Emma Louise, owner of the Dollhaus II art gallery in Bayonne, sought to make the facade of her subtle space on Cottage Street embrace the essence of her gallery. So she had two pink mannequins set up next to the gallery’s front door, further evoking the feeling and imagery of a dollhouse.
According to Louise, a representative from Bergdorf Goodman installed the mannequins over a three-day period from July 9 to 11.
“One of the originals [Bergdorf Goodman] showcases, his son also moved into the business and he makes the most beautiful Fifth Avenue showcases for the most legendary iconic stores, ”said Louise. “During the installation of the mannequins, everyone enjoyed themselves. The whole street stopped and everyone loved it.
However, the installation was short-lived. Days after the two pink mannequins in yoga poses were hung in front of the gallery, Louise was told by the city that she was breaking the building code and had to take them down “by the end of the day”. It was Monday morning July 12th.
“I called them immediately to ask them what was going on,” Louise said. “They were like, ‘You have nude, pink mannequins hanging up. “”
According to Louise, the models were spotted by a city employee while handing out tickets on Cottage Street. A formal complaint was then filed against Dollhaus II, she said.
Louise learned that the problem with the mannequins was that they weren’t considered a sign and weren’t allowed under the city’s building code and other regulations. And she couldn’t just write Dollhaus II on the mannequins and call it a sign either, as any sign must be approved by the city through planning and / or zoning signs.
Regardless, Louise defended the models and the installation method.
“They are flush with the building,” said Louise. “They are not on the sidewalk. They don’t stick out. They are flush with the property.
She also asked why she was asked to take the mannequins apart, other than the fact that they weren’t a sign.
“The language between the two was that they were pink, they were naked, they were that,” Louise said. “Is this the official rule? I’m confused.”
Land use issues
Following her phone call to the city regarding the issue, Louise was then faced with a larger issue regarding the gallery. The zoning of the lot was not commercial, but residential. Louise said she was “apparently using the wrong ground”.
“I have a commercial lease for an art gallery,” says Louise. “I’m sandwiched between two business ventures… Basically I’m surrounded by commercial buildings.
Louise said there are commercial buildings near the gallery on Cottage Street. However, Louise said she was told the property was zoned residential and that she did not have permission from the city to have an art gallery on the property, nonetheless to install the mannequins.
“It’s a serious situation where I’m like ‘Really Bayonne?'” Said Louise. “I’m on Cottage Street. There are noisy commercial buildings. It is a very active street. Businesses start at 6 a.m. Why am I being harassed?
As such, the city sent her a cease and desist letter, ordering her to close the gallery, until she obtained the appropriate land use permit.
“If I don’t have permission to use the land, why do I have an art gallery there? Louise said. She added that the property has a history of commercial use: “It has been a manufacturing site since the 1970s.”
In the meantime, the city has told Louise it needs to close the Dollhaus II until it comes before the zoning board to rectify the land use issue. She must apply for a land use permit in front of council in order to reopen the gallery, and a land use waiver if she seeks to relocate the mannequins.
Is this the end?
If she didn’t disassemble the models and shut down the gallery, Louise said she would face fines that would pile up every day and could add up to thousands. Not being able to afford the costs of the violations that mounting the models would entail, Louise shot them heartbroken.
Since July 19, the mannequin installation is no longer present at the gallery. And as she seeks to rectify the problem with the zoning board, the gallery will temporarily close with its uncertain future.
“In the end, it’s going to cost me thousands of dollars to do it,” Louise said. “Do I have thousands of dollars to do this?” No, I don’t. I do not have it.
However, Louise has no other choice.
“We will shut down permanently if we don’t,” Louise said. “I have no other choice or I will close.”
The situation prompted Louise to think briefly about the closure of the Dollhaus II.
“I was at a point where I was like, ‘I’m done,’” said Louise. “Then I thought about it. “
After all the money, effort and love Louise poured into the gallery, she couldn’t give up. She plans to take the matter to the zoning board to keep the gallery in action.
But the future of the gallery is still not clear, and ultimately remains in the appreciation of the zoning council. Meanwhile, Louise said the city even asked her to look to rent commercial properties nearby.
“They shut me down,” Louise said. “I had a stop and abstain… It all started with the pink models… The pink models offended someone who went to town and now I’m being harassed like that.”
Losing a cultural institution
One of Bayonne’s two art galleries, the loss of the cultural institution would be a blow to the developing local art scene, Louise said.
It would also be detrimental to artists who are currently exhibiting at the Dollhaus II or planning to do so. Reverend Jen Miller opened her exhibition of her trippy, pastel and troll-infused paintings earlier this month. According to Louise, not only this show is now in danger, but also future shows including a collective show of ten people scheduled for the coming months.
“Really Bayonne? [Harassing] a little art gallery that doesn’t bother anyone, that brings local artists and famous artists to the middle of the fucking nowhere? Louise said. “Really, are you going to come to me?” We don’t make any money. We are not making thousands of dollars. We’re not like one of those companies on Broadway.
Some of the artists featured at Dollhaus II are from Bayonne, but many are from Brooklyn.
“I have brought so many people to this place who have never set foot here,” Louise said. “I brought some well-known people here… We bring people here… I even thought about renting a bus.
Too bad for the neighborhood
Louise said people not only come to view the art at the gallery, but also spend their money in nearby businesses. The closure would be bad for the neighborhood, she said, especially when there are bigger issues the city is currently facing.
“Really, you close an art gallery when there’s a condo that comes up every two minutes,” Louise said. “What is there for artists here?
There isn’t much to do in the city as it is, she said. And suppressing an art gallery would hamper the development of the city.
“No one will come to Bayonne,” said Louise.
So far, the city has not actually given any offense to Dollhaus II. But the code enforcement officer told Louise she would be fined if she didn’t take the mannequins apart.
Now that the models have fallen and the gallery has been forced to close, the fate of the art gallery rests on the zoning board. That is, as long as Louise has the funds to continue remedying the problem, which could be the next hurdle Dollhaus II will have to overcome to keep its doors open.
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