Open by luck: Slope arts mainstay schedules a career retrospective

The Brooklyn Paper
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His life is on display.

An artist who has occupied a storefront studio on Park Slope’s trendy Fifth Avenue for almost two decades looks back on his life’s work with a retrospective exhibit and 50th birthday party on June 27. The painter and mixed-media artist began keeping irregular hours at his storefront, which advertises “studio is open by appointment and by luck,” back in 1999. Since then, property values have skyrocketed in the hot ’hood, where retail rents can average $15,000 a month. But he has managed to make a living and pay his rent on time, despite only taking walk-ins in the early evening and late at night — all very much to his own surprise.

“By all rights, I shouldn’t still be here,” said Jonathan Blum.

Blum never planned to do his painting in a storefront, but some sage advice from a real estate broker changed his mind.

“You know that line from ‘The Graduate’? ‘Plastics’?” Blum said, referring to the scene where a businessman gives the young protagonist advice on a burgeoning job market.

“Well... ‘Storefronts,’ ” said Blum.

Since then, Blum has become a fixture on Fifth Avenue, painting portraits of people and pets, crafting custom Judaica, mashing up one-of-a-kind monoprints, and teaching locals to do the same, said a local musician.

“He’s very involved with the Fifth Ave. [Business Improvement District] and his artwork has been displayed on lampposts along the avenue,” said Park Slope native and music-maker Amelia Robinson. “He teaches low-cost art classes. There are a lot of lives that he’s touched, and I think that is a true testament to him.”

Blum’s retrospective will feature art he has made over his three-decade career, which began in his native Washington D.C.

“I’m literally borrowing paintings from all over the country,” Blum said. “I was surprised that people were so happy to have their pieces in the show.”

Some musicians are helping Blum ring in a half-century, too. Robinson’s band Mil’s Trills, jazz cats Michael Bates’ Northern Spy, and klezmer rockers Sway Machinery will keep crowds dancing.

After 16 years keeping Park Slope colorful, Blum says he has no plans to leave his storefront. And a fellow Slope artist contradicted Blum’s claim that he no longer belongs in the gentrified neighborhood.

“By all rights he should be here,” said artist Nashemia Billups. “He gives the neighborhood credibility.”

Jonathan Blum Studio Storefront Shop [285 Fifth Ave. between First and Second streets in Park Slope., (718) 499–0199].

“50 Years of Jonathan Blum: A Retrospect­ive” at Shapeshifter Lab [18 Whitwell Pl. between Carroll and First streets in Gowanus,, (917) 855–6564]. June 27 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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