We’ve dedicated much of our recent coverage to exploring the ways the traditional gallery model is decaying, diversifying, or otherwise transforming in the 21st century, drawing from a variety of experts who, as you’ve already read, each have their own theories on what the best ways forward might be. Here, we’re taking a closer looks at the scrappy little project platforms that are out there putting these ideas into action as they eke out a living on the edges of the art world. Enabled by the internet and emboldened by the growing dissatisfaction with business as usual, these these non-gallery, non-commercial, and sometimes non-physical initiatives prove that the white-cube-and-artist-roster approach is far from the only way to exhibit art today.
As their name suggests, this roving curatorial platform has a thing for temporary domiciles of all kinds, from boats and ATM vestibules to, yes, rented rooms from New York to Mexico City. It’s run by Artspace’s own Loney Abrams and her partner Johnny Stanish, artists who share a collaborative practice and pride themselves on their distinctly post-gallery approach to exhibiting art. The concept is fairly straightforward: after installing artworks in the out-of-the-way (and often unsanctioned) locations of their choosing, the show’s organizers extensively photograph or otherwise record the show before taking it all down and posting the evidence online, which becomes the real “site” of the exhibition (unless, as has happened in the past, the photos are exhibited in a gallery setting as artworks in their own right). These aren’t your typical antiseptic installation shots—Abrams and Stanish revel in the specificity of their spaces, often highlighting the quirks and decor of the places they take over by installing works in the bathtub or bed or alongside found tchotchkes. The super-short duration of the shows also allows for some unusual and perishable materials—think dead fish from Brad Troemel, or food items like sausages, lemons, or figs. To top it all off, Hotel-Art.us has an uncanny ability to pull real talent for their seemingly ad hoc events—they’ve shown works by Jon Rafman, Amalia Ulman, and other rising stars of their generation.
Some of the projects in this list take the mission of breaking out of the brick-and-mortar space a bit more literally than others. San Diego’s SPF15, organized by the artist Morgan Mandalay and installed exclusively on the beaches of his hometown, is one such example. Started in 2014 as a series of 15 waterfront exhibitions (number 10, featuring Lila de Magalhaes and Cody Tumblin, wrapped up in August), SPF15 takes full advantage of the city’s public beaches as an unexpected and rent-free site for showcasing contemporary art—the only “permanent” feature of SPF15 shows is a portable pop-up tent. Mandalay, who cut his teeth with the apartment gallery Sunday Project while attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago sees his beachside efforts as one small way of averting the gentrification that so often accompanies emerging galleries. By operating on public property open to all comers, Mandalay hopes his project will, as he says, “[become] a way to enjoy art and not have it be this thing that displaces people” while also inviting people who would not otherwise enter a gallery to see and engage with the art, all in a comfortable, casual, and naturally beautiful setting—no shirts or shoes required.
3. 63rd-77th Steps
Oddly named emerging art initiatives are common enough to have become something of a joke, but in this case the moniker has real meaning: the Italian artist Fabio Santacroce’s project space is quite literally located on a staircase, specifically the last 14 steps of the early 20th century building in Bari, Italy he calls home. It’s an exercise in creativity within limits, and the artists involved (including Daniel Keller, Ilja Karilampi, and Renaud Jerez among many others) have largely risen to the challenge since the space’s start in 2013. Though his project is ostensibly centered around a physical space, Santacroce sees the initiative as an extension of internet-driven viewing patterns, making a 63rd-77th Steps show, as he says, “an intense, temporary, and fast-consuming experience.” More recently, he’s extended this Post-Internet outlook to online exhibitions, including the well-received recent show “A Mystical Staircase” curated by the net-loving duo Francesco Urbano Ragazzi and featuring a digital set of artist-designed tarot cards.
If you haven’t heard, the tiny country of Estonia has, for the last several years, been asserting itself as a Northern European artistic hub by pouring a healthy dose of governmental funds into arts initiatives. Konstanet, a non-profit gallery with both online and physical exhibition spaces founded by the graphic designer Epp Õlekõrs in 2013, is one particularly fascinating example of this support in progress. Besides its rigorous exhibition schedule, Konstanet has one big (well, maybe not so big) claim to fame: its physical space is scaled to 1:5, meaning all artworks shown inside are either miniature versions of the artists’ work or seemingly room-filling monoliths—not a difficult feat in a space that measures less than 1 meter high by 2 meters across. Shows in the space becomes a challenge in scaling as well as exhibition design, providing artists with a readymade excuse for rethinking their approaches. To Konstanet’s credit, the project’s constraining conceit avoids becoming a gimmick by putting the focus squarely on the artists (largely young, cool up-and-comers from the region) and their work, not the size of the space.
5. 57 Cell
Thus far we’ve focused our attention on projects that, one way or another, display physical objects somewhere in the real world, however obscurely or briefly such exhibitions may be. As noted above, it’s mostly the online documentation of these shows that allows them to have any purchase at all in the wider art world. This is decidedly not the case with 57 Cell, a print-only publication featuring, as its scant website states, “3D modeled exhibitions in simulated environments.” That’s right: both the artworks and their settings are entirely computer generated, though the only way you can see them is by buying (or borrowing, if your friends are especially cool) a physical issue of the magazine. 57 Cell’s director and curator Gregory Kalliche makes it clear that these page-bound shows “are not available for on-line viewing,” making this project a particularly odd instance of the internet’s disruptive influence on the brick-and-mortar gallery; it’s both a celebration and a winking rejection of virtual reality. For fans of digital art, the four extant issues of 57 Cell are must-haves if only for their sumptuous showcasing of new media specialists like Brenna Murphy and Ian Page.