Crest Hardware, on Metropolitan Avenue near Lorimer in Williamsburg, has been in business since 1962. They sold hardware for 30 years. Then, in 1993, they turned into an art gallery.
But this is not the same old story of the multi-generational mom and pop that gets run out of town by the slick gallerist. This story is much better.
In 1993, artist Gene Pool (you may remember him as the Can Man) asked Crest's owner, Manny Franquinha, if he could have some space in the front window to show his art. The neighborhood had just started changing, artists were moving in, and they bought their supplies from Crest. So Manny said yes.
The next year, as Manny tells it, Pool had the whole store, giving its shelves over to art each summer. The Crest Art Show was born.
The annual show went strong until 1999, when Pool left the city. It stopped for nearly a decade and was revived in 2008 by Manny's son, Joe, the new owner of Crest. With his friends, Joe has expanded the show to include a festival behind the store, complete with live music, beer, and burgers.
But it's the show itself you absolutely have to see.
All of it inspired by and related to hardware, more than 280 pieces of art are placed throughout the store, some in plain sight, some cleverly disguised. Roaming the aisles, you feel the thrill of an Easter egg hunt.
Sculptures and paintings hang side by side with store products--a painting of a padlock hides among actual padlocks, a painting of a hammer hangs among hammers, a sculpture involving Thomas Edison sits back among the light bulbs. Look carefully or you will miss them. Keep looking and you'll find more.
Look long enough and your perception shifts, a pleasant disorientation taking hold as the products on the shelves become undifferentiated from the art. That plastic piggie watering can? It could be a sculpture. That artfully arranged assortment of springs? Real or art?
The lines blur--between art and life, and between gallery-goer and everyday shopper. Throughout the exhibit, the store remains open to customers, so that people select plywood and duct tape and potted ficuses, leaving you to wonder if it's all part of the show. That man grinding a key, is he a performance artist? Everything becomes elevated in this atmosphere, touched by the unexpected, by the possible.
On opening day this past weekend, patriarch Manny Franquinha quietly watched over the happening, dressed in his red smock with cane in hand, greeting customers. I asked him about the show. He said, "It's like a neighborhood give-back. Lots of artists buy from us."
This is what can happen when the old and the new cooperate to co-exist. One feeds the other and is fed in turn. We don't need more banks and Starbucks and artisanal bakeries. We don't need a Potemkin Village of hardware stores and pharmacies and rock clubs that are "preserved" and turned into upscale other things. We need more collaborations like this one, between artists and mom-and-pops, if this city's life force is to be sustained.
The art is on display until August 18. Click here for more info. And watch Harvey Wang's short film below to see how Gene Pool (in his famous "grass suit") and hardware man Manny Franquinha got the show off the ground in the early 1990s.