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February 28, 2008

Honey Space

Honey1650

Randy Kennedy's article in the February 18, 2008 New York Times featured Honey Space (above and below), Chelsea's newest gallery.

It's a bit different from its high-dollar neighbors, in that the gallery pays no rent, has no sign, and most of the time has no one attending it.

My kind of place.

Here's the story.

    No Windows, No Heat, No Staff, No Rent. This Is a Gallery?

    The real estate listing would read something like this: Approximately 800 square feet, ground floor, no windows, no heat, no drain pipe under the sink (slop bucket required), constant traffic noise, fine coating of black gunk on everything.

    It paints a nice portrait of a squat or a crack house. But what it actually describes is Chelsea’s newest gallery space, which opened its doors on Friday right around the corner from Matthew Marks and other elegant high-dollar galleries. And while the new addition might look like hell by comparison, a small group of New York artists sees it as a kind of paradise, one they know will soon be lost.

    Called Honey Space by its creator, the gallery has sprung up in one of the last unused (and as yet undeveloped or demolished) old warehouses in the booming, polished Chelsea art district. No rent is paid by the gallery. There is no sign. The door on 11th Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets looks a little like a breach in the wall. The gallery will generally keep Chelsea hours, open Tuesdays through Saturdays. But most of the time there will be no one attending it. (The security gates will be lifted in the morning and lowered in the evening.)

    If you like the art inside, you can call the artist’s phone number on the cards lying around. You could also steal it. But the people involved with the gallery hope that you appreciate the cultural value of this little eddy in the rushing stream of development that has all but swept away such scrappy artists’ spaces in Manhattan.

    “Free space to show art anywhere is amazing,” said Thomas Beale, the 29-year-old artist who founded the gallery and has made his studio in the building for more than a year. “But for it to be in Chelsea is just crazy. And we know it.”

    “The fact that I had a ground-floor space just made me start thinking that it was this amazing opportunity to have a gallery, even though I don’t really have any desire to run a gallery,” he said Friday morning, after a party the previous evening to inaugurate the space left it scattered with Captain Morgan rum bottles, a stray accordion and a near-frozen fondue pot. (“We have some peppermints left over, but the fondue I don’t think we should touch,” said Adam Stanforth, a friend of Mr. Beale whose acrylic-on-Masonite paintings make up the gallery’s first exhibition, “Still Reaping,” which runs through March 15.)

    Mr. Beale calls his creation a no-profit gallery, perhaps because nonprofit sounds far too official for a space where you can see your breath on a winter morning. Alf Naman, a longtime Chelsea real estate developer and broker who controls the property, has allowed Mr. Beale and several other artists to colonize the four-story building over the last few years, converting spaces that had once housed deep storage and a well-known gay bar into raw studios and places to show their work.

    A plan to weave the building together into a more organized, environmentally conscious artists’ cooperative called Emergency Arts fell apart because it was growing too unwieldy in the view of Mr. Naman, who has development plans for the property.

    But last year Mr. Beale began exhibiting his own work, biomorphic-looking sculptures made from found wood, in his ground-floor space. And this year, when he proposed showing other artists’ work and opening the doors to the space as a kind of autonomous gallery, Mr. Naman agreed.

    “The idea is that we’ve got all this empty space, and we really just don’t want to lie fallow,” said Mr. Naman, a partner in a nearby condo tower that is being designed by the architect Jean Nouvel. “We want to give back something to the art community. Any kind of space in Manhattan these days for artists is just so hard to come across and so expensive.”

    Mr. Beale still finds it all a little hard to believe. “Besides no rent, I’ve never paid an electric bill and haven’t even given Alf any art yet,” he said. But he knows there is an expiration date on this kind of luck. “Through this whole thing there’s this constant feeling that it could all go away very soon. And we know it will.”

    Until it does — Mr. Naman said it could be another year or two — Mr. Beale will continue to plan exhibitions of his friends and emerging artists whose work he likes. He said he put $6,000 of his own money into the space to bring the electricity up to code. Should the artists sell any work, he asks them only to reimburse him for any of the costs he incurred in mounting the exhibition.

    While the shows are up and running, he will usually be on the other side of a wall, working on his own art. Or being the building’s Mr. Fix-It, as he was Friday morning, carrying a drill upstairs to screw shut the door of a badly backed-up bathroom. Or making lunch in his studio in the kitchen he built from the ruins of an old one that once existed in the building. Another part of the ground floor, on the corner of 21st street, was the former location of the Eagle, a gay men’s leather bar.

    In the first few hours of Honey Space’s first day on Friday, business was slow. A delivery man wandered in to leave Chinese food menus, looking very confused. A well-heeled woman in a bright-red coat came in with her dog, smiled politely and left. Two documentary filmmakers, Laure Flammarion of Paris and Arnaud Uyttenhove of Brussels, stumbled across the space. They came in slowly, apprehensively, emerging from the small entry hall that Mr. Beale and Mr. Stanforth had built and lined with dried morning glory vines and gauzy drapes, like something from a set for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

    Told that the gallery was called Honey Space, Ms. Flammarion nodded appreciatively. “I like it,” she said. “So that means that we are the bees, yeah?”

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Honey2650

Honey Space is at 148 11th Avenue, between 21st and 22nd Streets, Chelsea; honey-space.com.

February 28, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Comments

left it scattered with Captain Morgan rum bottles, a stray accordion and a near-frozen fondue pot

Found art in this line from above article. Could be a new feature on bookofjoe: write a five paragraph-short story using these elements. The winner will be feted with general bookofjoe goodness and lucre.

Posted by: Mb | Feb 28, 2008 8:06:10 PM

Well, we did walk by there several days ago. It was a cold gray day. And with the dead pigeon out front we decided not to go in that doorway. Not that we're not intrepid. We walked from Brooklyn to Williamsburg and assorted other places on this trip. And saw some great street art along the way.

Posted by: Lavalle Linn | Feb 28, 2008 6:02:28 PM

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