The curator and founder of Drawing A Blank remembers the night one of his art shows ended with an armed response from the NYPD
For a man who only got involved with the art world to keep up with his high-achieving peers, Ben Broome is a passionate advocate for rejecting its norms. Navigating the scene’s loaded terms starts with what to call yourself, and “some iteration of curator” is where the 24-year-old nets out. His independent Drawing A Blank platform, supporting new names through lo-fi happenings, offers an underground alternative to established galleries increasingly out of touch with their artists.
In the middle of planning new projects for Tokyo and Paris, he explains that an important part of his approach is relieving the pressure on artists by not forcing them to fit a traditional exhibition theme. His group shows never have overarching narratives; the only common thread is their location and choice of talent, who all come to Broome through personal introductions. And though he recoils at the idea of having a permanent gallery, he hates the idea of cliched pop-up spaces just as much. “I’d rather put a night on in a greasy spoon,” he says, before reflecting on the party where Drawing A Blank came into its own.
“Our openings have always been great. We found this old warehouse space in Harlem for a project in New York I organised, that used to be a police parking garage. We built a 60-foot, super-clean white wall there, right in the middle of this really grimy space. So, you had art in the nice bit, and art in the shitty bit, and together it all worked really well.
“We held this phat opening night and a tonne of people came along. Hundreds and hundreds turned out, and they were spilling onto the street. All these musicians were there, jumping on the mic. And then Princess Nokia showed up, on her birthday, and played a hardcore punk set. That was kind of a special moment. It ended up getting shut down by the NYPD, who came guns drawn. But one of the artists I work with, Rosie Marks, she was shooting the police as they were trying to close the party and got these great photos of the officers checking out the artwork.
“It was the next day that I realised we had really struck a chord. There was this guy who had been rapping on the mic all night and he came back round to the space. I just assumed he was part of someone’s extended network, probably one of the musicians I’d organised to play, but it transpired that the exhibition was truly for him more than anyone else – he was the barber from the shop next door, who had just happened to drop by on the night, and loved what he found.
“He said, ‘Man, this is the best thing that’s happened on this block in years.’ To come over from London and do something in Harlem, with a group of British artists and New Yorkers, I had felt this immense pressure to come correct and be respectful to that community. So that was the point that I felt we had done a good job. Because you don’t want to be part of the gentrification crew, and we had managed to avoid that.
“It’s important because I don’t like being part of a scene. Almost by definition, if you’re in London making art, it’s impossible to avoid. But, so long as you are resonating with actual people, outside of that cliquey little group of a thousand people who all fuck each other and chat shit about each other, that’s fine.”
GROOMING Mark Hampton at Julian Watson Agency using L’Oréal Professionnel & MAC Cosmetic HAIR COLOURIST Harriet Muldoon at Larry King Salon SET DESIGN Paulina Piipponen PHOTOGRAPHIC ASSISTANT Stewart Capper STYLING ASSISTANT Fergus O’Reilly HAIR AND MAKE UP ASSISTANT Mizuki Kida
A version of this article appeared in the A/W19 issue of Another Man.