New art gallery brings action to barren Bushwick block

New art gallery brings action to barren Bushwick block
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short

Bushwick’s youngest art gallery is taking the neighborhood by storm.

The Active Space, housed in a four-story warehouse on a desolate, industrial stretch of Johnson Avenue welcomed its inaugural show on Friday, featuring Criminy Johnson’s solo painting exhibit, “Dreaming without Sleeping.”

The show’s haunting, dreamlike oil paintings of working men and animals brought a huge turnout to the new gallery — the result of a year’s worth of planning and renovations.

Johnson’s curator, Robin Grearson, has been organizing the show with Active Space’s 24-year-old gallery director Ashley Zelinskie since last summer, to coincide with the building’s one-year anniversary.

“Criminy’s work looks great, the gallery is beautiful, and the artist made signed drawings so that visitors to the grand opening would receive something special to commemorate the occasion,” she said.

The area was pretty desolate when Zelinskie moved there.

“Our neighbors are working factories, a meatpacking business a block away, and a junk yard that crushes cars,” said Zelinskie, a new media artist and sculptor, and Bushwick’s youngest gallery director. “I’ve seen them crush buses. An elephant-shaped bulldozer scoops up the cars.”

Fresh out of out of the Rhode Island School of Design, Zelinskie and her landlord refurbished the former factory, sublet its studios, and built a exhibition space from the ground up.

But Zelinskie transformed the venue, which she first called Curbs and Stoops, and lured neighborhood artists, including Rachel LaBine, Sebastian Vallejo, Lauren Clay, and Evan Chamberlain, into group shows. Some of them soon moved into the building and rented studios, and LaBine herself has since had a show in Chelsea.

Now the building teems with three dozen tenants and boasts a refurbished 1,500 square-foot gallery space on its first floor. Zelinskie has several more events planned this spring, including a group show guest curated by Gina Beavers, a new media film screening on March 23rd with Chelsea’s Eyebeam Gallery, and a solo show with Storefront Bushwick’s Deborah Brown in May or June based on the theme of wreckage.

“Ashley has a great vision for that gallery and how it’s going to be part of the neighborhood’s evolving art scene,” said Brown. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful occasion to show my latest Bushwick paintings there. She’s got a beautiful space and it’s a fantastic venue.”

Zelinskie is thrilled to be a part of Bushwick’s art community.

“It’s a great place to start out,” said Zelinskie. “Everybody is collaborating and taking risks. It’s the land of opportunity.”

Criminy Johnson’s “Dreaming without Sleeping,” at The Active Space (566 Johnson Ave. at Stewart Street in Bushwick. No phone). Tuesday-Saturday 1 pm–6 pm. For info, www.566johnsonave.com.

Reach reporter Aaron Short at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2547.