Cops bust Bushwick art space … for beer at opening!

Cops bust Bushwick art space … for beer at opening!
Photo by Aaron Short

Is it an art gallery or a bar? You decide!

Founders of the Arch Collective, a Bushwick gallery/event venue, say they are being targeted by the police for serving alcohol during art openings.

The Wyckoff Avenue art space has been hit several times by police since it opened last summer, most recently on Feb. 18 when two officers barged into the space at 9 pm and issued seven summonses to patrons drinking beer at an opening — a time-honored rite that goes back to, perhaps, the very beginning of art itself.

The officer’s actions flustered Arch Collective’s co-founder Jason Jensen, who insisted he did not need a permit to serve booze because his guests brought their own beer.

“This was not a raucous party,” said Jensen. “This was an art show at a gallery. There was no loud music, no drunk or belligerent patrons, no underage drinking or criminal activity taking place.”

Brandon Fonville, who attended the opening, but did not receive a summons, was angry that his friends were being harassed in a “normal setting.”

“It’s expected for an art gallery to provide drinks, though that wasn’t the case here,” said Fonville. “It was just 12 to 15 people hanging out at an art opening.”

Calls made to the 83rd Precinct were not returned, but police have said that they have been cracking down on illegal cabarets and businesses serving drinks without a license to prevent Bushwick from returning to the “bad old days.”

Last year, officers shut down a club operating illegally in a Jefferson Street loft while closing two popular music venues, the Market Hotel and the Ridgewood Masonic Temple, because they did not have liquor or cabaret licenses.

During its eight-month run, the Arch Collective has hosted several events that have involved alcohol — including an installation by Bushwick artist Andrew Ohanesian which featuring a miniature bar with a working tap.

Art bloggers and curators declared the exhibit the “perfect serendipitous spot you didn’t know you needed to drink a lot in” and “pretty f—ing sweet.”

The exhibit was so popular it was reassembled at Art Basel in Miami.

But art critics, such as Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian, doesn’t think of the space as a gallery and says it is still trying to find its identity.

“They do show art, but they also have been doing other things, such as when they were a boutique over Christmas,” said Vartanian. “They’re kind of nebulous, which is typical of spaces in emerging neighborhoods.”

It may be the Arch Collective’s location off a busy commercial street on a well-lit corner next to Bushwick’s most popular restaurant, Northeast Kingdom, that has contributed to its police scrutiny.

Gallery directors whose art spaces are above the ground floor or on quiet, concealed streets, such as Laundromat’s Kevin Curran, have had no interaction with police at all.

“We even did a show that we advertised that we’re serving drinks, and nothing came of that,” said Curran. “We never had any problems.”

Arch Collective [390 Troutman St. at Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick, (347) 406-8980]. BYOB.

Two police officers from the 83rd Precinct issued summonses to patrons drinking inside the Arch Collective at an opening a week ago.
Photo provided by B. Fonville