Evicted artists return from ‘matzoh brawl’

for The Brooklyn Paper
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After three months of sleeping on their friends’ couches, the evicted artists of 475 Kent Ave. are finally back to doing what they do best: putting on an art show.

Roughly two dozen of the more than 200 artists and residents who were kicked out of the illegal loft building in January are participating in a group show, “475 Kent Lives,” which opened last night in Queens.

“I don’t have a lot of stuff [to show] because I haven’t been able to work for three months,” said artist Deborah Masters. “None of us has been in the building, so we haven’t been making art.”

Making art has been a distant concern compared to crashing on her air mattress at a dozen friends’ houses while she looked for a better living situation (she eventually convinced her acupuncturist to let her stay at his Fort Greene apartment while he moved in with his girlfriend).

Her vagabone life began on Jan. 20, when the building’s tenants were evacuated by the FDNY because an illegal matzo factory was operating in the basement. Closer inspection revealed faulty sprinklers and other violations.

The artists have still not been allowed back into the building, though more than 4,000 people have signed petitions in support of the residents.

One of those supporters was a curator at the Queens Museum, who offered Masters the opportunity to put on an exhibition in that distant borough. Excited, Masters and fellow 475 Kent resident Lisa Mordhurst, who has also spent months crashing on floors, solicited new work from their fellow refugees.

That’s not so easy when most of the would-be participants have been studio-less.

“I didn’t know what I could do because of the evacuation,” said Simon Lee. Fortunately, Lee had a piece “that was very much about 475,” so he contributed it.

Lee said the months of sleeping on friends’ couches without privacy, a kitchen or a place to work has taken its toll.

“I think people are beginning to break down,” he said. Indeed, some residents have moved out of the building permanently, but Masters says the core group is “still 200 strong.”

“We still believe in it,” she said.

“475 Kent Lives” Queens Museum of Art at Bulova Corporate Center (75-20 Astoria Blvd., between 77th Street and the BQE in Astoria), April 9–July 13. Free. Call (718) 592-9700 for info.

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