Jess Bass and Nadia Tahoun Are Democratizing Art

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It’s a sea change some—the old guard, in particular—might see as a threat, but the democratization of art presents the necessary and welcome destruction of an exclusionary world. In making art for the people, said art will become increasingly representative of the people. Inclusion is paramount in this brave new world. The boldface names of yore are fated to be replaced by a more (thankfully) diverse lot. Does all this change amount to a tearing down of an ivory tower? You bet it does.

New York-based curators/producers Jess Bass and Nadia Tahoun have taken it upon themselves to upend art world norms—and they’re doing so by spearheading a new collective called Flower Shop. The freshly minted organization is committed to, in their words, “bringing art out of the gallery and into public spaces.” They’ll be doing just that with their pop-up exhibition at SIXTY LES. It runs February 14 through February 17. The opening reception runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the 14th, and the show closes on the 17th at 3 p.m. Make sure to come by.

Until then, make sure to follow @flowershopcollective for updates on the ‘gram and read more about Bass and Tahoun in our interview below.

two woman inside room with houseplants

Nadia Tahoun (left) and Jess Bass (right) of Flower Shop Collective.

Let’s talk about you two for a minute. What are your respective backgrounds?

Nadia: I’m a first-generation American kid from Miami. My parents are Polish and Palestinian immigrants. I moved to New York in 2010 to attend The New School where I got a degree in Media and Film Studies. Since then I’ve worked for the artist Daniel Arsham and a few creative production houses. I have helped produce music videos and short films which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival and Miami Art Basel. My last short film was acquired by PBS. I’m a producer who straddles the mediums of film and fine art.

Jess: For the past four years, I have curated and produced experiential projects for the Future of StoryTelling. I implemented and designed interactive showcases for clients like Microsoft and USA+SYFY, launched the public-facing FoST Festival to rave reviews in the New York Times and Creators Project, and orchestrated exhibits for the New Zealand Festival and BAM’s 2016 Teknopolis. Separately, I had the honor, this year, of lead producing Ken Perlin’s CAVE, a groundbreaking XR experience viewed by 30+ audience members at a time. In this role, I oversaw both the creative and technical teams, and also managed the piece’s premiere at SIGGRAPH 2018. I am currently making art full-time (which feels amazing!) and freelance curating—I have an upcoming gig for the L.A. Times’ Newstory Festival.

curtain hangs from rod as a room divider next to small desk with chair

Behind the scenes with Flower Shop Collective.

Give us a rundown on what Flower Shop is and how it came into existence.

We met at work! We would send each other YouTube links to cool bands and artist websites we were obsessed with. In October, we came up with the idea of Flower Shop. The next day, we had 16 artists onboard with the idea. The following day, we had a deck, so we started sending it out to everyone we knew. By the end of the week, we had met with SIXTY LES and the rest is history.

Why the name Flower Shop? 

We had the initial idea of hosting an art show in a flower shop, thus came the name. It still hasn’t happened yet but hopefully one day! This is cheesy… but… our collective is made up of an accumulation of different mediums—whether it be sculpture, photography, computer animation, fiberart, etc. Like going into a flower shop, we have a bouquet for you.

woman holding wooden arms up to her face next to wall with flower patterns

Jess Bass of Flower Shop Collective.

So tell me how the idea for this pop-up exhibition came about? 

In Miami, Nadia started a DIY gallery and punk music venue called The Granary, and Jess hosts mini pop-up art shows in her apartment. One day at work, Nadia came to Jess with an idea of throwing a gallery show in her apartment, and then we collectively decided to go big and bring the art into the public space! It grew naturally as we both believed that it was time our artist communities showed their work to new audiences. As a collective, we are interested in activating public spaces, whether it be retail or vacant space in transition.

Why these artists? What binds them together? 

The majority of the Flower Shop artists have never shown before in a public setting. Through Flower Shop, we are interested in creating a platform that makes visible the rising talents (primarily female-identified and Latinx artists) around us and to give these artists the confidence and public intrigue/following to continue their work. We also wanted an array of mediums to showcase, and all of the artists bring a different perspective to the table.

woman standing next to wooden boards

Nadia Tahoun of Flower Shop Collective.

What themes are you tapping into? 

In this show, some themes are:
Explorations of femininity and identity
Observation and fantasy
Vignettes of nature / the fantastic landscape of a garden
Language and shape

Why show at SIXTY LES? 

Flower Shop is beyond excited to be collaborating with SIXTY Hotels, which is known for creating informed, unique, and immersive local experiences for their guests and surrounding neighborhoods. SIXTY LES is a beautiful, modern space perfect for a pop-up, and it’s situated within an exciting neighborhood in Manhattan. SIXTY LES is an incredible space for Flower Shop’s premiere exhibit. We love how SIXTY LES is completely game for transforming their lobby into a gallery for the public, to be appreciated by both their guests and the neighborhood as well. The hotel’s ideology behind this transformation is revolutionary, inspiring, and cutting-edge.

room with large black and white dolls with dresses and doll house

Behind the scenes with Flower Shop Collective.

Why is it important to you that art be democratized?

Nadia: Art should be as accessible as possible. That is something Jess and I believe in strongly. As someone with a fine art background, I know first-hand how demoralizing and elitist the industry can be. That said, I know there are many voices that have yet to be heard and if we can provide a platform for those voices that is accessible to all kinds of people, I consider that a job well done.

Jess: Art for all! Again and again and over again. Art, as expression of identity, needs to be shared for greater understanding and tolerance. We are excited to bring the art to the people, as a way to break down the allure of social pressures and present structures that are still present within the art world. This social potential of transforming a shared physical space is entirely exciting, as it’s a two-for-one, head-and-shoulders, inspiration, awareness and access for both viewer and artist alike. It is an honor to be working with these artists and SIXTY LES to be making this exhibit come to life, and to be creating a launching pad for more work like this to happen.

two woman standing in room with houseplants

Jess Bass (left) and Nadia Tahoun (right) of Flower Shop Collective.

What does art deliver to people—or what do you hope it delivers—at this particular moment in history?

Nadia: I hope art delivers humanity to people. In this moment in history, I think the most powerful thing art can offer is representation. I am thankful I am alive in a time where Arab Muslim women are making art and being represented in stories. It’s powerful to see people like you in spaces your ancestors did not see themselves in. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Jess: In this show, I hope the art brings some joy. I also hope the general public will fall head-over-heels for these artists, and that the artists feel the love and continue making.

two people looking at cards with art patterns over table

Behind the scenes with Flower Shop Collective.

What museums or galleries do you visit most regularly?

Nadia: One of my favorite galleries in the city is False Flag. They are based in Long Island City and they always exhibit perfectly curated shows, the kind of shows that leave you feeling energized. I also visit the Brooklyn Museum quite a bit. It’s in my neighborhood and nothing is better than spending a day walking around Brooklyn’s great institutions. I feel lucky to have access to them.

Jess: I love the shows that come from Modern Love Club. Great curation from Magnet Collaborations, and also similar vibe of transforming known-space into pop-up galleries. MOMI and MAD Museum are my go-to museums. They have so much to offer and have inherently interdisciplinary curation—always inspiring. I also love what the High Line is doing right now in terms of their art walks and performances. Oh, oh! And lastly! Major shout-out to Photoville. Laura Romanous is a badass.

square frame hanging on wall with flower pattern and mannequin with wooden arms

Behind the scenes with Flower Shop Collective.

Where do you feel most inspired in New York City?

Nadia: Prospect Park. I try to spend a full day there with my dog and partner at least once a month to recharge.

Jess: Ohh, that’s so hard. I don’t think there’s one place for me. I love just wandering the streets and watching people go about their day. I am currently on the hunt for the best grape leaves and feta in Brooklyn.

What’s the last book/film/piece of art that moved you and why?

Nadia: I recently saw Shoplifters, the Oscar-nominated film directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. It is a deeply moving drama about a Japanese family entrenched in poverty. I spent hours after the film discussing it with the people I saw it with! The characters are flawed and real and very human.

Jess: Waverly Gallery blew me away. Elaine May is a god. Enough said.

two woman smiling, one sitting on table and another next to metal container

Nadia Tahoun (left) and Jess Bass (right) of Flower Shop Collective.

What do viewers have to look forward at Flower Shop? 

Molly Haynes is an artist in our collective who told us that this show made her think of her work in sculptural form for the first time. She is traditionally a textile and tapestry maker who made beautiful vases out of rope just for this show. Her work is prolific.

Cesar Kastro is a Colombian artist who has worked in lead fabrication roles for some of the most famous fine artists of our time. This is his first time showing his personal work. I can’t wait for the public to see it in person!

Paloma Dawkins is a cartoonist and self-taught animator turned virtual reality and video-game artist. Her landscapes and lovable characters are fantastical and other dimensional. This is what eyes dream of.

Keren Hasson is a brilliant illustrator and made this show’s poster!

Karolina Manko is one of our absolute favorite poets. She beautifully illustrates scenes with richly detailed observations, and possesses an overwhelming understanding of humanity. She will have a poem on the stairs leading up to the exhibit in addition to a zine and three word-sculptures in the show.

What’s Flower Shop’s plan for the future? 

We plan on taking Flower Shop to as many places as we can! Each show will be customized to fit the space. We hope to expand our artist roster, and are are in the beginning stages of planning a show highlighting the Latinx artists in our collective.

How can our guests stay up to date on what you’re doing? 

Through our personal instagrams and the Flower Shop’s instagram: @flowershopcollective, @tahoun, @partly_spring.

Photos courtesy of Atisha Paulson for SIXTY Hotels



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