On Saturday, April 16, Fortnight Institute, which bills itself as a public salon, will open at 60 East 4th Street, on a quaint, boutique-lined street in the East Village. The Institute “was the beginning of wanting to do something that was unconditional and a space for artists and books and collectors and ephemera,” founder Fabiola Alondra told me over the phone, with cofounder Jane Harmon at her side.
The two friends met in London, where they completed their graduate degrees in art history. “We really loved the arts scene in London,” Harmon told me. “The art galleries there really seemed to have a different model and a different way of doing things.” When the pair returned to New York, they again reunited under the employment of Richard Prince, specifically at Prince’s secret bookstore, Fulton Ryder, which closed on Christmas Day in 2014. Harmon continued to work for Prince, while Alondra began working with 303 Gallery’s Lisa Spellman on the gallery’s publishing imprint, 303 in Print. Inspired by their experience with Prince, as well as by their experiences as members of the feminist collective Minerva Cult—of which Marilyn Minter and Betty Tompkins are fans—the two decided to create an artist-driven space of their own.
“It was this fantasy of ideas,” Harmon said of their experience working under Prince. “We had this really cool dynamic of working together and putting the art out there in all of these different ways. And we didn’t really have to adhere to a format, or hours…looking back, it was a really fun time. When that ran its course, we thought, ‘OK, we need to start something of our own.’ For the past eight months, we’ve been seriously thinking of how we could build on that idea of a non-gallery gallery, so to speak.”
At first, the two planned recurring private salon sessions at Alondra’s apartment, where attendees could come to discuss ideas and look at art. After two editions, the pair decided to go public. “We thought we would find a place to try it out for one month,” Alondra said. “We went walking all around Chinatown, and all around the Lower East Side, but we couldn’t find anything. Then, we were speaking with some people, and they were like, ‘If you only do something for a month, what does that mean?’ We really thought about what we wanted to accomplish with this space, and it kind of propelled us to skip [a test run].”
Finally, Alondra and Harmon found a space in the East Village, where they now neighbor an eclectic mix of businesses ranging from laundromats to hat makers. “We just moved in there last week to start renovations, and it’s so funny, all of the old neighborhood people just come up to you and talk to you,” said Harmon. “It feels like a great space for us. There are a lot of theaters and different small businesses, and there’s also this huge history of art in the East Village. The neighborhood isn’t very trendy right now, but that appealed to us as well.”
The name of the project was not conceived on a whim. “Fortnight is such a meaningful word for us,” said Alondra. “It’s the combination of ‘fort’—which itself is strong—and ‘night,’ because it will be open late at night two times a week. The reason we like ‘fortnight’ is because we like that it’s an old British word that’s used to measure time—fourteen days exactly—and it’s one of the few words that you use to describe a time span of two weeks. Also, it’s interesting that fortnight is one of the few words used to describe time in terms of nights instead of days.”
“The word institute came after we knew we weren’t a gallery,” Harmon added. “So what were we? We looked up the definition of an institution, and we were definitely not that. But we looked up what an institute is, and it’s just an organized body that has a purpose. We felt like that kind of description suited us perfectly.”
Fortnight Institute will keep unusual hours, as both Alondra and Harmon still work at 303 Gallery and Richard Prince’s studio, respectively, during the day. They plan on some evening hours, late into the night, as well as weekends. Sometimes they will be open only by appointment.
Next Saturday, their first show, an exhibition of work by Ohio-based artist Carmen Winant, titled “Who Says Pain Is Erotic?,” will open to the public. “I think it’s important that our first show is with an artist who isn’t New York–based,” Alondra said. “It’s refreshing to work with artists who aren’t in the New York bubble, and we’ll continue to do that down the line as well. We’ll of course work with New York artists, but we’ll try to fit in people outside of the New York scene.” Their second show, opening a month later, on May 16, will feature work by the Canadian artist BP Laval.
Alondra and Harmon also plan to organize performances and screenings in the future, and have contacted a few booksellers, who will begin selling books at Fortnight Institute. When I asked if the two had to raise funding for this project, however, the answer was an emphatic no.
“No, we are completely self-funded,” Harmon said. “We thought it was an important thing to do on our own. Even in terms of just getting the space ready, we’re there every day painting and plumbing and sanding floors. We’ve physically, financially, and creatively invested ourselves and our time into this. We had a lot of people who were happy to offer funding to us, which we just really didn’t want to take.”
“We kindly declined,” Alondra chimed in, laughing. “We never wanted to have to answer to investors. We just want to do what we want to do, and we want to build a sense of community around what we’re doing. Just this week, we’ve not only had friends come in to help us renovate, but we’ve had our new neighbors come in to visit, looking to be a part of something. [Fortnight Institute] isn’t only about the art—it’s mostly about bringing people together.”