Phoenicia Arts revival is underway

Rebecca Roman in front of Bronson Eden’s work. (Photo by Violet Snow)

“Straight white males can show at Phoenicia Arts,” declared gallerist Rebecca Roman, who is exhibiting a retrospective of the work of Bronson Eden, a founding member of the core group of artists who ran the gallery’s previous incarnation, Arts Upstairs, for almost two decades on Phoenicia’s Main Street. Eden’s edgy art will be up through September 24, including pieces dating from his days in the groundbreaking East Village art scene of the 1980s. 

Roman, a former fashion runway model, is bringing new energy to the gallery with public events, such as jazz and Afro-Cuban concerts, and her connections to young artists in Brooklyn and Europe. At the same time, she is trying to live down a misquote in this newspaper that made local artists feel she was opposed to the community they had built up over the years.

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In April, Roman opened the new gallery with poet Amy King, who was quoted as saying, “We’re looking to bring more diversity to the culture of the area. We want to feature artists other than straight white males.” The second half of that quote was taken out of context and was actually meant to refer to King’s activities with VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, an activist organization that calls attention to the lack of gender parity in publishing and teaching. Roman said King was not referring to the gallery when she made the remark. With her time taken up with teaching and poetics, King has dropped out of the gallery, and Roman is going solo.

Sitting in the gallery’s front room, now lined with couches and soft chairs, Roman said, “I have so many ideas. I’ve been part of the art scene for years, and not just in the U.S.” Though she grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey, Roman has many contacts in New York City, particularly in Brooklyn’s Burner scene, which holds events to raise money for the annual Burning Man Festival in Nevada. In the 1990s, just after the Berlin Wall came down, she lived in K77 and Tahales, communes of experimental artists in East Berlin. 

Roman was the stage manager for “The Freakshow,” a Norway-based art performance group. With founder and creative director Iselin Bruff, Roman produced a live stage performance at the Boom Festival, a psychedelic art and electronic music event in Portugal. “As close friends, we speak weekly,” said Roman, “most recently about her flying to New York, where we can join forces once more to re-create some of the magic from 2006.” Roman plans to install Bruff’s work in a solo room in the fall.

During the period of the gritty East Village art galleries, Bronson Eden showed at Civilian Warfare, which hosted activist artist David Wojnarowicz as well as Richard Hambleton, known for his famous “Shadowman” street art. “I remember going into those storefront galleries as a teenager,” said Roman. “I’m honored to have Bronson here.” Eden’s work is by turns whimsical and ominous, often with nudes who startle more through their casualness than through eroticism. His wide-ranging media include assemblages featuring jointed wooden figures, most of them naked; detailed pencil drawings, often huge; hyper-realistic yet surreal computer art; and unexpected combinations thereof. 

The Eden show follows the gallery’s initial exhibit of work by Christina Varga from April through the end of July. During that period, the gallery held opening and closing events, a potluck wherein Roman DJ’d funk music, and an afternoon of Varga creating one of her signature collages in front of gallery visitors. The events drew lively crowds of locals and city people, resulting in a number of sales. Several of Varga’s large pieces are still up in one room of the gallery, and Roman continues to sell Varga’s work, with a catalog of sizes and prices. She’s looking to get Kingston graffiti artist iam2nd for a future exhibit.

One of the gallery’s early events was a concert of Afro-Cuban jazz. On Thursday, August 9, Phoenicia Arts hosted The Peter Einhorn Jazz Trio. Roman has plans for more monthly jazz concerts. She also looks forward to holding poetry readings, book signing parties, and film screenings.

Meanwhile, as she continues her online sales, she’s seeking an employee to help out at events and cruising art studio tours for potential exhibitors who fit the gallery’s esthetic. “I want to bring energetic artists and curious visitors together, people young and old,” said Roman. “Phoenicia Arts is a fun, conscious communal space for art seekers and visionaries alike.”

The Phoenicia Arts and Event Space is open Thursdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Artists pay $200 to rent a solo room with a commission of 30 percent on sales. A discount is offered for retrospectives occupying more rooms. The gallery is located at 60 Main Street, Phoenicia, and can be reached at 845-688-5625. Visit the Phoenicia Arts & Event Space page on Facebook or https://www.phoeniciaarts.com.