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Bushwick Buzz: A Conversation with Curator Olivia Smith

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‘Drift and Pop’ at Orgy Park: A Conversation with Curator Olivia Smith

by Kate Menard

October 1, 2015

An artist run initiative founded by Steve Mykietyn, Orgy Park is hidden inside a small building on a residential strip of Jefferson Street. A push of buzzer 1 grants entrance into the building’s front hallway and, straight ahead, through an apartment door that opens into a spacious kitchen area. A sharp left leads to a plunging metal staircase that lands you in Orgy Park. There on display now are paintings by Nick Farhi, Ted Gahl, and Zach Bruder, which collectively make up Drift and Pop, a group show curated by Olivia Smith.       

Smith became friends with Farhi while working with him on a print he made for Exhibition A, a website founded by Cynthia Rowley and Bill Powers that works with artists to create limited edition fine art prints, and where Smith is Director. When Mykietyn invited her to curate a show at Orgy Park, Smith thought of Farhi: “Nick . . . was sending me some images over the summer of what he was doing in the studio, and I was really into it . . . so when I was thinking about what I wanted to do here, I just immediately reached out to Nick.” Smith then invited Ted Gahl, another Exhibition A artist with whom she stayed in touch, and Zach Bruder, friend to both Farhi and Smith, to join the show. Speaking about these artists as a group, Smith said: “I chose to put these three guys together–first of all I love them all, their personalities, they’re great people–but also their practices and their discipline in the studio is amazing [and] the humor they have.”

About Gahl’s playfulness, Smith explained that often: [He] will harken back to childhood drawings. He’ll find his childhood drawings, and then he’ll look at it and try to replicate it now as . . . a 30 something year old.” In Drift and Pop, along with two more traditionally crafted paintings, Smith has included a couple of Gahl’s newer works where he has chosen to use the silkscreening process as the content of his pieces. Gahl maintains a lighthearted self-reflectiveness with all four works in the show, which is perhaps most evident in Seize the Day, featuring a reclining, beret-topped painter. Said Smith: “Ted really is always talking about himself as a painter.”      

Bruder takes a glimpse back into art history with his works, while painting in a contemporary, often graphic, style with vivid colors in flash and acrylic paints. His work entitled Contrapposto references the ancient pose with two figures painted in black against a striking aqua background. Bruder also has tondo pieces in the show. In one, a figure sits on the floor of what appears to be a cell in an almost fetal position. Pointing once again to an underlying humor, about this work Smith said: “It’s called Must Read Proust, and I love that because he’s got this dayglow color, and . . . it looks very serious, but when you look at the title, it has a bit of humor.” Standing in front of the lush My Best Thinking Got Me Here, Smith said: “[He] paints these sort of natural environments, but they don’t feel that representative. It’s more of an idea, an ethereal idea of something that would be a cave or a forest.”    

Although equally mystical, Nick Farhi’s landscapes, or “volcano paintings”, have quite a different feel. Where Bruder seems to grant the viewer what Smith describes as “a microcosm of a way into a world”, Farhi seems to keep the viewer at arm’s distance, just the tip of his billowing, firey volcanoes visible, surrounded by black and dark blues and grey. Although the titles of these pieces also indicate an undercurrent of humor–Lets Get It On and Mai Tais in the Trope of Favorite Colors–Smith spoke about the studied seriousness of Farhi’s practice: “[T]he details and the romanticism that he has in his paintings . . . These remind me almost of an 18th or 19th century painter, the way that he’s using the paint and the light and really trying to represent the color and using the varnish in a specific way.”  

All three artists have and will be showing elsewhere around the city and world. Nick Farhi has an upcoming two person show at Rod Bianco in Norway. Ted Gahl recently had solo shows at NADA New York with Halsey McKay and at Mier Gallery in Los Angeles and at Cooper Cole Gallery in Toronto. Zach Bruder’s work has been exhibited in group shows at 247365 and Moiety in New York City.

Earlier this year, Smith curated a show called Paradise Cafe at the SPRING/BREAK Art Show and an open call in April at Field Projects in Chelsea. When asked about what made curating a show at Orgy Park special, Smith said: “I wanted to work with Steve because he’s sort of open to everything, and he’s an artist, and he’s presented some interesting things here.”  She added: “I just thought it would be interesting to use . . . this basement space, and I approached the artists and said: We can do something really interesting down here. There’s no limits . . . this is an opportunity for you to do what you want and for us to come together.”

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