Gallery 8 Gets To Know its Neighbors with ‘Harlem Perspectives’

Renee Cox's The Signing, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.
Renee Cox's The Signing, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

Why a gallery would gravitate towards an otherwise residential stretch of Frederick Douglass Boulevard hardly surprises Renee Cox, a stalwart of the feminist photography movement since the 1980s.

“People come to Harlem looking for bigger spaces that you are not going to find downtown anymore,” says the artist whose own studio has been based in the neighborhood for the past eight years. “Then of course there’s the history of Harlem, and its sense of community- I like being in an environment where I can walk right out of my studio, and be like, ‘Hey man, can you help me?’ I never feel like I’m alone in my own little world.”

These impressions are echoed by Richard Scarry, a collaborator involved with the London transplant, Gallery 8, that recently expanded their hybrid art venue to Striver’s Row District of Harlem, after casting a wide net across all of New York.

“Harlem chose us to be honest,” Scarry explains, “when were looking for a space, and we went all through Brooklyn, down through Lower East Side, up Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen,” he continues, “we just couldn’t find a building large enough, with enough history and character. Most importantly, we were seeking a neighborhood where people are actually living and thriving. Chelsea for example, has all these big white cube spaces, but nobody lives there.”

Cox caught the inaugural event of her new neighbor, a group show titled All That You Have Is Your Soul, which approached the slippery experience of Cuban identity in a foreign land, that was curated by Gallery 8’s in-house curatorial collective, FACTION Art Projects, comprised of Scarry, Gallery 8 owner and director Celine Gauld, and english artist Chippy Coates. The group has planned five curatorial interventions at Gallery 8 through 2018, leaving the rest of year open to other voices, who can rent the sprawling space on a short term basis.

The loose and hot nature of what defines us continues to be of thematic interest in the space’s sophomore show, Harlem Perspectives, this time the subject matter shifting inward, with FACTION inviting artists living and working uptown to contribute works. Focus lies especially in artists with a craft-oriented practices, such as Colombian-American artist Lina Puerta’s tactile sculpture, a variety of portraiture including D.C. native Stanley Squirewell, and digital embroidery by the widely collected New Yorker, Elaine Reichek.

“I could see the gallery was trying to be proactive within the community, so I decided to do be apart of their doing,” says Cox, who contributes The Signing (2017), a lush and sardonic photographic re-envisioning of constitutional signing, where stale statesmen give way to black bodies of all genders, clothed in a gamut baroque costumes and contemporary garb, rendering a temporal confusion that challenges historical narratives as previously recorded.

Neighborly dynamics continue to abound in Perspectives, with the materially experimental painter and installation artist Leeza Meksin, also a appearing beside Cox, her uptown studiomate. The Russian-born Meksin was drawn to Harlem for proximity to her teaching position at Columbia, but found the mix of people uptown a more accurate reflection of her inner being, and moved her studio to Hamilton Heights. Works such as Iceberg and the Slots (2017) captures Meksin’s ongoing inquiry into how materials themselves have a voice, a narrative, or an implied gender- “using oil in a painting isn’t jarring, but using something like neoprene is,” the artist says.

More than anything else, Harlem Perspectives is a stroll around the neighborhood as it exists in 2018, which despite rapid gentifiction, persists as community-oriented atmosphere. “I mean, it’s right around the corner,” Cox says of Gallery 8, “there’s something lovely about that.”

Harlem Perspectives runs through May 13th, 2018 at Gallery 8, 2602 Frederick Douglass Blvd, New York, NY