“The Art World” calls to mind numbing gigantic white walled galleries and ridiculous price influxes. Often times these environemnts can distract the viewer from a sincere connection the work fosters, replacing sincere gestures into with large price tags or social maneuvers. In response, there is a rising group of galleries that resist a commercial setting and take art into the home. BULLETT interviews HungryMan Gallery, Sofa Gallery and Important Projects, three home-based galleries from across the United States.
HungryMan Gallery runs a commercial space in San Francisco and a residential project in Chicago. HungryMan started in Chicago while the founder, Robin Juan, was still in college. Since then, she has moved to San Francisco and runs the second space in the time she has after her nine to five job. Pari Karim, the new director of operations of the Chicago branch answers our questions on what’s it’s like in the space today.
Important Projects is a tiny contemporary art project located in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland. The space is literally a closet, but don’t mention that to co-founders Joel Dean, Sean Buckelew or Jason Benson. Emerging artists are invited to participate in small solo shows in which they have total creative control.
BULLETT: What made you want to offer your private living space to the public?
HUNGRYMAN – For me it wasn’t about offering my private living space to the public, but more wanting to have a community space where people can share their work, and realizing that there is no place more convenient than home. I think it takes the right type of person to live in a space like this. You have to really want to be a part of the gallery and the art community. Living in a space like this means that you work where you live, and oftentimes that can be a full-time job. On the other hand, it’s really rewarding to be able to be a part of something you really believe in. It’s always worth it when I hear about the positive experiences people have showing at HungryMan and visiting HungryMan.
SOFA: I wanted to continue working with artists but didn’t have the funds to open my own space. So it seemed simple enough to just invite artists to create a show in my living room.
IMPORTANT PROJECTS: Coming out of the Chicago scene, the impulse to start a domestic space was pretty natural. Alternative spaces like Roots & Culture, Scott Projects, and New York City (Gold Coast and Plisen) were the spaces we spent the most time at, and they were usually where we had the most fun. When we moved out here, we had the oppurtunity to elaborate on a model we’d become pretty comfortable with.
What is your most awkward experience having strangers in your gallery/living space?
HUNGRYMAN – Usually it’s expected that strangers are going to be in the gallery at some point during open hours or at an opening/closing reception. It’s the times that people walk into the gallery when we are not open to the public that are most awkward. One time I was baking cookies alone in the kitchen and I heard a noise in the gallery. When I looked up, there was a man in an orange vest standing in my living room. He had been writing people parking tickets outside and wanted to check out the paintings in the gallery. I told him about the show that was up and let him look around and then explained to him about open hours, etc. It’s just awkward when random dudes show up unexpectedly in your living room.
SOFA GALLERY: Well…I always notice gallery patrons eying my books. It usually makes me feel a little more exposed than I’d like…as if they’re sizing me up through my bookshelf.
IMPORTANT PROJECTS: The most awkward experience…it’s pretty awkward when people don’t get it.
What are the benefits of having a gallery within your living space that can’t be found in a larger community setting?
HUNGRYMAN – For me, the biggest benefit is that I get to have awesome art in my home all the time. On a larger scale, having a gallery inside one’s home means that guests get to interact with pieces in a different way than just simply a gallery setting. When we are not having open hours, we often throw dinner parties, host private events and sometimes even have concerts. This brings in a wide range of people who may not necessarily be searching out emerging art. In this way we can broaden exposure for artists. Also, having pieces exhibited in a home setting gives the viewer a sense of what it would be like to own and exhibit the art for themselves.
SOFA GALLERY: What do you mean by “larger community setting”? Like an institution? Well, it’s just me and my friend, Travis, working on the shows so I don’t have to answer to a board and I don’t really have to worry about pleasing anyone except for the artist.
IMPORTANT PROJECTS: The biggest benefit is probably that we get to know our audience really quickly. The people who come, come with intention.
Do you sell work in your in your space? If so, do you find it difficult to sell work without residing in a commercial setting? If not, what do you hold important about showing work in a non commercial setting?
HUNGRYMAN – We do sell work at HungryMan Chicago, although I would not consider it to be a driving force in our programming. It’s easier for us to sell work because we have a store front and we are a registered business in the state of Illinois. For me, showing work at HungryMan is about exposing people in our community to high quality, provocative art from Chicago and beyond. It’s also about offering a professional and positive experience to our artists. Selling work is part of that experience.
SOFA GALLERY: I do sell work here and there but I wouldn’t exactly call SOFA a “commercial space.” My goal has always been to try and sell works at a price in which graduate students or young professionals might find do-able. I’m not sure I’d be able to do that in a commercial space. This, too, has a lot to do with money–I don’t rely on SOFA to survive, it’s just a side project. It’d be great to sell work (especially for my artists) but I don’t necessarily have to sell it in order to survive. The budget is verrry small.
IMPORTANT PROJECTS: The artists we work with don’t show with us hoping to sell their work. Selling art is a game we don’t know; a game we don’t really care to know. If someone wants to buy something… that’s a different story.
We all know that at commercial art galleries many people come to drink the wine, not see the art, have you had difficulties with these types of visitors in your home openings?
HUNGRYMAN – We have this problem all the time. We always offer some light snacks at our openings. I’ve had the experience of a group of men just sitting our my dining table, eating snacks for hours. One time a gentleman was so engrossed with the snacks that I saw him eating hummus with his finger. It definitely puts a damper on the evening, because it’s about the art, not the snacks. Unfortunately, these things go with the territory, regardless of what type of space you have.
SOFA GALLERY: I really like to play hostess so I don’t mind that people come by for food and a drink. The hope is that while they’re in the door they’ll also look at the work.
IMPORTANT PROJECTS: It’s true people love to drink, but Rockridge is pretty tame on a Saturday night. We haven’t had to deal with much unruliness.
Important projects, you’re currently moving the gallery from the upstairs of your house to a storefront you’re going to live in back of. By putting the gallery in the forefront of your personal presentation, in what way do you think this will effect the type of community that has been fostered in the gallery to this day?
IMPORTANT PROJECTS: We’re looking for a storefront, but we haven’t found that yet. Really, we’re open to whatever kind of space presents itself. We want to attract new vistores, but its most important that we address the specificities of the new space with as much care as we did in Rockridge.