It’s 7 p.m. on lower Ludlow Street in Manhattan, and disparate art world cliques begin gathering at the emerging gallery Entrance as if it were that evening’s downtown equivalent of a high school assembly.
The uptown collectors arrived, deposited curbside by chauffeured cars; Brooklyn-based artists rode their bikes there across the Williamsburg Bridge; skaters with intellectualized T-shirt imprints rolled right up to the door, and the at-leisure independently wealthy had their Ubers leave them far up the block, so as to maintain their aura of dishevelment. There was also an adequate smattering of actors and fashion-types — with models towering well above skaters’ moppet hairstyles.
But inside the space, opened by a brother duo — New York City art kids Louis and Jack Shannon, ages 27 and 26, respectively — the diverse crowd intermingled with ease, taking people-watching to be part of the fun, if not an opportunity for learned experience. Such is the Shannons’ objective: To create an egalitarian “clubhouse” atmosphere established by artists, for artists.
The night marked the opening of “Rest Area,” a show of experimental neon sculptures by the artist Mariko Makino— her first-ever solo show, and the first program to be staged in Entrance’s recently expanded space, which now extends across two floors. Artist Dylan Kraus’ show of oil paintings, called “The Shining,” hung in the gallery’s original space downstairs.
Entrance was established as an underground enterprise, both literally and metaphorically. The Shannons have occupied the basement space at 48 Ludlow Street — accessible by sidewalk storm doors — since 2009, when it was originally used as a landing space for the DIY art collective Luck You, which they cofounded alongside a handful of other artists.
Last summer, with Luck You disbanded, they turned the studio space into a gallery with “the mission to serve emerging art in New York City, including the immediate community around us,” Louis Shannon said.
They remodeled the space to house a gallery in the front, and kept raw space at the back — now used as a residency studio by artists during their Entrance show runs. The studio also serves as an experimental print lab, with which Entrance is now developing an editions program to promote accessibility in the art world. “We want to be making things and help artists produce work. We don’t want to just be showing work in dry, clean terms,” Shannon said of the gallery’s intent.
Last month, the Shannons took over the building’s storefront space — formerly storage for an electrical supplier. Although Entrance is now coming out from the underground, so to speak, they aim to maintain its familial vibe — a component essential to the gallery’s success. Despite a depressed market for emerging art, the “bootstrap operation” counts its “sincere and carefully considered,” approach as a selling point for collectors. Entrance is currently a self-funded operation, with sales from its “successful” shows directly funding its continued ambitions.
The gallery regularly hosts dinner parties that play to its community mantra, with multi-course meals and plates devised as small artworks. “We will invite 10 to 20 artists to come eat with us, as well as collectors and curators — pretty much all pieces of the puzzle come down to break bread together. That’s a dream of the space — finding common ground. Doing that over food works really well,” Shannon said.
Makino — who majored in food studies at New York University — helped host one such dinner last year, which saw her co-develop a seven-course Kaiseki menu.
The artist tends to “get obsessed with a material and a craft and pushes it to its limits,” Shannon said, explaining her recent meditations on neon.
Makino began studying Ikebana, a discipline of Japanese floral arrangement, in 2016 — and held a show of wonky, off-kilter arrangements in collaboration with her boyfriend Ary Warnaar, member of the electronic chiptune group Anamanaguchi, who crafted music to complement each floral design. The following year she began studying glassblowing so she could craft her own vases. The interest in neon soon followed, with Makino enrolling in a neon glassblowing and craftwork course last summer.
Her intuitive, poetic lights — shown on the floor — are created entirely by hand, with Makino wiring the lamps herself. They illuminate the gallery in soft shades of pink and blue, their neon gas piped through delicately misshapen tubes. “I wanted to create something beautiful to look at that also serves a function, like lighting your home. It’s called ‘Rest Area’ because I wanted people to come hang on the carpet and take a moment to just sit down,” she said of the show.
Makino placed a floral arrangement beside each light, set in vases that she constructed of glass and concrete. “I love complementing the lights with something that is alive,” she said.
“I feel like what I love about Ikebana is very off-center and simple,” the artist continued. “I try to do that with neon and highlight it as if it were a flower. One thing about Ikebana is that there are so many rules and it’s the same with neon — there are right ways to bend a letter. I tried to push against the traditions.”
As for Shannon, he is in it for the long run. “We grew up in New York around artists that have been working here for 60 years,” he said. “We work with lifers and are in it for the long haul. We believe in symbiosis of artist and gallery and look forward to growing, too. We are here to stay.”