Brooklyn’s neighborhood of Williamsburg, AKA New York’s hipster central, just got a new art gallery. HNH Gallery opened in late February on 3,000 square feet of prime real estate on the corner of North 1st Street and Berry Street, right in the buzzing heart of the trendy neighborhood. What’s most interesting about the gallery, however, is not necessarily the art on display but the people running it: 23-year-old Lucas Lovejoy and 24-year-old Nidaa Ombali, a pair of Gen Zers fresh out of college.
Lovejoy and Ombali first met two years ago during a pop-up exhibition of Lovejoy’s paintings at a fashion store in Manhattan. They bonded over famed designer Vivienne Westwood’s jewelry, which they both wore, and became friends. Last May, they both graduated from New York University (NYU), where Lovejoy studied Fine Art and Finance, and Ombali studied Leadership and Management. In February, they were touring locations for another pop-up show of Lovejoy’s work when they received a phone call from Noel John, one of the owners of the vintage furniture shop Designers Collab in North Williamsburg, who surprised them with a rare career opportunity for their age.
John offered the duo to sublease the space on North 1st Street, which previously housed a cafe and a pool parlor, for an art gallery that would also showcase some of Designers Collab’s furniture. The three signed a one-month contract with an extension option based on the gallery’s performance.
“The timing was oh so divine,” Ombali told Hyperallergic in an interview. “We weren’t even thinking of a permanent space.”
In just two weeks from the phone call with John, the young curators gutted the three-level space, redesigned it as a gallery, and worked around the clock to install their first exhibition, Open Up a Portal, which opened to the public on February 26.
Speaking with Hyperallergic at the gallery, Lovejoy said he “prayed” over the exhibition, revealing a spiritual side to him that wasn’t evident at first blush.
“Through this space, we want to show the creative light that comes from the divine,” he said. “Our goal is to illuminate the artists into our community.”
The inaugural exhibition features photography, sculptures, and paintings by ten artists, including several works by Lovejoy. The most expensive piece in the show is a $40,000 diamond-encrusted bracelet designed by Blakely Thornton. The second most expensive work is a $30,000 marble sculpture by Sam Tavill. Other artists in the show include Melanese Reid, Mark Behnam, Oscar Ozbay, and John Kim. The works are hung above, between, and around Designers Collab’s pieces of furniture, which are also for sale. The gallery also offers relatively affordable merchandise, including silk prints and apparel, to sustain itself.
When asked how this opportunity came to him at such a young age, Lovejoy said: “God blessed me.”
Raised in Los Angeles, the fledgling artist and curator is the son of a former pastor and a retired worker for a faith-based nonprofit. Both his parents and his younger brother Sam were at the gallery at the time of the interview.
“I’m amazed he got so far so fast,” said Randy Lovejoy about his elder son. “He’s a networker. It’s a great skill to have.”
Randy Lovejoy left the church a year ago but still holds his Christian faith. He is currently working on developing an online platform to provide guidance for people like himself, who need support post-church life.
Ombali, who was born in London to a Muslim family from Sudan, told Hyperallergic that she shares her gallery partner’s spiritual view of the world.
“We pray a lot in the gallery,” Ombali said. “We started doing that as soon as we got into the space to make sure that any bad energy was cleared out and to bring in positivity.”
Now, the pressure is on the duo to prove themselves. Ombali said that the feedback from the local community has so far been positive and that other galleries in the area have offered their advice and support. “We work hard every day into the late hours, and we pray. Hopefully, that will work in our favor.”