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ABXY Gallery opens tonight on the Lower East Side in New York with the exhibition “NOW WE HERE,” featuring the work of Corey Wash, Vernon O’Meally, Malik Roberts, Zeehan Wazed, Sam Fryer, and Grave Guzman.
ABXY is headed by founder Allison Leigh Barker, and began as a salon-style space in SoHo in 2015. There, she brought together artists and collectors from varied backgrounds to interact and engage through programming and events. As demand grew for the artists’ works, Barker sought a more permanent space, ultimately finding it at 9 Clinton Street.
Whitewall spoke with Barker about creating a free and happy temple to beauty with ABXY Gallery.
WHITEWALL: Starting as an informal gathering place for artists and collectors in your SoHo home-office, how do you want to continue that salon-style approach with the gallery?
ALLISON LEIGH BARKER: Having some studio space on the lower level of the gallery is key. With the artists working there, the salon vibe comes naturally. Plus, I’ll still be switching things around quite often. Like in the old space, if a work sells and there’s something I want to put in its place, I may just do it. So, even if a given show will maintain the same focus from one week to the next, works exhibited may change. It keeps the momentum going.
WW: What kind of space do you want ABXY Gallery to be?
ALB: A free and happy temple of beauty dedicated to the exchange of ideas between all kinds of interesting, thoughtful people.
WW: What about the neighborhood of the Lower East Side made sense for you?
ALB: Everything. I really wanted to stay in Manhattan. I grew up here, I feel pretty addicted to the energy of this place. But downtown is getting crusty! In my opinion, the Lower East Side, East Village, and Harlem are the last cool, young, affordable places to live and run a business. And affordable being a very relative term here. The cost of entry even to this neighborhood is still a lot for most people but you get what you pay for. This place is fantastic. It is alive and vibrant and diverse in every way—and all of the people here would like it to stay that way.
WW: What kind of tone do you want to set with the inaugural exhibition, “NOW WE HERE”?
ALB: To be honest, I was on a deadline when I came up with the title and had about 30 seconds to think of it. But the more I designed the marketing material the more I liked it. We were pretty forcefully dislocated from our SoHo headquarters. So I hit the ground running and… Now, we here. It’s taken a little time, some money, and buckets of blood, sweat, and tears, but, now we here.
What I want to say with this show is: change happens one day at a time. It’s important to punctuate life with awareness and appreciation for the spaces we occupy and that’s the spirit of the work in the show.
WW: How would you describe your roster of artists, including Corey Wash, Vernon O’Meally, Malik Roberts, Zeehan Wazed, Sam Fryer, Grave Guzman? Despite their varying practices, is there something that connects them?
ALB: In their work, each ABXY artist deals with an issue that I think is an important topic for consideration by really anyone and everyone today. Women’s issues, the nuances of racism, the state of our planet, the intricacies of human nature, the magic of the universe. I think art can reach out and touch people. It can teach them things they may not have been able to learn anywhere else, in any other form, and I’m sure each one of my artists would agree. So not only are these guys all excellent technical artists, they are also deeply impassioned people, with the ability to move the conversation forward each day through their contributions to culture.
WW: How would you describe your relationship as gallerist with the artists you represent?
ALB: We’re a family. This is a woman-run business and no one around here could possibly forget that if they tried. I embrace that. I’m not embarrassed if I cry at work, but I’m also very handy with power tools. I run my business like a family. People tell me I’m crazy all the time but I’m learning not to care. We’re kicking ass, taking names, and having a real good time doing it, so I try not to hear any of the noise.
WW: How do you see programming at the gallery taking shape after the inaugural show?
ALB: That’s a great question. We’ll be showing the work of Ealy Mays next. He’s not one of my artists, but a mutual friend approached me about putting on a show of his work and after a quick Google search I knew we had to do it. Ealy has the same spirit we do—a rebel with many causes. And the work is outstanding.
Plus, there are only a handful of living, black artists who have exhibited in the Louvre and the Guggenheim, and especially after what we went through with SoHo, I want my artists to spend time with one. It’s important to have heroes, people who have moved through some familiar challenges. So Ealy will be here November 1 and we’ll open his show (tentatively) November 8. After that we’ll be doing a Malik Roberts solo show.
After that, I don’t know. I’m open, and I like to keep it like that. These artists develop every day, I never know where they’ll take me next but, as always, I’m sure it’ll be beautiful.