Renters: Working and Living in a Bushwick Gallery

Renters: Working and Living in a Bushwick Gallery

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The first floor is largely given over to a high-ceilinged exhibition space, sparsely furnished with plants and stylish castoffs, including a working upright piano. Behind a door sits an overflowing office, which leads to a bathroom and a small, windowless room where, until last week, she slept and stored her clothes. Downstairs in the finished basement are four art studios, a small kitchen, a stage and an exhibition area.

She took the space over from a friend who, feeling burned out after having tried to make a go of running a gallery there for several years, moved to Woodstock, N.Y.

Ms. Simone was staying with the friend in Woodstock in the fall of 2014, having just returned from filming a project about radical hospitality in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Europe — deliberately visiting countries “typically labeled as hostile” to document the generosity of their hosting traditions.

Name: Montana Simone

Age: 28 Rent: $3,700 for the entire gallery (about 2,500 square feet), plus $200 in utilities, $2,200 annually in commercial real estate taxes and $1,200 for liability insurance. Ms. Simone, who lived in a small back room in the space until last week, rents out art studios to defray the costs. Occupation: Gallery owner, artist, musician What you may hear if you visit: The loud, rhythmic hum of the industrial printer next door or the soapmaker on the other side blasting techno music. There’s also a music studio upstairs and, of course, the music, sound art and video art being made and played in the space itself. What the subterranean exhibition space is great for, when it’s not being used as a music venue: “If we have photography of underground, seedier New York it looks really good in this space,” Ms. Simone said. Where she lived before the gallery: An apartment in a brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, shared with two friends. She paid a little under $1,000 a month for her room. Where she just moved: A friend’s apartment by Broadway Junction, where she’ll pay $750 a month to share with three other people, though the ceiling in her room clears her six-foot frame by only an inch.

Hesitant about resuming the life she had left behind in the city (bartending to pay the bills and carving out time for artistic projects on the side), she remembered how taken she had been with the gallery space. She went to Bushwick the day after Christmas two years ago, sleeping on the floor of the gallery and eating Thai food as she mulled the possibilities.

“I had never thought about having a gallery,” she said. “But I fell in love with curating.”

But running a gallery has been onerous as well as fulfilling. Making the rent, for one, is a frequent source of stress. She pays $3,700 a month, and an additional $200 in utilities. As a commercial tenant, she must also pay $2,200 a year in real estate taxes and $1,200 annually in liability insurance to host public events there. The art studios downstairs rent for $500 to $1,000 a month; she and her nonprofit gallery must generate the remainder.

And as much as she has enjoyed fostering other artists’ creative endeavors — a show by the multimedia artist Azikiwe Mohammed, who explores black American identity and experience, opens later this month — running and living in the gallery has left her with little time for her own projects.

“I don’t want to be available to every single person who walks in anymore,’” she said. “ I’m 28. I have two years left until I’m 30. I want to do my own work.”

So in late December, busy with preparations for the installation of her radical hospitality project, which will open in the gallery this spring, she moved into a friend’s apartment in nearby Broadway Junction where she’ll pay $750 a month. Her room at the gallery will revert to a studio that she will rent out. She had worried about the legality of living in the space anyway, although shop owners and artists have lived in the backs of their spaces for centuries.

Ms. Simone’s office.

Credit
Liz Barclay for The New York Times

“It’s going to be my biggest project to date — it will take over the entire gallery,” Ms. Simone said, describing how she will open the space from sunrise to sunset, showing a 12-hour film of her encounters with radical hospitality and inviting people to play musical instruments and converse in a space strewn with pillows and boulder-like sculptures covered in Turkish carpets.

“People will be radically hosted — whatever they need, in the utopian sense — you are the guest of honor and I am here as your host,” she said. “You thought this was a venue, a gallery? It was always just an experiment in hospitality.”

Still, welcome though the change may be, isn’t she worried that her friend’s apartment might be too traditional for her taste?

Ms. Simone laughed. “The ceiling in my room is only an inch taller than me — so 6-foot-1 — the door doesn’t close, the walls are super thin and the train goes by out the front window,” she said. “I could not be more excited.”

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