In Bushwick, a central figure in the gallery boom takes his leave

Peter Hopkins. (Amy Silverstein)
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If the massive 56 Bogart building, a renovated factory turned art gallery mall, has been the "center of the action," according to the New York Times, of Bushwick’s art gallery transformation, then Peter Hopkins has been the center of the center.

"Fundamentally, I created the [56 Bogart] building,” Hopkins said in a phone interview last week. “I created the Bushwick gallery scene."

While it was 56 Bogart owners Ted Hovivian and Adrienne Saccone who began renting the old factory building they own out to artists in search of cheap studios, Hopkins played a big part in attracting other gallerists and artists to the neighborhood and the building. The directors of three different 56 Bogart galleries—MomentaArt, NURTUREart, and Studio 10—all agreed when reached last week that Hopkins deserves plenty of the credit for convincing artists to move in.

"He was really instrumental in getting us here," said Eric Heist, the director of Momenta Art, a nonprofit gallery that’s been at 56 Bogart since May 2011, "and I think a lot of other spaces followed flight after we went in."

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For more than a year Hopkins has also been running his own gallery space out of 56 Bogart, The Bogart Salon. The salon has been something of a headquarters for the Bushwick art scene, hosting events such as a neighborhood art-walk called citydrift, a Bollywood-style soap opera about the New York art world, a short play about Occupy Wall Street and panel discussions covering topics such as (what else?) art, Bushwick, and money. Exhibitions included an installation created by a secret group of East Coast art collectors and re-creations of famous paintings with live models.

But now Hopkins is leaving 56 Bogart.

Asked why, he framed it as a voluntary choice, sparked by a disagreement between him and those he said expected him to run a more traditional (and profitable) art gallery.

"If you're ever around the people who don't get it, you have to simply leave," Hopkins said. But Hopkins refused to name names and seemed to try to avoid implicating the building’s management. "It's not the owner[s], per se, it's really a subset in the art world of two kinds of people ... one, you have people who get it, and one you have people who don't get it."

Yet his bitterness was evident. “The art world is actually a world of very small-minded and terrified people who constantly do the same things over and over," he said.

Hopkins promises to open a new space that is bigger and better than The Bogart Salon, but for now he’s not divulging specific details, only saying cryptically: "I'm inventing a museum.”

Marco Antonini, the director of NURTUREart, a nonprofit art space at 56 Bogart, lamented Hopkins' departure.

"We're sad, that’s for sure," Antonini said, though he added that he expects Hopkins “to reopen in some other form somewhere else in the neighborhood."

Building owner Hovivian, for his part, denies getting in any disagreements with Hopkins, saying only that Hopkins’ time at 56 Bogart had run its course.

"We've had a good relationship together, and it was time for a change. That’s all."

Hovivian also downplayed Hopkins’ role at the building.

“I'm the building owner, so I also own The Bogart Salon. So consequently, Peter worked for me. And accordingly, we are just changing direction at the Salon."

Hovivian said he expects to get the salon space up and running again soon with new tenants, although he was also vague about specific plans, saying only that he hopes to get more traffic from serious art collectors.

"Are we getting enough of it? I don't think so. But it's just like it happened in Soho back in the ‘70s. It takes awhile for these things to develop. At least I'm convinced that's going to happen in Bushwick."

If Hovivian truly expects Bushwick to become the next big-money art neighborhood though, he is probably in for a disappointment.

His tenants say they are happy there, but they seem to have little interest in seeing Bushwick become the next Soho.

"What we want is foot traffic," NURTUREart's Antonini said. "We don't really care so much about collectors. The foot traffic is excellent. It's never been so good."

Even Luhring Augustine, one of Chelsea’s top galleries and the first to open a satellite in Bushwick (as Capital New York reported in January), just a short walk away from 56 Bogart, claimed that they don’t aspire to make tons of money in the new spot.

"The idea behind our Bushwick space is that it's more of a project space for us," Luhring Augustine gallery associate Elizabeth Serlenga said. "It's really meant as an outlet for our artists and also for our directors to do something that doesn't revolve around the market and around commerce." Such talk, however, has done little to dull the worries of some that the neighborhood will get too expensive.

One local artist who would be content to simply break even this year is Rafael Fuchs, a Bushwick-based photographer, who opened his first art gallery about three months ago at 56 Bogart.

"I might be [working] at a loss, and it's fine with me," said Fuchs. "Because I started this project knowing that it's going to cost me a hefty amount of dollars before I make some money."