Had we not been personally escorted through the unmarked double doors that lead to Kenkeleba Gallery, Manhattan Sideways might not ever have known it was here. The only sign on the building reads Henington Hall, etched into the stone facade along with the year it was built, 1908. According to Joe Overstreet, in the 70’s the building was condemned until he and his wife, Corinne Jennings, were able to strike a deal with the city in 1978. Although 2nd Street was teeming with drug activity back then, the arrangement proved worthwhile for Overstreet, as it gave him, his wife, three children and the emerging Kenkeleba House a home in an area that eventually cleaned up its act and became one of the most important neighborhoods for the arts in New York City.Since its founding, Kenkeleba House has flown under the radar as a not-for-profit gallery space and artist workspace. Joe and Corinne were only interested in promoting new ideas, emerging artists, experimental work, and solo shows for those deserving of the recognition. They preferred to showcase artists whose works were not typically featured in commercial galleries, focusing primarily on African American art. Joe and Corinne’s vision of Kenkeleba House - as a space for artists to grow, to showcase African American that oftentimes would have been lost, and teaching African American history through gallery shows - was only possible due to their extensive background in art as well as their immense individual efforts.Corinne was born into a family of artists in an isolated part of Rhode Island, and until she was about twelve or thirteen, she thought “that’s what everyone did- I thought people made things.” Her father, a talented printmaker who studied under Hale Woodruff, is widely known for his black and white wood engravings and costume jewelry. The Wilmer Jennings Gallery - across the street on 2nd Street - is named for him. Jennings’ mother was a Yale graduate and painter. Corinne came to New York in the 1960’s, originally wanting to be a scenic designer. Even though she was qualified, she was turned away by the head of the scenic designer’s union with the explanation that they did not want any women or black people. She instead started to do art projects, and eventually decided to “tackle some of issues that prevented African American artists from fully developing.”Corinne and Joe spent a lot of time speaking with artists from different parts of West Africa and the Caribbean, eventually coming upon the realization that “they needed to find a different way for people to develop, for people to have space to work, [and] to find alternative educational routes for people.” In 1978, Joe and Corinne purchased an abandoned building on second street, fixed it up, and opened up their first art exhibition in 1980. From then on, they began amassing their extensive and remarkable collection.The exhibits on display in this gallery recognize the rarely explored contributions that people of African descent have made to the art world. It is here, hanging on the walls and filed away in the deepest recesses of their private collection, we were showed a portrait of Dr. John DeGrasse painted by a largely forgotten African-American artist by the name of Edward Mitchell Banister (1828-1901). Banister won a national award for his most famous painting, “Under the Oaks.” The magnificent framed picture of Dr. DeGrasse is easily worth more money than we could count, but the history lesson we received from Joe was priceless. Dr. DeGrasse was a native New Yorker and also one of the first African-Americans to receive a medical degree. He gained acceptance to the Boston Medical Society in 1854, making him the first African-American to belong to a medical association in that state. And to boot, he was also the first African-American medical officer in the U.S. Army serving as Assistant Surgeon in the Civil War. In addition, Manhattan Sideways viewed works dating back to 1773, by the late Hale Woodruff, an African-American abstract painter who lived in New York City from 1943 until his death in 1980. In addition to being an artist who aspired to express his heritage, Woodruff was also an art educator and member of the faculty at New York University.“We are African-American, so that is what we do,” said Corinne, “but we are also interested in artists from the Lower East Side.” Corinne’s personal art collection reflects much of her parent’s amazing work, as well as that of other African-American artists, both well-known and yet undiscovered. Kenkeleba Gallery aims to teach the younger generations about African-American history. “Every nationality walks by here on a daily basis, but they have no idea who we are as a people.” Joe and Corinne were well aware of the contribution African-Americans have made to the arts that began right here in this community. Their private collection is made up of over 30,000 paintings, artifacts, art books and jazz records that tell the rich history of African-Americans in this country.
Masami Hosono’s mother worked in fashion. Growing up in Tokyo, she always knew that she wanted to work in fashion herself, but something was missing: socializing. “I love to talk and meet people,” she explained to me with an amicable smile. In a white, modern space with a rack of clothing on her left, Masami shared her story. When she turned eighteen, Masami met a “very great hairstylist,” with whom she would work and learn for the next four years. Her passion for hair, style, music, and socializing ultimately led her to quit her job in Tokyo and board her very first plane to New York in 2012. “I was like, I don’t speak English, but I can cut hair,” she recounted. “Maybe I can do it.”The New York Masami had heard about back home could not compare to the one she arrived in. She told me, “Japanese people love New York City, but they only know cool fashion, cool hair, cool music. But there’s more good stuff, personality, freedom.” One of the biggest surprises, but also most appealing aspects of the city, was its dynamic queer scene. “Being gay in Japan is very hard,” Masami recalled. “I’m from Tokyo, and it’s a very conservative place. But in New York City, everything is mixed. The queer culture is amazing.”Life in New York was, understandably, a big adjustment. With no place to live, Masami spent her first nights in a hotel, and her first days exploring the streets. But she took the challenges of a new country in stride by doing what she does best: cutting hair and meeting people. While Masami made a living by cutting hair in Williamsburg, she also offered free haircuts to make friends. “I just found people on the street,” she said with a nostalgic laugh. “Like, ‘oh, they look cool.' And I asked them, ‘Can I cut your hair?’” Little by little, through about 400 free cuts a year, Masami began to learn English, and build a community of friends. “Musician clients would say, ‘I’m playing tonight, you should come.’ So I go, and they introduce me to more musician friends. I met one designer because I cut his girlfriend’s hair, and he makes music videos, so he asked if I could do the hair for the music video. I’ve met so many very cool people who are musicians, artists, skateboarders...all these artists who can hang and make creative stuff together.”In 2015, Masami moved from Williamsburg to the East Village to work at Assort International Hair Salon. There, she took the final leap: She told her boss she wanted to open her own store. In April of 2016, Masami and her boss went into business together as Creative Director and Founder, respectively, of Vacancy. Masami stressed the importance of collaboration in small business work: “I’m really happy to have the founder because I really can focus only on the creative side. It’s really important to have the creator and financial person separate.”Vacancy is more than a just a hair salon; it is also a pop-up retail shop (with items designed by friends of Masami) and artist hang-out. While Masami’s hair clients come from far and wide (“Do you know the singer Rachel Trachtenburg? Yeah, I chopped off her hair”), Vacancy still maintains the vibe of a small, local business, while serving a massive and ever-expanding web of Masami’s friends.Masami’s haircut services have a very specific appeal. “My haircut style is not super fancy,” she told me, “because when I came here, I met a lot of people on the street. They always have amazing hair, and I ask ‘Where did you get a haircut?' and they say ‘Oh, I cut it myself.’ So I do kind of DIY, very grungy, choppy, messy.” Her cuts are still customizable: Vacancy offers hair designs in “a lot of crazy colors,” from pink to blue and everything in between.Masami and her army of artistic friends will not be confined to the shop. In addition to haircuts, Masami collaborates with her friends to produce a number of visual and literary creative projects, to bring their art and vision to the general public. She edits and produces a blog (or “web journal”), which features interviews and photographs of all sorts of artists, from painters to sculptors to Instagrammers, whom she has met through cutting hair. She also produces a monthly radio show, Vacancy Radio, through which she introduces listeners to her musical friends (“People are at work like ‘What am I gonna listen to today? Vacancy Radio!’”). Most recently, Masami has produced a zine (a self-published, miniature magazine) featuring her own hair and makeup designs and pictures by her friends in photography. She is currently working on a second zine. To bring everyone together, Masami often hosts “book and zine events” in the Vacancy space, where her friends can gather and share their work. “People can come and hang out and, well, drink,” she added with a laugh.With so many friends and projects in her repertoire, one might think she would be ready to call it a day, but this is only the beginning of Masami’s vision for Vacancy. While she will always be cutting hair, Masami dreams of an entire Vacancy building just for artists. “I want a full coffee shop, and maybe a bar. I want shared studios where the artists can make art. We can have an exhibition. We can have a music studio downstairs and live shows. Like an art house.”As she moves into the future, Masami Hosono makes sure never to lose sight of her roots. As she guided me on her journey from newcomer to centerpiece of New York’s artistic community, what became increasingly clear to me was her awareness of the potential that her prominence in a new country gave her to make change back home. No matter how well-known Masami’s work becomes, her queer identity has always been, and will continue to be, the center of her narrative. Masami has made the decision to return to Japan this summer, and potentially begin a regular practice of working in both countries. She has already booked an interview with a Japanese magazine and looks forward to bringing New York’s culture of openness back to her homeland in whatever ways she can. “When I have a magazine interview or work in Tokyo, I want to talk about it more, little by little,” she said. “I will change the culture if I can.”
Andrew Castrucci has been bottling his own urine since 1986. The five-pound jugs began as an alternative to the single toilet all the building’s squatters had to share and were later launched off the roof like hand grenades when the police attempted to evict the residents. When the Manhattan Sideways team visited Andrew in 2017, the jugs were still defiant and airborne, dangling from the ceiling by invisible fishing lines in the gallery on the first floor of that same building. The jugs hung before a gloomy portrait of Donald J. Trump that Andrew made in 1986 and were just one installation in an entire exhibit devoted to art protesting the 45th President. The Bullet Space gallery is a true throwback to another time in the East Village. Andrew, a well-regarded sculptor and abstract painter, runs a non-profit artist’s collaborative in his “unconventional” space. He features shows curated exclusively by residents of the building, ensuring that all exhibitions have connections to the East Village community. As Andrew explained it, “We work outside the gallery system.” The lifespan of every show is two months, in an effort to promote as many artists as possible. The responsibility of organizing the shows rotates among the artists, and each exhibition displays a variety of media and pieces from around the world. Andrew described the building as a “living workspace.”The gallery’s title arose from an effort to take ownership of the name “bullet,” a brand of heroin so rampant in the area during the 1980s and 90s that it earned East 3rd Street the nickname “Bullet Block.” Andrew revealed how the neighborhood has changed since that time, saying: “I don’t have fifty people coming up to me everyday asking to buy coke and crack and heroine anymore.”In 1991, the squatting artists completed a book called “Your House is Mine,” a collection of works depicting homelessness, the fight for civil rights, gentrification and other issues of the Lower East Side. The book has been showcased in the collections of twenty museums, including the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Victoria & Albert museum in London. The book’s success, however, was eclipsed by the fallout of the reality it exposed: “I couldn’t even celebrate because I was the only one alive from the exhibition,” Andrew admitted.Andrew and his neighbors squatted in the building until 2001, when they bought it through a non-profit for $1.00. The residents had been performing skits and putting up their artwork in the space long before the first floor became an official gallery. Although most occupants are still artists, Andrew is the sole resident who remains in the building from the initial group in 1986.Future exhibits will include art exclusively created by children, ball-point pen works, and a show honoring the late Melvin Way, a poet who lived in the building. Bullet Space often displays art that has been rejected from more commercial venues for being too unconventional. “We’re considered off-off Broadway,” Andrew said. While speaking with him, we also learned that he teaches guerrilla art and graphic design at the School of Visual Art and has worked as a cartoon artist for the New York Times and the Daily News.While Andrew's 2017 show, titled "Wrong Side of History," spotlighted political art, Bullet Space's exhibitions engage with a variety of topics. Andrew still carries the torch of rebellion, putting in a conscious effort to incorporate “underrepresented forms of art,” such as graffiti art, Native American art, and pieces done by women. “The show has a strong women's presence,” he told us while pointing to a pink hat found on the sidewalk during the Women’s March in NYC in January of 2017. The “interesting artifact” sat on a table below a print that read: “Nevertheless, she persisted.” "Wrong Side of History" featured pieces from around the globe and from different time periods, touching on several themes that the current administration has been criticized for, such as xenophobia, sexism, media usage, and more. Some pieces address President Trump's more explicitly, like the giant sculpture of his head made out of horse manure that Andrew obtained from his Amish neighbors upstate. The works not only impress viewers for their visual aesthetic, but evoke queries such as "Who owns the truth?", "How are opinions shaped?", and "What happens when the viewer leaves the gallery?". The art extends beyond the physical stillness of an object to be looked at, interacting with the viewer like a cognitive jousting partner, spurring contemplation of the concepts in the gallery. “To keep your sanity, you have to respond somehow,” Andrew stated. “I believe in art having power - art can change the tide.”
As Hamlet would say, “This is one of the places you come to the village for.” Walking through the door, a small white pooch runs up to greet you, then leads you back through the racks of coats, pants, hats, and other accessories. As the owner, Hamlet, emphasizes, the inventory here is vintage clothing (not a second-hand shop), that dates from the 1940s to the 80s. The selection is sourced through various vintage collectors from all over the world. Hamlet credits his eye for fashion to his mother, who, he says, was a fashion designer in his home country of Dominican Republic. He is very proud of his collection and iterates that the store is not for “80s party” accoutrement, rather it is a resource for historic elegance and style. And if you stop in, you may even get your picture taken, as Hamlet will often have his customers model his new acquisitions.
Every nook and cranny of this tiny storefront's space is full of an extensive and eclectic collection of musical instruments from around the world. Instruments hang from the ceiling just as haphazardly as they are stacked on top of one another from the floor. Located at this same address for over fifty years, Music Inn has an impressive sitar selection from the 1960's, a rare 100 year old sarinda from Afghanistan, as well as adorable little child guitars and mini pianos. I had a quick throwback moment when I spied an autoharp. Do you remember music class in elementary school back in the 60's?
62 East 4th Street has had a fascinating history. At its inception in 1889, it served as a social hall housing a musician's union known as Astoria Hall, as well as hosting meetings of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. In the 1930's, the ballroom was revamped as a theater and television studio and renamed Fortune Theater until Andy Warhol discovered it and left his legendary stamp here. In 1969, he rented it out to showcase a series of infamous porn films and called it Andy Warhol's Theater: Boys to Adore Galore. Over the years, the Yiddish theater had performances here, and many well known television shows used the space to film. Since 1987, the Duo Center has been here having raised the funds for renovations, and then remaining throughout construction to become home to what is now Duo Multicultural Arts Center and Rod Rogers Dance Company and Studio. Today the building is part of Fourth Arts Block (FAB) and operates as a center for film, dance, art, theater and music and is among New York's designated cultural districts.
Pageant Print Shop’s entirely glass storefront bordered by light blue is instantly eye-catching and proudly displays the treasure within. Inside its bright, buttercream interior, an immense assortment of old prints and maps line every wall and fill neatly-labeled display racks.This sanctuary of beautiful historical pieces was created by Sidney Solomon and Henry Chafetz in 1946. It was originally one of the many second-hand book stores on Fourth Avenue, an area that was then known as “Book Row.” Now under the leadership of Sidney’s daughters, Shirley and Rebecca, Pageant Print Shop primarily sells old prints and is thriving at its current 4th Street location.Having worked with historic pieces her whole life, Shirley knows how to get the best prints. She has amassed her impressive collection from antique book auctions as well as other various sources that she has built up over the years. Rodger, who has been working at Pageant Print Shop for over a decade, told Manhattan Sideways that “what we are looking for are old books with the bindings broken that are really not in very good shape on the outside, but still have good quality prints, maps, or illustrations on the inside.” Although they search for old books based on the contents within, the shop also sells the old bindings for creatives looking to make decoupage and other fun art projects.Pageant Print Shop is definitely a fixture in the East Village, and in the words of Rodger, is “one of those neighborhood jams.” They enjoy “a loyal group of people that have been coming here for eons," tourists looking for something authentically New York City, and neighborhood people walking by. Rodger told us that newcomers are often “surprised that they are able to buy a piece of history,” and return for more of their authentic, beautiful, and historic prints. Pageant Print Shop is unique in its extensive, high quality, and affordable selection. Rodger affirmed that “It’s going to be hard for you to find someone who has this kind of a collection at these kinds of prices - it’s just true.”
After moving to her current location from East 7th Street, Lalita Kumut is pleased with her new address for selling aromatherapy products. On one of our recent visits, we stood by while a delighted group of girls were creating their own fragrances. From the variety of custom blends, soaps, oils and other smell-good body products, to the lovely women who have been in this business for over twenty years, the Fragrance Shop offers a memorable experience for the senses.