the powder in; the traditional process, basically.” Her personal favorite is the Hojicha latte.
Once customers order their food and beverage, they’re nudged to engage with the art in the narrow space. Come Wednesday, these pieces will be a series of textile frames that act as a metaphor for the photographic image, a film project that delves into the political propaganda, official surveillance and racial tensions of minorities in the United States; a photo series exploring the alienating experience of urban spaces and the dichotomy between nature and cities, and Hou’s installation about technology’s encroachment on the human experience.
In the end, By Name aims to be a nice place to just come and chill. In the words of Whittington the matcha maker: “Work on your ideas, bring people in and let them explore the art as well.”