New Art Gallery Lands in Rockaway Beach

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 A new art gallery is here for the summer. Brent Birnbaum, the artist and curator behind the Topless gallery and last summer’s pop-up Hang Ten, is back with his latest art venture, Walter’s, featuring a variety of art shows this summer.

After landing in Rockaway in 2013, in the summer of 2014, Birnbaum helped bring art gallery Topless to Rockaway, to give the peninsula a boost as it was making its comeback after Hurricane Sandy. It continued for two more summers. Last summer, Birnbaum was back with a short art show in the former Wave Building called Hang Ten. “It was informative. Hundreds came and that’s where I realized there was still a demand for this,” Birnbaum said.

So this summer, when an opportunity opened up to rent a space within a three bedroom apartment on Beach 96th Street, Birnbaum decided to utilize it as a place to keep the art going.

At the time, Birnbaum was already partnering with the Walter Elwood Museum in upstate Amsterdam, NY, running a contemporary wing of the historic museum. “They gave me autonomy, so I created a separate website for myself, a separate Instagram, a different name,” he said. And he decided to share the art wealth with Rockaway. “Even though I opened upstate, I was always coming back here and thinking if I wanted to do it again because Topless was so successful,” he said. Birnbaum decided to take the chance and opened Walter’s at 199 Beach 96th Street with the first show installation opening on June 11. Just follow the big green alien on the Boulevard that points you in the right direction, and you’ll find Walter’s.

The first show, which will be open through July 3, is called Thinking Outside The Litter Box. Birnbaum has curated a show featuring three works each by three unique artists, Vale Bernot of Mexico City; Jaqueline Cedar, from Brooklyn; and Ralph Pugay, from Portland, Oregon. A press release for the show says, “To think outside the litter box is to have an art show referencing cats, not just with cats. Maybe Santa Claus uses a litter box. Maybe we morph into turtles and swim in harmony with our ancestors. Perhaps a dog leashes-up some humanoids or a hula-hooping woman empties her bowels on burial grounds under the horrified gaze of innocent kittens.”

“It’s a little abrasive,” Birnbaum says. “It’s a reaction to the state of the world with Covid, the war in Ukraine and mass shootings and I think these artists are using the visual arts as a type of escapism or metaphors for human emotions in response to what’s happening. It’s a very intense time in the world and I felt this in-your-face artwork is really justified.”

The show consists of nine pieces, featuring colored pencil on paper, watercolor pieces and digital prints on wood panels. “This show is simple in its display,” Birnbaum said. Thinking Outside the Litter Box will be open until the closing reception on Sunday, July 3 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Birnbaum says the next show he’s curated for Walter’s will be a larger scale show with a wider variety of mediums, including a sculpture outside in the yard. This show will have a darker feel. “It has a bit of a medieval tone to it. It is not as playful and absurd as this first show. It’s a little darker and more of an immersive experience than the first one,” Birnbaum said. As of now, he has five artists lined up for this show and may add others. The second show will begin with an opening reception on Saturday, July 23 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and it will continue through the closing party on Sunday, August 14 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. After that, Birnbaum already has ideas for a third, and maybe fourth show at Walter’s from August 20 through September 4.

Some pieces at the shows will be up for sale but Birnbaum says the galleries he curates are mostly a labor of love. “I do it for the community here and the community of artists,” he said. And having an office in Rockaway isn’t too bad either. “My favorite thing about running a gallery in Rockaway is I get to talk about contemporary art, while never having to put on my shoes or shirt,” Birnbaum said.

Walter’s, located at 199 Beach 96th Street (with an entrance on Rockaway Beach Blvd.) is open Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment. For updates, follow walter__elwood on Instagram. To see previous works check out the website: walters.art and for more on Birnbaum, see: www.brentbirnbaum.com 

 By Katie McFadden

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