Inaugural show at renovated art center celebrates diversity of arts in the Bronx

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There’s a picture of Andy Warhol on Gail Nathan’s desk with a quote that resonates with her these days.

“The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting” is a reflection of nearly eight years of renovations at the Bronx River Art Center that have kept Nathan and her team from being able to do what they do best — serve as a space for the arts. 

After $12 million in city and private funds allocated between design and construction periods, the Bronx River Art Center is back with newly designed spaces for art shows and classes at 1087 E. Tremont Ave.

Nathan, who has been executive director of the center for nearly 20 years, is relieved the center’s renovation days are finally over after years of uncertainty.

“Every time we thought we were ready,” she said, “we got delayed.”

Among the many celebrations scheduled to kick off the center’s inaugural year, one of the first is “Bronx Now,” a look at 16 Bronx-based artists whose works range from photography to painting. The exhibit is on display through Sept. 8.

This isn’t the first time this show has been exhibited. In fact, there’s been a two-year break since its last run. Its curators, Laura James and Eileen Walsh, presented “Bronx Now” in Bushwick two years ago. As its anniversary approached, Walsh and James decided they wanted to continue the show.

When it came to finding artists to fill the show’s roster, Walsh and James turned to BX200, a visual artist directory they created four years ago that allows them and the public to comb through a selection of local Bronx artists who work in a variety of media like performance art and printmaking.

“The whole show is the best of everything that we saw from the artists that we wanted to work with,” James said. “It really starts with the artist.”

It was there James and Walsh found people like photographer Roy Baizan, whose work “Hydro Punk” shows the excitement and energy that comes from a Bronx-based collective with the same name that hosts local punk and hip-hop shows. 

For Walsh, displaying Bronx-based art is not just picking a few artists from the borough to put in a show.

“We really try to show up large and somewhat disparate groups that you really get a feeling of all the different things in the borough,” she said. 

And in Nathan’s eyes, Bronx artists bring a different perspective that can’t be found elsewhere.

“There’s a creative sense that’s unlike any other place in the city,” she said. “I think the artists here are very independent and they don’t follow the trends. It’s part of the Bronx spirit.

“They are making their place in the world, and they are making a stamp on our culture and our lifestyle in their own unique way. It’s deep in the aesthetic and the creation of the art that’s being made.”

James shares a similar sentiment with Nathan, focusing on the fact these artists aren’t creating their work out of the sake of keeping with trends in their medium.

“It’s not like money is the number one striving factor for these artists,” James said. “It’s just like, ‘Let’s just make some art that comes from the heart, and I want to show people how I’m feeling right now and what’s going on in my community and in my surroundings and what I’m seeing.’”

Feedback from the show has been fantastic, Walsh said.

“No matter who came in,” she said, “they could find certain things that they enjoyed.”

In the future, she and James hope to bring different incarnations of “Bronx Now” to places like Manhattan and a museum somewhere in the tri-state area. 

James hopes prospective visitors to the Bronx River Art Center display get a sense of familiarity once they see the work and “to feel like they maybe were hanging out with friends or something.” Walsh hopes others will be impressed by the professional quality and heart the artists have put into their work.

But in the meantime, Walsh wants viewers of Bronx art to “respect what’s been here all along and allow it to grow, but keep its past.”

“We really want to start getting the message out that the Bronx has an art scene,” she said. “We want to make sure that what has been here is going to continue to be considered the Bronx art scene and not have it be changed.”

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