Underdonk, A Community Fixture

Underdonk started in 2013 as a small experimental project space and later evolved into a vibrant artist-run gallery located at 1329 Willoughby. Underdonk’s eleven members operate an ambitious exhibition program such as the notable 2015 exhibition “Paul Klee,” which featured work by twenty contemporary artists who referenced  the 20th century modernist master.  AIB interviewed Underdonk artists via email and they responded as a group:

AIB: How do you know each other?

Underdonk: Some of us are alumni of Hunter College, although at various times; a few of us met at openings or through other art channels.

AIB: How did you form the group?

Underdonk: Underdonk was founded in 2013 as a means to focus our separate curatorial interests into one sustainable project. Some of us were relatively fresh from graduate school and the gallery felt like a way to stay connected to the artistic community we had established there. Some of us have past experience working with artist- run gallery spaces, or have been otherwise involved in the Bushwick art scene. It started in the studios of some of our original Underdonk members at the 17-17 Troutman building as a small experimental project space and then later grew because of the enthusiasm that was started there into our larger space.

AIB: Where did the name come from?

Underdonk: It derives from the street name Onderdonk which is next to the Troutman building where we originated, and means under the hill in the Dutch. It’s catchy, and was the only name that stuck.

Onion by the Ocean, Group Exhibition, Installation image, 2016
Onion by the Ocean, Group Exhibition, Installation image, 2016
Sophie Grant and Jenna Westra, Right of Window, Installation image, 2015
Sophie Grant and Jenna Westra, Right of Window, Installation image, 2015

AIB: What made you chose Bushwick/Ridgewood as a hub?

Underdonk: Underdonk began at 1717 Troutman, where a few galleries like Regina Rex, and Ortega y Gassett, were also operating. Bushwick was attractive because of its open, industrial architecture, proximity to the L, and affordable rents. The last factor turned out to be unreliable, when in 2015 our landlords at 17-17 Troutman gave the boot to all of the galleries leasing space in the building. We moved to a temporary location in Williamsburg, while hunting for our current home at 1329 Willoughby.  We have found a great landlord and are lucky to again be in the vicinity of other artist-run spaces such as Transmitter, TSA, and Microscope.

AIB: Tell me about your organization and mode of operation.

Underdonk: In curatorial and administrative matters we pride ourselves on our flexibility. We accommodate and respect one another’s individual interests and scheduling constraints. That said, we meet no less than once a month, and we email all the time. Keeping membership at eleven allows each of us to curate around one show a year, with room for our annual benefit auction. That is happening soon, in late February/early March, via Paddle8. We are also always happy to hear proposals for visiting curator exhibitions, performances, and readings.

AIB: How do you see Underdonk in context of other artist groups in the area?

Underdonk: We feel that professionalism is an important aspect of what we do. For instance, we recently acquired both fine art and liability insurance. We also believe, however, that in certain spaces, like our own, professionalism can be overemphasized, to the detriment of experimentation and openness. We hope to remain broad-minded and open to new ideas, regardless of any shifts in the character of the neighborhood and New York at large.

Osamu Kobayashi, "Woogie", Solo Exhibition, Installation image, 2016

Osamu Kobayashi, “Woogie”, Solo Exhibition, Installation image, 2016

AIB: Do you share an aesthetic vision for your group and curatorial projects?

Underdonk: No, not officially! Members are unrestrained when it comes to organizing shows. Most of us turn to one another for feedback or suggestions on artists to include, so there ends up being a sense of continuity.

 Patrice Renee Washington, "Rags and Rinds", Solo Exhibition, Installation image, 2016
Patrice Renee Washington, “Rags and Rinds”, Solo Exhibition, Installation image, 2016

AIB: Do you do collaborative work?

Underdonk: We often co-curate shows, and we have participated in several exchanges with other galleries. We sometimes invite guest curators to put together shows in our space, without the exchange component. Whenever we organize large scale events, such as our annual auction, it is a huge group effort. All of this we consider as collaboration. On an individual level, many of us have collaborated with other artists outside of Underdonk.

AIB: What are your goals for the next few years?

Underdonk: One major goal is to bring more people living in the Bushwick neighborhood into the gallery, as viewers and as participating artists. We would love to be a community fixture, not just an insular art world fixture. We also hope to participate in more gallery exchanges and art fairs.

Underdonk at ESX LA, Group Exhibition, Installation image, 2015

Underdonk at ESX LA, Group Exhibition, Installation image, 2015 Underdonk artists: Aleta LanierAshley GarrettChris BertholfDanielle OrchardElisa SolivenEssye KlempnerGeorgia ElrodJJ ManfordLaura FrantzTryn CollinsNicholas Cueva

1329 Willoughby Ave #211
Brooklyn, NY 11237
L train to Jefferson St

Loading Map....

Bauhaus Babies Spin at ODETTA

Sylvia Schwartz at ODETTA, photo courtesy: Jeanette May

The Bauhaus impacted the way we perceive fine art’s relationship to craft, design, architecture, and industrial material. Founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar, the Bauhaus’ vision was both radical and utopian: a union of art and design into a single creative expression, creating useful and beautiful objects that fit modern industrial life with particular emphasis on designing for mass production; thus paving the way to later 20th century artists. “Bauhaus Babies” at ODETTA brings together three contemporary artists, whose works relate in some way to the Bauhaus spirit; altogether their work is peppered with a 21st century spin on randomness and chance.

Richard Bottwin’s wall sculptures draw most directly upon Bauhaus architecture and functional objects. His reductive plywood surfaces, laminated or painted with acrylic, are configured to invite the viewer to reinterpret the modernist vocabulary of simple constructions. “Blue Beam,” an elongated narrow sculpture stands out. This predominantly blue structure surprises the viewer with unusual angles and stretched form, on the whole evoking a sense of disorientation, floating, and implied physical gesture.

Richard Bottwin, Blue.Beam, 2016, Maple Veneer On Birch Plywood Acrylic Paint, 48x6x8
Richard Bottwin, Blue.Beam, 2016, Maple Veneer On Birch Plywood Acrylic Paint, 48″x6″x8″

Sylvia Schwartz uses a series of hand-made paper sheets to create a fragile yet bold, large-scale composition with an intense color scheme, predominantly rich in subtle red. Her surfaces create a meditative space which is both tranquil and stirring. Schwartz’s wall installation commands the space and at the same time keeps growing on the viewer the longer they spend time with it. Her process is elaborate. She mixed the red pigments together with the pulp and made paper sheets, then she worked with pigmented cotton and abaca pulp that could be layered into silicone molds she had made from seaweed on the beach over many years in her native Australia.  Her molds cast seaweed and clay, capturing finger prints along the way. These textures and color schemes allude in subtle ways to the Australian landscape, its red clay soil, desert and blue-green ocean. “I wanted the piece to ultimately be itself and not about nature, about the balancing act between life told and life lived,” she concludes.

Sylvia Schwartz, Red Plane. 2016, Hand made paper, cast hand made paper, nails and painted fiber board, 124 "x 230"x 7"
Sylvia Schwartz, Red Plane. 2016, Hand made paper, cast hand made paper, nails and painted fiber board, 124 “x 230″x 7”, photo courtesy: Jeanette May

Ryan Sarah Murphy also aims to stay away from direct narrative content. Her vivid collages form “Pages”, a Jazzy wall installation which suggests fragmented architecture and landscape with distinct rhythmic play between shapes, colors and lines. Marked by a horizon line, each image offers an entry point and a sense of grounding. “What I’m interested in is shifting these constructed forms into more unfamiliar territory, where you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at,” Murphy says. For this ongoing series of collages, from about 2014 to the present, Murphy tore out the front and back pages from her collected used hardcover books and pasted the cut cardboards on top. Her collage process is highly intuitive too but unlike Schwartz’s mixed use of hand-made and found material, Murphy exclusively manipulates found objects.

Ryan Sarah Murphy, Pages Installation photo courtesy: Jeanette May

Ryan Sarah Murphy, Method, 2016, found cardboard on torn book page, 12.5″ x 9″, photo courtesy: Ryan Sarah Murphy
Ryan Sarah Murphy, Practice, 2016, found cardboard on torn book page, 10” x 7.25 “, photo courtesy: Ryan Sarah Murphy
Ryan Sarah Murphy, Practice, 2016, found cardboard on torn book page, 10” x 7.25 “, photo courtesy: Ryan Sarah Murphy

“UTA Bauhaus UTA,” an energetic performance by Uta Bekaia, Uta Brauser, with dancers and music, compliments the exhibition, bringing to life Geometric archetypes through movement , gestures, spins, and poses in wearable sculptures. Costumed in sculptural shapes, the performers animate and merge geometry with the human body, counterpointing female and male energies to express the power of procreation.

Overall, “Bauhaus Babies” lays out an elegant, playful and at times deeply engaging array of artworks and performance, tying this group of contemporary artists to the reductive aesthetics of the Bauhaus with an aim to create new dialogues.

UTA Bauhaus UTA
UTA Bauhaus UTA

Bauhaus Babies, featuring works by Richard Bottwin, Ryan Sarah Murphy and Sylvia Schwartz. @odettagallery