There’s a galaxy of galleries in New York City, but none quite like American Medium. Started in Philadelphia in 2011 by Travis Fitzgerald, Josh Pavlacky, and Daniel Wallace, AM doubles as a curatorial space and production house. For instance, when artist Jon Rafman wanted to bring the digital creations in his Brand New Paint Job series to life–that included motorcycles painted in famous abstract artworks–it was the guys at American Medium who undertook the task. The results are here, and they’re striking. Now, after a somewhat transient existence, American Medium are planting roots in Brooklyn, after signing a 5-year lease for a space in Bed-Stuy. And they have big plans for it.
AM are currently in the throes of a Kickstarter campaign to transform their innocuous space at 424 Gates Ave. into a public sanctuary for contemporary art, that will include an exhibition space, office, garden sanctuary, and outdoor artist’s studio (you can see the concept above). Creating the space will allow AM to fully realize their vision, which we ask them to elaborate on about below.
Tell us about the day American Medium was born. Can you recall it?
It was winter 2011. Josh and Daniel were living in a turn-of-the-century candy shop in Philadelphia and were daydreaming of exhibiting large-scale digital prints in the parlor. That idea quickly outgrew itself, turning into the larger project of bridging the gap from artist-run space to commercial gallery. At that point we brought Travis into the fold and secured the temporary use of the Union Square Studio, deciding to stake a claim in New York. We contacted Jon Rafman soon after, and the idea of translating the BNPJ series into the real world materialized as a shared interest. We fabricated the work in the candy shop’s old kitchen-turned-studio and launched Jon’s first NY solo exhibition, MMXII BNPJ in May 2012.
American Medium seems to be the first of its kind. Do you see it that way? If so, why?
The three of us were heavily embedded with a group of post-2008 crash dual-site galleries that were working with a community of artists who used the internet as a vital tool in their practice. That probably has a large hand in explaining some of our modes of working. We were accustomed to nebulous boundaries, as were the artists, and this led to us supporting work in more ways than is traditionally expected. Our passion comes from a love of the creative force, and when you consider it from that perspective, we don’t think we’re doing anything groundbreaking. The tools and technology of art and viewership have simply shifted what is possible and allowed, and we’ve been particularly adept at navigating ourselves into those territories.
What has been the crowning achievement of AM so far?
We’re most proud of the way our programming has synergized across the different platforms we play with. The work we exhibit can be channeled into physical exhibitions, browser-based works, or serial video content on AMN, and very often we mix them together, with art cameos on the TV platform, or performance cameos in the art exhibitions. Knowing when an object is a sculpture or a stage set, or whether a webisode is an art piece, is a moot point. We are interested in experience, and the evolution of the hyperobject that contains these experiences. Our lives in physical space and virtual reality are being seamlessly integrated into one another, and we consider it necessary for any relevant 21st century gallery to pursue this integration in it’s programming.
You recently produced Jon Rafman’s elaborate solo show at the Zach Feuer gallery in NYC. You basically brought his vision to life. Briefly tell us about that process and how it’s indicative of what AM has to offer?
Originally, American Medium was brought on to help design and fabricate a BNPJ installation similar to the O’Keeffe Lobby we produced for Jon at the 55th Venice Biennale, but Jon has a ceaselessly roving mind, and by the time we had gotten going it had morphed into the larger exploration of the blurry narrative of an unearthed internet troll cave, and the decay and reanimation of disparate cultural signifiers. The brainstorming phase with Jon is always the best. Things ended up being more exciting than we bargained for. AM really just tried to keep up with his evolving vision, providing pragmatic and conceptual feedback to assure that the translation would function appropriately. It’s this curator/artist/producer combination that seems to strike a chord with artists more accustomed to working in a computer–where everything is possible–rather than a gallery, where comparatively very little is possible. It’s what you can’t do in real life, rather than what you can, that we’ve investigated in the interest of supporting new modes of making. It is in no small way a credit to Jon Rafman’s ability to communicate his vision, and his willingness to explore new territory, that we have been able to explore some of these overlaps.
How did the three of you come together, and what are your artistic backgrounds?
Travis and Josh opened an exhibition space and residency in a garage in Portland, OR, called Appendix Project Space after graduating from Wesleyan University. Daniel moved out west after graduating from The Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and joined a collective that was hosting exhibitions and performances out of what used to be a hair salon. We met through the art community there. Daniel then moved Philadelphia, PA and started Extra Extra, an art space operating out of a renovated motorcycle garage. Josh moved into the candy shop with Dan in Philly a year later, and a dialogue between Appendix and Extra Extra began. When the natural lifespan of the two spaces seemed imminent, American Medium emerged as as a more permanent way of continuing our support of this particular art community.
You signed a five-year lease at your new Bed-Stuy location. If you manage to raise it, where is the $20K in fundraising going to?The funding will go directly into completing renovations necessary to open to the public. The space will be a gallery for exhibition, our offices and studio, as well as a garden and studio for our resident artists.
Who are some of the artists you’ve worked with, and who will you be working with in the future?
We’ve worked in depth over the last two years with Brenna Murphy, Andrew Norman Wilson, Brian Khek, Colin Self, and Ed Fornieles, among others. We’re excited to launch the new space with a solo exhibition from Ann Hirsch, and for upcoming solo shows with Jasper Spicero, Body By Body, and our second solo exhibition with Andrew Norman Wilson.
Tell us about the American Medium Network?
AMN was created after seeing a lot of work engaging with the vocabulary of web tv, and noticing that many of these artists were working with each other, or had overlap in their content. It struck us that somewhere between web performance and traditional tv programming there was a weird television network waiting to happen. Right now, AMN is primarily exploring themes of reality television, public access tv, performance tropes, and queer identity, but we’re currently looking to add serial news, comedy, animation and sitcom based programming. Jake Dibeler/ Mia Ardito of K/K OK and Colin Self of ClumpTV will be doing a casting call in March to begin expanding the network family. We see a lot of potential for spinoffs.
A large part of the space is going to be an outdoor garden and artist studio open to the public. What will happen to that space in the winter?
The studio/greenhouse itself will continue to provide a warm spot in which to work, as well as a home for next years plants. The garden will go through all the necessary permaculture practices required for winter maintenance,
What void in New York’s contemporary art world does AM hope to fill?
We told a friend and artist when first conceiving of American Medium that we wanted to bring the love to New York, and he told us that was impossible. We’re trying to prove him wrong. That, and we think that it’s imperative that curators and gallerists who cut their chops in the internet-art scene of the late 2000s enter the world of commercial representation. Art and making is completely different and confusingly more fluid today than 10 years ago. Having worked alongside and been supportive of this community in its nascent stages, we believe we can better speak on behalf of, and represent, artists exploring these new technologies and tactics.
What happens if you do not reach your fundraising goal?
We’ll all need to go to grad school ;(