After a delicious brunch at Wendy's and an enjoyable run through half of Houston's zoo, I head over to Lawndale for my first grown-up, career-oriented field trip. Harrell Fletcher and Michelle Grabner were the guest speakers and Regine Basha, Michael Peranteau, and Robert Pruitt joined them in a panel discussion moderated by Jeff Ward. Here are my notes on what was said.
Michelle Grabner started the discussion with a presentation on her work with the Suburban in Oak Park, Il (that's a suburb right outside my hometown of Chicago). It started out as a small room attached to her garage, but has grown into a small space (building/ structure) in her backyard. As an artist/ professor/ writer/ curator/ director, Ms. Grabner approaches each aspect of her work according to their own demands. As director of the Suburban, she realized its ties to her household, that it had to operate from a household economy. She was aware that Chicago is flush with artist project spaces. Her approach was anti-curatorial. Ms. Grabner questioned how objects are displayed in the world. She emphasized, "Be Curious". The Suburban repositioned itself constantly around its resources. She challenged the space, "how can we contribute to the city in a way that others weren't offering?" The Suburban was not about selling work. The artists are free to risk something at the Suburban, making it pro-artist.
Harrell Fletcher was next, with a long list of projects he has worked on. Mr. Fletcher started with a library project he did in grad school. He then moved on to his post-graduation projects. He came to realize that alot of the San Francisco Contemporary art scene was inaccessible. So when he and his art partner gained possession of a store, they tried to be accessible. They used the store model for there exhibtion space. With the big glass windows, passers-by could easily look into the space and be invited in. For every show held in the space, it had to be related to the neighborhood. For example, they offered to display a family's items set to sell at their garage sale. For five days, they displayed the items salon style with price tags that described its history. Then on the weekend, the family was allowed to sell the items from the space. The next week, the process was repeated with a new family. After this, Mr. Fletcher and his partner looked into appplying for public art commissions. Of course they were trapped by the catch 22 that they had no previous commissions for public arts, but were unable to add any to their resume since the prerequisite was what they were trying to achieve. So they created their own commissions! That led to an invitation to conduct a project at the then forgotten/ unrelatable Civic Center. Mr. Fletcher found more success in securing shows in the regional spaces as opposed to the highly competitive spaces in San Francisco.
After multiple attempts to get Harrell Fletcher to wrap up, Jeff Ward was finally able to begin the discussion. Mr Ward opened the discussion by describing the essence of an alternative space as reflected through Ms. Grabner's and Mr. Fletcher's experiences. He listed: having a flexible exhibition model, being pro-artist, insertig itself into a pre-existing place, and being responsive/ tethered to the public. Ms. Grabner added: responding to pre-existing place. Then the flow of discussion was stopped when a someone stated that those criteria described any number of things and smugly questioned, "what isn't an alternative space?" and "Alternative to what?" There was a little bit of back and forth before Regine Basha brought it back to focus by describing alternative as "thinking creatively about venue", the "public", etc. Michael Peranteau shared his observation of "community" being the common "thread between Michelle and Harrell." Then an audience member recounted some descriptions: institutions= elephants, and artists= fleas, so an alternative space would be something in between. A puppy dog, maybe. Then someone said, "alternative (space) for showing work." Artist run spaces was added by someone else.
Harrell Fletcher described his career path as one that was horizontal. It wasn't vertical in hierarchy so that he had the choice of showing work in a smaller venue, then showing somewhere prestigious, like a museum, but still able to go back to show at another independent or smaller venue. Michelle Grabner said that he was able to reach a more diverse audience that way. She continued with, "Artists are looking for an alternative to commercial/ institutional constraints." "A space to play."
Jeff Ward brings up the issue of documenting the vanguard and asked "What can an institution do that you can't alone?" Ms. Basha responds with "serving the artist", and follows up with a description of Platform. Virtual studio visits made possible through slides and an extensive art library make the space exceptional. And she poses the question, "How do you make it a better place to work?" Micheal Peranteau suggests opening the system up with collaborations between spaces. That's the Houston spaces being spoken about here, but I think applicable to anywhere.
Mr. Fletcher recounts his project for DiverseWorks. He had no specific proposal and suggested that spaces put their trust in artists. From the audience, Rachel Cook added that, "they have to want to" take control and do all they want, i.e. having a house, having a family, etc. (instead of following the predefined career path of an artist) Ms. Grabner countered with the need to ask the right questions about your practice. Ms. Cook then supported her statement with, "artists can expand their vocabulary" (extending beyond just being an artist, I guess?).
I stepped out at around this time to take a phone call, but came back in as the discussion had refocused on what institutions can do for artists.
Mr. Fletcher was talking about bringing resume value to your own projects and validating entries. Mr. Peranteau brought up the ever-present question of money by offering the idea of paying equitable fees. Robert Pruitt had been egged on to speak up and finally stated that Project Row Houses was viewed as an institution by its invited artists. They made demands that PRH was unable to immediately answer and caused frustration on PRH's behalf as they don't want to seem unfriendly. Referring back to the elephant/flea analogy, Mr. Pruitt described PRH as having "lost its urgency, but not its relevence." Mr. Peranteau closed with a reiteration of a previous suggestion, "spaces need to talk to each other."
I take poor notes, so I had to clean this up according to my memory in order to have it make some sense to you. If you have questions, please leave a comment or email me. I'll try to remember what was being discussed around certain statements. After I publish my notes on the transcript of "Post Post-Studio" I'll publish my thoughts on both of these discussions. I'll tell you 'bout what I sees.