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Bushwick Basel Art Fair Moves to Queens

By Meredith Hoffman | April 1, 2013 12:47pm

MASPETH — Bushwick is about to have its biggest art fair yet — and it won't even be in Brooklyn anymore.

The Bushwick Basel art fair is exploding in size and moving to the new Knockdown Center in Maspeth, Queens this June. Even though it's shifting to a different borough, organizers say the "Bushwick mentality" will permeate the art fair's three-acre space — complete with pizza shipped in from Roberta's.

"Much more than a physical location, Bushwick is a state of mind," said gallerist Julian Jimerez Howard, whose OUTLET Fine Art gallery will show work at the June fair. "The Bushwick mentality is anything associated with the do it yourself movement...and a boldness, a willingness to buck tradition or to reflect that tradition in an alternative way."

Renowned artist Jules de Balincourt — who held the first Bushwick Basel last year in his gallery with just 10 curators as a weekend-long play on Switzerland's massive Art Basel fair — has invited dozens of gallerists to fill the Knockdown Center's high-ceilinged brick buildings this year, said Deborah Brown, owner of Storefront Bushwick gallery.

"We're all going to have booths, and Roberta's Pizza is going to be catering it," said Brown, who is helping organize the show one mile from Bushwick's Jefferson L train stop during the same weekend as Bushwick Open Studios.

The fair may include all the key elements of Bushwick's art scene, but its size and scope couldn't be replicated in Bushwick's venues, said NURTUREart's gallerist Marco Antonini.

"Bushwick is full of large warehouses but this is a factory with lots of large spaces...like a cathedral," Antonini said of the Knockdown Center. "I've rarely seen anything like this, not even in Berlin." 

Antonini, whose gallery participated in Bushwick Basel last year, said it made sense to continue using the name "Bushwick" despite the fair's new Queens locale.

"Bushwick is like a label, a brand," said Antonini of the neighborhood's association with the art scene. "It doesn't feel like [the fair] is as much about Maspeth as it's about Bushwick...It feels like Bushwick when you're there."

But to some local curators, Bushwick Basel's new Queens location is inconvenient, and its expanded size and publicity defeat the point of the initially homegrown festival.

"Last year it was cool and small and really alternative," said Lars Kremer, whose Airplane Gallery participated in the first fair. "Now it's getting too big and commercialized...It's getting a little 'Disney World.'"

Kremer, who noted that there are now about 40 galleries compared to four a few years ago, said the fair fed into his "mixed feelings about what's going on in Bushwick."

"It's getting gentrified and blown out of proportion," he said of the art festival. "It's going supernova."

But Peter Hopkins — who runs the gallery and educational space ArtHelix and has led forums on Bushwick's burgeoning art scene — said the Maspeth venue would help Bushwick Basel become a more "professionalized" and "traditional art fair" where young galleries can try their hands at such an event.

Hopkins — who is also organizing a multi-artist festival in the former East Williamsburg factory 299 Meserole Street to run in May and June — said Bushwick's galleries needed a chance to try out both pristine and "messy" shows.  

"They're neat and clean, and our space it the opposite, really rough and messy," Hopkins said. "Bushwick Basel allows for a very low-cost buy-in for smaller galleries to have their first opportunity to show in a professionalized art fair."

Bushwick Basel's lead organizer de Balincourt did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but Brown said the festival would run June 1 — 2 during Bushwick Open Studios.