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O.H.W.O.W., or Our House West of Wynwood, is both a succinct and unspecific name that sums up the vibe of a new bi-city creative venture on NW Seventh Avenue. A hybrid of art gallery, low-key music venue, publishing house, and art studio, it's a collaboration between local collector and publisher Al Moran and New York-based cool-guy jack-of-all-trades Aaron "A-ron" Bondaroff.
"You mention Miami to anyone in New York, and they're like, I wanna go down there," Moran says. "Nobody wants to actually live here, but they want to be here all the time. So we started throwing around the idea of doing a real fluid space — not a gallery per se, not a concert venue per se — a place where all our friends could come together, and put the creative community out there and let them roll with it."
Bondaroff, especially, has a lot of those creative friends. The self-professed "downtown don" is the de facto ringleader of what remains of Manhattan's Lower East Side artistic stronghold. A sometime event designer, founder of streetwise clothing labels such as aNYthing and Off Bowery, and overall cultural catalyst, he has been called "one of those individuals who embodies a scene" by the New York Times. If you attended — or just heard about — last year's Purple magazine party during Art Basel, which featured art world glitterati waving around Mardi Gras beads for free drinks at Gold Rush strip club, then you have an idea of the kind of high/low debauchery in which Bondaroff and company specialize. That's one reason Playboy TV threw him some money earlier this year to open a temporary event space in New York, called the Wreck Center, which indirectly led to the birth of O.H.W.O.W.
"The Wreck Center was an illegal creative clubhouse. We took over a ravioli factory in the SoHo area of Manhattan and tried to bring back the underground scene which helped develop areas ... in the early Seventies and on," Bondaroff says. "But neighbors caught on; they disapproved of a venue like this and started a petition from the yuppie community to shut down the WC by getting police involved."
And though yuppies abound in Miami, Bondaroff had spent enough time here beyond the cheesy glitz ofSouth Beach to seize on the potential of the city's shop-worn urban core. "I think there is a lot more creative freedom to explore down in Miami," he says. "And it's easy to get to from NYC."
Still, the main drags regularly trampled by the free-booze-hounding gallery-night crowd seemed a bit played out. "We looked at the Design District, but it was so contrived we didn't want to be in that area. We liked what was going on in Wynwood — it actually feels like something real," Moran says. "But then I kind of felt like we were just going to fall into the mold there. What I don't like about that second-Saturday thing is that I don't really see people enjoying the experience. It's like, Let's go to the next one. I want to be somewhere where people have to drive to us. If they're coming over here, they're coming over here for an experience, to hang out for a few hours and then go out at night."
To that end, he found a building on NW Seventh Avenue at 31st Street, a striking white bunkerlike warehouse with few direct neighbors except auto body shops and strip mall cafeterias. "I call it the Lower East Side of the Lower East Coast," Bondaroff says. Building almost from scratch, they've finished about half the space; a main gallery/performance area is done up in stark white, and a video projection room and an office/studio are still to be completed. There's a DJ booth but no stage; bands are meant to set up anywhere they want, "real punk-rock-style," Moran says. A pop-up store selling affordable artists' items such as T-shirts and prints will go somewhere too.
It'll all be unveiled this Saturday, when O.H.W.O.W. opens with a solo show by Romon Kimin Yang, a.k.a. Rostarr, a South Korea-born, New York-based artist who has dubbed his loose, gestural style "graphysics." And already there's the cross-discipline connection: Yang is creative director for Brooklyn record label Truth & Soul, a dusty-crate-loving collective that's released a white-hot string of funky neo R&B. The link between the music and his art, Yang says, is indelible, and the label's Ghetto Brothers DJs will lay down soul rarities as the party soundtrack.
Beyond that, the guys behind O.H.W.O.W. have pretty flexible, but pretty ambitious, plans for the future. They're slated to release at least one art book a month (five have already been published under the O.H.W.O.W. brand, including a sort of compilation of the New York art zine Fuck This Life), and have plans to send Miami and New York luminaries back and forth. Just visit the place's website, www.oh-wow.com, and check out the "Community" page of O.H.W.O.W.'s extended family. It's safe to assume that performances by the likes of the Virgins and A.R.E. Weapons are in the cards at some point, as well as collaborations with art-world bad boys such as Dan Colen and Dash Snow. And while it's, uh, their house, they want you to know it's your house too (as long as you're not an asshole).