As its name might imply, the Paddlecourt gallery in suburban Westport, Connecticut was founded in a former paddle-tennis court next to artist/gallerist Alex Zuckerman’s mother’s house. Beginning in 2015, the gallery—which Zuckerman, 23, founded with fellow artists Jake Shore, 22, and Jack Lawler, 23—has hosted a mix of solo and group exhibitions, mainly from an extended network of friends. Last fall, the gallery added an additional storefront at nearby 58 Saugatuck Avenue, close to an artisanal market and a hair salon. On Saturday, Paddlecourt opens a new two-person show there featuring drawings and paintings by the artists Alicia Gibson and Butt Johnson, both of whom have a history exhibiting in New York venues decidedly more on the beaten track than Paddlecourt.
“It’s been pretty much a joke the whole time, one big mistake after another, but it’s kind of turned into, I guess, a real operation,” Shore said of Paddlecourt. The project started as a “kind of spur of the moment” enterprise, he said, occasioned by a series of large paintings Zuckerman had made while in England. Zuckerman and Shore, who went to high school together in Westport but now live in Bushwick, Brooklyn (along with Lawler), used the paddle-tennis space in their old hometown to unfurl the roughly 12-by-15 foot works. It was under the court’s lights at night that the duo decided the setting should be used as an ad hoc gallery.
Since then, Paddlecourt has staged ten shows between its court-side and storefront spaces. They do not pay rent on the latter; before they took it over, it was abandoned for more than a decade, and though they offered to pay a monthly fee to a relative of the building’s owner, she just let them have it free of charge. Given the venue’s interior—which includes a particularly unkempt bathroom—it is safe to guess that there are not many locals interested in revitalizing the space.
Group shows so far have included such artists as Brian Belott, Walter Price, and Annie Pearlman, and all three founders have mounted solo or two-person exhibitions of their work. Sometimes, there are performances. “We’ve had some crazy shows,” Shore said. “We never expect people to come, and then a ton of people always end up coming.”
During one larger group exhibition outdoors, in the summer of 2016, a thunderstorm loomed. “We had to rush everything inside,” Shore said. “There’s one artist who told us to just leave [his work] outside while it was raining, to clean the artwork—‘Leave it out, it’s filthy.’ ” (That was the painter Mark Milloff.) They did as they were told, but the storm didn’t hit as hard as expected. They rehung the rest of the show the same night.
Serving the whims of artists has been a high priority during Paddlecourt’s short history. “We get pressured into doing shows—the artists walk all over us and end up convincing us,” Shore said. “It’s pretty free-flowing.”
Along those lines, Shore said future plans are up in the air. “I think we might have a little break—or we might do a tiny show or some kind of quick group show in the paddle court.” There will likely be a late summer or early fall exhibition with Emma Soucek, a second wave Paddlecourt parter, along with the artist Myls Forte.
“It gives us a reason to keep going there,” Shore said, of their shows. “If anything, it is a reason to patronize the Westport Chinese takeout and [the restaurant] Coffee an’ Donuts.”