BUY ME

02.15.14

Aces High: Where to Buy Affordable Art

In Brooklyn, one gallery is combining art and commerce, with all works under $500. Justin Jones discovers its strange treasures, from psychedelic playing cards to suits inspired by Batman

Enter any Manhattan art gallery and chances are the price tags will be more shocking than the artwork on the walls. But, across the East River, of the many Brooklyn galleries and shops combining commerce and artistic endeavor, one stands out.

Tucked inside the back room of a small boutique, the Warehouse Gallery is making buying art something you can affordably do while buying your groceries. The creation of husband and wife, Kamau and Lesley Ware, the gallery opened late last year after they decided to expand their creative minds from their art-studio in Red Hook. Their most recent exhibition, the tellingly-titled Suit, coincided with New York Fashion Week.

Visitors to the gallery are greeted by the colorful and varied work of seven artists inspired by the word “suit,” including decks of cards (though unlike anything you’ve ever played Poker with), alongside a set of graffiti-sprayed vintage suitcases, and even deconstructed suits inspired by Batman.

Kamau, a photographer from Pittsburgh, has been running gallery spaces for over a decade. It was during his time in Pittsburgh that Kamau and a like-minded group of people began hosting regular art events with live painters. Their success ultimately led him to work as an art consultant for institutions like the Andy Warhol Foundation, advising clients on art purchases.

After he left his curatorial position in Pittsburgh and moved to New York, Kamau took time off to focus on his work both as a photographer and as a consultant. Lesley, who met Kamau while living in Pittsburgh, spent her free time at the various fabric stores while working at the Girl Scouts of American’s national office in the garment district and rapidly became inspired to make fashion a main priority. It didn’t take her long to decide to launch a fashion blog —something that started as a hobby but quickly evolved into a multi-faceted career, including teaching fashion courses at a high school in the Bronx and, more recently, a publishing deal for her book, Sew Fab

“The book is for girls and all about fashion—everything from figuring out what colors to wear and how to mix prints to actually designing your own wardrobe,” Lesley described of the book that will be released early next year.

For Suit, not only did Lesley craft a collection of deconstructed neckties remodeled into bowties, she was also responsible for enlisting multiple artists, such as sculptor Stacey Scibelli and illustrator Sabine Pieper, who illustrated Lesley’s upcoming book, to create artworks specifically for the show. Scibelli’s works veered away from her typical sculptural medium. Instead, she chose to deconstruct an entire suit and re-apply them to large sheets of wool fabric in a collection titled the “Bruce Wayne Series.” The three separate works depict a deconstructed suit restricted into various shapes and patterns such as the Batman logo.

The exhibition consists of seven artists, each focusing on four aspects of the word “suit.” Kamau explains, “’Suit’ is one of those words that has so many meanings. We are looking at four of them that relate to fashion—from suit as someone in charge to suit as an outfit as well as the pictorial symbols that define playing cards and a ‘suitor’ pursuing someone of interest.”

The painter Ricardo Francis produced three separate works for the show, all with tongue-in-cheek names. The collage-style portrait Imagined Self Portrait with a Better Life depicts, in vibrant swirls and colors, the artist facing forward wearing a suit and bowler cap. “It makes me laugh because he never wears a suit,” Kamau laughed out. “I feel like [he] is projecting happiness because for a lot of us [happiness] is a look.”

Maine Smith’s vintage suitcases, left mainly in their original condition, are tagged with spray paint in graffiti style of words and symbol. “The bag itself has this kind of energy,” says Kamau. “It becomes a visual representation … that makes you the shit. It’s like a talisman of power.” Whether or not the “power” lies within the bag or the person carrying it, the piece will definitely spark attention with its unique look.

While Warehouse Gallery’s artwork is impressive, the space isn’t just a place for bougie collectors and trust-fund Brooklynites to come and expand their collections. “When we opened this gallery, we wanted to have art that was really affordable so that first time buyers could become collectors,” Lesley stated. “So, we set our price point for $500 or less.”

Kate Conway, a student from the Pratt Institute of Design, hand-crafted an entire deck of playing cards. Her attention to detail makes each piece a unique, outrageous creation. The diamonds feature people with wrapped faces and wrapped bodies while the clubs have amputated and dismembered bodies. The set of hearts are extremely psychedelic.

The Jack through Ace from each suit will be framed as a collection. The remaining numbered cards and Jokers will then be laid out in a portfolio to be purchased individually, each under $100, with custom framing service offered—making the highly detailed artworks even more accessible for those beginning to invest in art.

In his years of consulting work, Kamau has generated an easy equation for investing in art on a budget. If you are in the market to buy, “Your art budget is somewhere between your grocery budget and your savings budget,” he says. (Of course, this only follows if you have a certain level of disposable income in the first place.) “I think that the first thing you should do is purchase something that resonates with you,” says Kamau. “After all, you are going to be the one stuck with it. Keep an inventory, and put it on your insurance. That way, it becomes an asset.” 

Suit will be on view at Warehouse Gallery until March 8.