“Killer Angels” offered a send-off to an innovative gallery in a garage off Wooster Square.
As curator Johanna Bresnick (pictured) kicked off her last opening at the Grand Projects gallery, friends and followers congratulated her for years of service to the New Haven art scene.
“The space…was a breeding ground for new artists—which New Haven needs.” said Joseph Smolinsky, who once exposed at Grand Projects with his collective, Trifocal Projects. “It’s kinda bittersweet that it’s closing tonight.”
Over the past five years, Bresnick has hosted dozens of experimental art exhibits in the two-door garage behind her Lyon Street home. Friday night’s opening, featuring a local artist named Mark Williams, marked the closing of the “Grand Projects” gallery after a continuous run of 26 shows.
At Friday’s opening/farewell party, Bresnick sat in the backyard and greeted guests as they took up positions around a pony keg. The scene was intimate and laid-back, a formula that has won Bresnick a reputation among artists as an ideal curator.
Bresnick, who founded Grand Projects in 2002, said she got the idea for the gallery after returning from her art studies in Chicago, where informal galleries, or “project spaces,” were popping up in basements and garages. Most were started by young artists frustrated with the difficulty of finding spaces to exhibit in traditional galleries, she said.
Seeing that New Haven’s art scene was equally unfriendly to new talent, she decided to launch her own project space. Recessed into the backyard of her Lyon Street home, the improvised gallery made up for its location by offering young artists an opportunity to exhibit daring work.
According to Bresnick, most commercial galleries either refused to feature emerging talent or lumped them together in a group exhibits. Allowing artists to exhibit—alone—was part of what made her gallery particularly appealing, she said.
“That ‘solo show’ line in the resume is really important for emerging artists,” she added.
Since it opened the garage had served primarily as a site for installations—artistic works integrated into their spatial environment. Bresnick offered a short list of successful ones, including an installation made from beeswax and bullet casings, another built solely out of sugar cane, and a mural that wrapped around the entire garage.
Asked why she had decided to close her gallery, Bresnick said the reasons were mostly linked to her personal situation - -namely, an 8-week-old son and a recent move to a new house. Since running the gallery was “not a money-making operation,” she had to look for a source of steady income, she added.
Meanwhile, guests were ducking under the doors of Bresnick’s garage to see Mark Williams’ exhibition.
Titled “Killer Angels,” it featured a collection of wall-mounted sculptures shaped to resemble blown-up versions of toy soldiers. Made from brightly-colored Christmas lights, the sculptures shone in the darkened gallery space, painted white for the occasion. In one corner, a shoe-box-sized diorama featured tiny paper soldiers waging a miniature war as lights flashed in the background.
Williams said the intent of his project had been to critique the way society uses toys to teach children about war. Taking the toys out of their context and transforming them, he said, allowed viewers to re-engage with the familiar objects in an entirely new light.
“Having [the soldiers] big makes it much more confrontational,” he said. “This way, it’s human-scale.”
Williams, who is pursuing a masters in art at UConn, was thankful for the opportunity to exhibit at Grand Projects, but regretted that the gallery was closing.
“At a different show, [curators] might say: ‘What? You’re going to have alcohol and the lights will be off?’” he said. “That would be a liability. At Grand Projects, you’re given the space to do anything you want with it.”