Tag Archives: beta pictoris

Engaging that edge

Walk on by

We have often discussed how streets are our cities’ most important public spaces, and the crucial role that the building “edge” plays in defining the street as a space. Even in a city like New York, known for its finely detailed and variated storefronts, one occasionally comes across the exception: above is the AT&T switching tower (21 stories, 10th Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets, completed 1964) whose facade is a windowless box clad in brick and stone. While its abstract geometry at times seems a worthy foil to the more humanly scaled buildings around it, nonetheless it fails at the ground level, where pedestrians are greeted with a blank wall.

19th century, meet 21st century

Needless to say, a telephone switching center (with its floors largely occupied by temperature-sensitive machinery and technology, not people) is always a tricky design within an urban context. Another typology that’s often challenging is the academic building: balancing needs for security and controlled teaching environments with community engagement can be difficult. At the Cooper Union‘s new building on Cooper Square and East 7th Street (above; architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis, 2009), the ground floor contains exhibition gallery space and retail uses along the sidewalk, to engage the public with the building. Likewise, the upper portions of the building skin reveal the interior through different levels of transparency. Initially controversial to the surrounding neighborhood, this project in the end manages to embody the college’s elevated aspirations for the future, while still being permeable and engaging.

Summer oasis

A few blocks south, an NYU building has renovated its formerly forlorn plaza setback into a landscaped court filled with benches and low walls for sitting (above, Mercer Street looking north to West 4th Street). This modest intervention creates a mixing zone where the public and academe come together.

Cinematic vision

Once Birmingham finally gets the indie cinema it deserves, it needs a bar/cafe similar to that found at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (view from the bar out to West 65th Street, above; the Juilliard School is across the street).  Views out to the street, and from the street into the cafe, illustrate the power of an engaging street edge.

Once again, art comes out on top

Back on 2nd Avenue North in Birmingham, the small storefront of Beta Pictoris gallery (above, between 25th and 24th Streets) is an excellent example of how well-lit, engaging storefronts can energize the public realm of the street. Better storefronts lead to better foot traffic. And better foot traffic means more business. Which leads to more storefronts. To keep urban momentum going, you’ve got to maintain that edge.

Art + downtown = genius

Opening eyes and expanding the mind

Tomorrow (Sept. 9 at 5 PM) is the start of Artwalk, the annual downtown art event that showcases dozens of artists and brings thousands to the streets. In conjunction with this (free!) event, we are hosting “FAIRYtales”, a show of Larry Anderson’s work at our studio, 2332 Second Avenue North next to Faith Skate Supply. Beta Pictoris gallery has arranged this great show; please stop by to check it out!

[thanks to Beta Pictoris for the image of Anderson’s work]

Art of the Urbane

So THAT'S what we can do with the broken meters

Directly east of Space One Eleven Gallery, a new contemporary art gallery has opened downtown. It’s called Beta Pictoris and it’s the brainchild of Guido Maus (you can view the gallery website here). The shot above shows the storefront on the 2400 block of Second Avenue North.

Guido moved to Birmingham 5-1/2 years ago from New York City (he is Belgian). He ran furniture galleries in Tribeca before his wife, an expert in antique furniture restoration, was lured to Birmingham to help the Museum of Art with their collection. After a furniture venture here, Guido decided to follow one of his dreams and open up a fine art gallery, showing both local and national artists. His first show exhibited both Birmingham and New York artists, and according to Guido, “visitors couldn’t tell the difference.” He is interested in upending this notion of “local” vs. “national” art, to establish dialogs through visual art.

Dressed to kill

This interest in dialog is why his current show is so spot on. Entitled “Dazzling”, it exhibits photography by local artist Sonja Rieger (the example here is “Kitti Smoking” and the image is courtesy Sonja Rieger and beta pictoris gallery). Sonja photographed drag queens while they were gathered at a large, African-American drag event in Birmingham’s west side. Close to 500 people turned out for the opening night of this show, and, according to Guido, provocative discussion was everywhere.

“Art should provoke discussion, not just look pleasing.”–Guido Maus

Guido feels there is a vibrant art scene in Birmingham, but no vibrant art market. This is why so many galleries are forced to sell art that “looks pretty” and is acceptable to interior decorators–and that’s fine; there’s a place for that. But Guido feels there’s also room to support other artists who are stretching the boundaries beyond what is just pretty, towards what is provocative.

I have long felt that urban areas must have artists and art in order to be truly vibrant. This city could do a much better job of offering incentives for artists to relocate here, for galleries to open and flourish, for public art programs. In the meantime, kudos to Guido for sticking with the Magic City and choosing to take a risk that a provocative, intellectual approach to art can work here. His small gallery is just a start; he’d like to open a much larger space suitable for large exhibitions, artists-in-residence, etc. Mark your calendars for his next opening Friday May 28!

Passionate about the power of art

Finally, a brief note about the pic at the top of the post: Space One Eleven, the neighboring gallery, has put together a great piece of urban “public” art, utilizing street trees, storefront windows, and yes, broken parking meters. I’m only half-joking when I suggest we may have finally found a solution to repairing the vast number of broken meters across this city!