The show features a mix of local and international artists showing old and new work in a wide variety of mediums, from painting to sculpture to jewelry. What links them all is their connection to BoxHeart. Gallery owner Nicole Capozzi says she never tries to make artists’ work fit into a certain theme, but just wants them to make whatever they're good at, and the art will speak for itself.
Capozzi first opened BoxHeart in 2001, along with her husband Joshua Hogan. But before they moved in, the space was home to Bloomfield ArtWorks, owned by local artist John Mowder. They took over the lease from the landlords who told Capozzi, “You give me money, you stay,” and they never raised the rent until the couple bought the building in 2011. Capozzi says she doesn't know if the gallery would have survived as well if their rent had increased, like it has for much of Bloomfield over the years.
Pittsburgh and Bloomfield have both changed during the past 20 years, and that includes how the local art scene has flourished since BoxHeart Gallery first opened.
“The artists that we had when we first started were older than us because we were in our 20s when we started. Also, they all were other things, like doctors, teachers, lawyers,” says Capozzi. “Their art was this kind of passion on the side.”
But at a certain point around 10 years ago, she says, she started to see more artists who were quitting jobs to work in a studio full-time, and growing the city’s interest in art.
“Before that, it was always just like, ‘Well, it’s Pittsburgh, no one’s really going to buy art here,’ and that’s totally not true,” says Capozzi. “The younger artists didn’t really have that, they were like, ‘Well, why can't I sell this? Why can't I make a living doing this?’”
The 20th anniversary collection, which can be viewed in person or online through Feb. 19, is full of contrasting work. The striking pieces of locally based multimedia artist Gavin Benjamin, who combines photography, paint, crystals, and other media into regal collages in his series Heads of State, sits in the same exhibit as Sherry Rusinack’s paintings of dogs pooping on carpets. Visitors can see the colorful, abstract painting of Ellen Chisdes Neuberg alongside Mary Becker’s “pandemic amulets.” There are minimalist prints from French artist Alice Raymond, and Renee Tay’s teapot sculptures of demonic babies.
When the gallery first opened, Capozzi mostly focused on local artists, but after making a website in 2002, she started hearing from people around the country and the world about wanting to show their work. At first, she didn’t understand why people from so far away would want to show at a new, small gallery in Pittsburgh.
“But it really started to show me how many talented people there are out there and how they’re kind of starving for these opportunities to get their work out,” says Capozzi. Over the years, she’s been able to cultivate a group of artists who have returned for exhibits several times. “You kind of have this group or family that is growing with you along the way. I feel now that the next step is for some of them to move on to bigger places than we can offer them.”
Since it opened, BoxHeart Gallery has come to be more of a literal family, too. It’s always been owned by Capozzi and Hogan, but after they purchased the building from their landlords, they fixed up the place. After the previous owners (who lived upstairs and whom she describes as hoarders) left, they hosted a slew of “little disaster parties” where people just took stuff that was left behind. In 2018, Capozzi and Hogan moved into the place.
“Now when you come to the gallery, you're literally coming to our house,” says Capozzi.
BoxHeart Turns 20! Wed., Jan. 20-Fri., Feb. 19. BoxHeart Gallery, 4532 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. boxheartgallery.com