The once-quiet residential neighborhood of Ridgewood is rapidly becoming home to a dynamic art scene. Over the last two years large influxes of artists and gallery owners have migrated to Ridgewood from such places as Manhattan’s Chelsea district and Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
At the end of 2012 there were roughly a dozen art galleries operating in Ridgewood compared to three years prior.
Fred Valentine, a veteran of New York City’s art scene and the owner of Ridgewood’s Valentine Gallery on Seneca Avenue, explained: “Things are happening very fast here in Ridgewood. The local galleries are thriving with curated shows of paintings, sculpture, everything artistic.”
The Valentine is a quaint, medium-sized gallery, and its owner has made the most of its limited space. The rectangular showroom has an airy feel, and the powder-white brick and plaster walls possess a welcoming support for the many ethereal photos on display.
Many of these portray the natural beauty of lush and varied rural landscapes. Most of these pictures were taken in the backwoods of Ohio and Illinois. A few of them also feature the faces of the lower-middle-class families who live in these regions.
However, most of the exhibits, which draw about 100 people, at The Valentine feature painters and their paintings. Valentine most frequently displays high-quality, contemporary paintings chosen from a varied pool of local talent.
“Art schools are crafting out new artists like crazy. There are a ton of artists here in Ridgewood now,” said the painter and art professor at Pace University.
According to Valentine, the main reason so many artists are moving into Ridgewood is rental costs are relatively inexpensive when compared to places such as Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
Like The Valentine, the majority of the new art galleries which have sprung up in the neighborhood attract a wide demographic. Yet there is one art gallery in particular that has captured the enthusiasm of the young among Ridgewood’s growing population of youthful artists and art lovers.
At 19-20 Palmetto Street, just one block east of Woodward Avenue, the Small Black Door, a new, youth-oriented gallery run by owners Matthew Mahler and his longtime friend Jonathan Terranova never fails to stir up, encourage, as well as exhibit the intensely colorful and effervescent, artistic aspirations of Ridgewood’s nascent younger population.
Their main reason for making it public in February 2011 was, as Mahler said, “to give something back to the community in an altruistic way.”
The Small Black Door exhibits paintings, photographs, sculpture, videos and even artistically-fashioned quilts. The last exhibit, held on March 2, was curated by the art critic and photographer Carl Gunhouse. Six other artists’ works were on display. Among them were the latest fruits from Brooklyn’s painter Jacob Rhodes; the newest creations from sculptor Guy Nelson; and a surreal film produced by Keith Sullivan which featured a sonically accurate percussionist playing dramatically, albeit devoid of equipment, to the driving beat of a song called “Moby Dick” recorded by rock ‘n’ roll’s legendary English group Led Zeppelin.
Mahler opened the Small Black Door in Ridgewood after he was priced out of Greenpoint. “The rents are generally much cheaper here in Ridgewood, and you usually pay considerably less for a lot more space than you would find in the surrounding neighborhoods,” said Mahler.
And it is not only traditional art galleries that are blossoming now in Ridgewood. On Cypress Avenue, just one block south of Myrtle Avenue, stands the Artistic Neon. This 1950s-styled workshop, owned by Robbie Ingui, serves as a beehive of glass, neon and electric activity.
After a five-year apprenticeship under his father Gasper, who retired in 1998, Ingui became a master of this particular field so eminently equated with the illuminated environs of New York City.
Although neon’s heyday came to an end in the early ’70s after the proliferation of new, cheaper plastics, Ingui said that retro neon signs are becoming desirable items once more to both the public and the owners of restaurants and shops.
For the 40th anniversary of the New York World’s Fair in Flushing, Ingui was requisitioned to design a miniature Unisphere for the Queens Council on the Arts after being decorated for his many skills in 2001 by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
Citing Ridgewood’s diversity as the reason he opened the Artistic Neon there, Ingui said, “This neighborhood is coming alive.”
The astute Valentine agreed with this assessment and exclaimed enthusiastically: “Ridgewood, along with Bushwick, might just become the next big art scene on a surprising, even global scale. We are looking to the future.”