By Carl Blumenthal
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
There's no impresario behind the 440 Gallery (440 Sixth Avenue in Park Slope) the way Alfred Steiglitz was the driving force at "291" (291 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan) in the early 1900s. That's because a century later, the 440 Gallery is a collective of local artists beginning to reach a wider audience.
Yet, like Steiglitz's goal of promoting an American and European modernism that had not yet rejected representation, the artists of "440" are as accessible as they are adventurous. Their goals are to sell quality work and encourage a public conversation about art and the imagination.
Founders Nancy Lunsford and Shanee Epstein, plus Vicki Behm, Fred Bendheim, Tom Bovo, Ellen Chuse, Gail Flanery, Jay Friedenberg, Laurie Lee-Georgescu, Karen Gibbons, Susan Greenstein, Katharine C. Hopkins, Amy Williams and Ella Yang achieve these dual objectives mainly through regular rotation (every six weeks) of their work, other cultural events to attract people to the gallery, and, especially, through their Young Artists @440 series. The latter program, run by Vicki Behm, engages children in art-making and appreciation.
They seem to have achieved all this with a strategy that has kept them in business since 2005, relying on income from sales commissions, members’ dues and the entry fees for juried shows. Above all, the multifaceted, volunteer labor of the collective’s members saves 440 Gallery a lot of money, so their income can pay for the normal expenses of running a gallery, such as rent and utilities, equipment, marketing, other professional services and taxes.
The current exhibit, mounted in front through Oct. 20, is Paesaggio (Italian for "landscape"), made up of works by Susan Greenstein and her husband Phil DeSantis, which are respectively whimsical oil pastels and impressionistic watercolors.
In back are Gail Flanery's monotypes and prints resolving perception into horizons of color, the ominous strokes of oil stick, paint, and graphite on heavy printmaking paper by Katharine C. Hopkins, who uses them to depict decrepit piers, and Tom Bovo's photographs of leaves, which resemble botanical specimens. (Bovo's pieces preview his Genius Loci show, Oct. 24-Dec. 1.)
This reporter is most intrigued by Young Artists @440 because it brings art to kids' levels, depending on how sophisticated they are in their understanding. First, they discuss their reactions to the members' works on display. Then, with those thoughts and feelings for inspiration, the children employ different media to express their visions of what the art means.
I imagine the young ones showing off their creations to their parents, and, as if in a grocery store aisle, urging their moms and pops to buy the art on which their own work is modeled. In fact, the experience for the young artists is not a matter of judging whose opinion is right or which art object is best. Rather, as Gail Flanery emphasizes, the goal is to "give kids the confidence [to express] what they see in the work. [The program] gives them access."
Collective Has Sound Organizational Model
The other side of this coin of engagement with the public is the operation of the collective itself. Members are accepted not just on the strength of their art but also on their willingness to work together as volunteers. Diversity of backgrounds and styles is another goal.
Among the requirements: Everyone gallery-sits during each other's shows; everyone contributes according to his or her abilities and the gallery's needs. This means everything from sweeping floors and hanging exhibits to writing press releases and maintaining the website (including a well-written and informative blog). Tasks are rotated periodically to avoid drudgery.
Now at its limit of 14 members, 12 of whom live or work in Brooklyn, 440 is smaller than many artists' collectives in Manhattan and more user-friendly than commercial galleries.
Ella Yang touts its intimacy: "Each artist gets their own solo exhibit at least once every two years, compared to once every three at the big collectives. You have complete artistic freedom to try anything, to use the gallery space as you wish during your solo show. In other words, you don't have to meet the expectations of a commercial gallery director about what you make and show. Plus there's a built-in support team, so when tasks aren't taken care of, it's hard for the under-performing members to hide."
The 440 Gallery is open Thursdays and Fridays, 4-7 pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 11 am-7 pm. The closing reception for Paesaggio is Sunday, October 20, 4:40 pm. For more information, call 718-499-3844 or see www.440gallery.com.