Home Is Where the Art Is:
Local artists find ways to build galleries out of domestic spaces
No Assumption: A Collaborative Exhibition of Art in a Residence. House exterior including “Intestine” (2010) by Asia Ward, “Summer Signage #1 (Wonder of the World)” (2010) by Kevin Loecke and “Prayer Flags for Healthcare” (2009) by Vandana Jain. Photo by Terry Gydesen.
Check out this nice article and behind-the-scenes look at in-home art galleries, originally published in the Twin Cities Runoff. No Assumption was one of the featured exhibitions in their Home is Where the Art Is, article. You can read on below, or click here to view the article in its original format.
Home is Where the Art Is
Local artists find ways to build galleries out of domestic spaces
A sandwich board sits on the corner of the lot of the white house at 3500 Bryant Ave. S., directing people to the They Won’t Find Us Here (TWFUH) gallery around back. A large sign is lit on the top of the garage, where the makeshift gallery resides.
I climb the cement stairs, leading to a backyard with about 15 people huddled around a fire pit. I am not sure what to do at first, and I don’t know anyone else at the show so I decide to check out the gallery. Like most art galleries, it is brightly illuminated. The walls have been painted white; the windows are paneless. Despite the gathering in the backyard, no one is in the gallery when I get there, though a man enters while I walk around the small space.
The show that November night, titled SK8 or D8 Me 2010, is by The Basketball Team: Christine Peterson and Sophie Weil. The artists’ statement is difficult to follow—about space, fear, being overly aware of your dress. I wonder if I would comprehend it better had I gone to art school. Small mixed media installations line the gallery’s walls: a tiny bowl of sugar on a skateboard, writing on various cloth materials. I don’t understand it completely, or think it is pretty, but I like it. I like that it exists in a space like this.
When I exit the gallery space and head into the yard, two members of TWFUH, Matt Lawler and Jake Dwyer, hang around the fire, mingling with friends and visitors, eating cheeses and drinking beer. (The rest of the six curators—Lauren Allshouse, Emily Atchison, Jennifer Hedrich and Kelsey Olson—are not present that evening.) Despite my worries that those running the gallery would be standoffish, they are welcoming and enthusiastic. They mention others involved in creating similar spaces and suggest I check out a show the following night at 1419, a makeshift art and living space housed in an old warehouse-type building in Cedar-Riverside.
After speaking with them, I head to a craft night, but I feel the way I do whenever I step out of my comfort zone and experience something new—appreciative of those who create such opportunities and motivated to get involved.
In-home galleries, which have a stronger presence in cities like New York and Chicago, are not new to the Twin Cities. Local makeshift spaces operate under varying circumstances, from an empty room with a few pieces of art on the walls to living spaces that are completely overhauled into galleries. According to Aaron Van Dyke, a local artist and instructor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, defunct local galleries such as the Waiting Room mark a tradition of in-home spaces in the Twin Cities, and home-based galleries have flourished recently, particularly among younger artists and curators. Spaces like the 1419, They Won’t Find Us Here and the recent No Assumption exhibition demonstrate the passion for art, community spirit and do-it-yourself sensibility of Twin Cities artists.
Running an in-home gallery is not without risk; DIY gallery owners face burnout, possible noise complaints from neighbors and the annoyance of having a bunch strangers tromping through their homes. Young curators such as the members of the TWFUH gallery say they take on these risks for the thrill of having their own art spaces—spurred on, in part, by their predecessors.
Van Dyke is one such antecedent who, along with Peg Brown, started the Occasional Art gallery in their St. Paul home in 2003. The goal of the gallery was to showcase artists who were not receiving the attention that Van Dyke and Brown believed they deserved, although Occasional Art also featured accomplished artists, like Vancouver’s Isabelle Pauwels and McKnight Foundation Fellowship–winner Joe Smith.
Occasional Art is now on hiatus, but its influence remains evident in today’s local in-home galleries. Van Dyke’s professional practices course, taken by some of the curators mentioned in this piece, requires students to find and curate their own gallery space. In the summers of 2009 and 2010, he also coordinated trips to the Poor Farm, an art space built out of an old farm in Little Wolf, Wisconsin.
The members of the TWFUH gallery agree that these experiences made it apparent just how conceivable it was to host a gallery—easier, certainly, than developing a more traditional, non-residential gallery space. After five of the curators of TWFUH moved into 3500 Bryant, collaborator Jennifer Hedrich pushed hard to turn the garage into an art space. Lawler points out that although they moved in “primarily for the roof over our heads,” from the start the garage space was to be used either as studio or exhibition space.
While would-be collectors can purchase art and learn about artists, those running in-home galleries do not do it for the money. Eliminating any fundraising motives, either commercially or through grants, means that those running the gallery can put their energies toward other things. For Van Dyke, this meant more time was spent with the art.
Even without the hassle of fund-hunting, planning shows in one’s home with little or no financial reward can be exhausting for curators and artists. For the members of the TWFUH gallery, future goals include slowing down the process of producing a show, not only to avoid burnout, but also to develop deeper relationships with the artists and to cultivate a strong community among participants.
The larger goal of these spaces is to expand the local art-viewing community by making gallery shows more accessible to a broad audience and by encouraging new participants, especially students. Many in-home galleries initially show works of friends and other artists that curators find through their personal connections to the Twin Cities art scene, growth and support of such galleries often grows beyond existing social circles. TWFUH now shows work based on submitted proposals.
Some in-home exhibitions exist on the walls of a person’s home, but many have a degree of separation between the gallery and living spaces: the TWFUH gallery is situated in a garage, the Occasional Art gallery existed on a floor separate of the living space, and October’s No Assumption show took place in an empty, soon-to-be-foreclosed home. Separating home from exhibitions also enables artists to present shows that are prolonged rather than event-based. According to Van Dyke, this allows for return visits and extended conversations about the art.
The TWFUH members see the separation between the gallery in the garage and their personal space as a way to keep their sanity and to mitigate the audience’s discomfort of viewing unfamiliar art in a stranger’s living room. The separation also prevents openings from turning into all-night parties, meaning that people “focus more on the art,” Dywer said. Lawler added that the different dynamic of hanging out in the backyard during shows creates more conversation and connection than you would normally encounter at a traditional gallery opening.
Van Dyke also suggested that having his gallery in a home changed the dynamic of a typical gallery space. At Occational Art, he and Brown purposely painted the walls grey to prevent the walls from “disappearing” behind the art, which “had a dirtiness showing domesticity.” The structure of the in-home gallery can interact with the pieces shown, as with TWFUH’s weather-based showcase of Ben Moren and Tyler Stefanich, which displayed Polaroid photos frozen in blocks of ice—something more suited to a garage than an exhibition hall.
As Emily Atchison pointed out, the TWFUH gallery is not an “alternative” space merely in reference to its unique structure, but also in the curators’ freedom to make decisions that are not centered on finances. They Won’t Find Us Here bucks the conventional gallery structure to create an experience that is closer to home.
“As long as one of us is living in the house,” Jennifer Hedrich said, “there will be the gallery.”
No Assumption: A Collaborative Exhibition of Art in a Residence, which took place October 9–22 in Northeast Minneapolis, integrated personal space and family history with original art, contemplating the idea of home and creating a politically charged social critique.
With performance art and live music throughout the show’s run, No Assumption was situated in the home that Mirelle Zacharis, a Twin Cities native, once shared with her mother, who bought the house in 1998. Though her mother tried to maintain the property’s upkeep, years of declining health and multiple knee surgeries had rendered her disabled, making routine house maintenance difficult. In 2008 Zacharis moved back home from New York City, where she had attended college and was working as an art handler. She planned to aid her mother in a prospective move to Florida, in an attempt to escape our awful winters, and to fix up the house.
But before the move south, Zacharis accompanied her mother to the hospital, where she was admitted with her first bout of pneumonia. A year later, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Three months after the diagnosis, her mother passed away.
Zacharis, now 29, found that despite ten years of on-time mortgage payments, her mother had amassed mountains of debt. Loans had been refinanced to pay for health care and to offset the time her mother had been forced out of work due to disability. Foreclosure on the home was imminent, and the only way that Zacharis could possibly take advantage of government programs to prevent it was by “assuming the loan”—taking her mother’s estate, including the house and the massive debt, in her name. Even by assuming the loan, there was no guarantee she would be able to keep the house.
Zacharis spent every day for a year trying to get someone on the phone who could help her, but found herself frustrated by bureaucracy. Despite her and a neighbor’s attempts to purchase it, she lost the house, but not before putting on an art show. The name No Assumption derived from Zacharis’ refusal to spend her life buried in debt and red tape, infusing the show with an anti-bank, anti-bureaucracy and punk rock sensibility.
“I could have done some sort of squatting action, boarded up the house, sitting with a gun, freaking out…but that’s not my style,” she said. After talking with friends and collaborators, she realized that hosting an art show focused on the endless obstacles she faced would draw attention to major economic and cultural injustices, without the feel of a “boring symposium.”
Zacharis garnered support through her own connections to young Twin Cities artists, including those she knew through the recently reconstituted Art of This gallery and now-defunct publication ARP! Her connections to Artcodex in New York broadened her reach, inspiring seven friends to travel to the Midwest, at their own expense, to assist in the exhibition and two more to submit artwork.
Putting on the show was not free, and Zacharis had to secure a sound permit and proper lighting—a complicated and expensive process when transforming an entire home into a gallery space. Zacharis funded No Assumption primarily out of her own pocket and with some supplementary donations. The show was turned around in about a month and a half, so applying for grants was impossible. Even with a limited budget, Zacharis believes that the participants’ volunteering of their time, energy and enthusiasm created a robust community around the exhibition.
Artists incorporated found items from her home into their installations, including family ephemera that had been buried in her garage. A painting Zacharis had created as a child and her mother’s reading glasses became integral parts of the No Assumption show. In playing with the art and the space, Zacharis said that there was a “reworking of the concepts” that made the whole situation more joyful: “That’s the fun part, more fun than just being foreclosed. [With the art] we were telling the story but not just telling the story.”
I attended No Assumption on a Thursday night, after hearing about it from a friend whose coworker had a piece in the show. Knowing it was an in-home show, I had expected a traditional Northeast duplex or bungalow, but when I arrived at the gallery, I was surprised to find a one-story building that I had always assumed was a lawyer’s office. Zacharis later explained that her former home was once a storefront.
Knowing that I was entering a home seemed strange at first, as though I was violating someone’s privacy by not knocking. Once inside, it was clear this space was no normal home. Lights were rigged up throughout to illuminate a variety of installations, sound, video, sculpture, prints and paintings. A three-hour loop of David Pitman’s radio program played in the background, featuring interviews and songs about foreclosure, broadcast on a pirate radio station out of the house. The home was empty sans a few pieces of furniture, a cat food dish, and a collection of art highlighting the hypocrisy of the American dream. In a few days it would be taken over by the bank.
Zacharis said it was important for show-goers to engage with the concepts through their viewing of the art. Certain pieces were playful: wall graffiti in the lower level pictured a crudely drawn man in a top hat asserting “this basement tastes bad!” However, the overall feel of the gallery space was somber, as political and class struggles were central to both the artwork and the home space itself. For example, Vandana Jain’s 2009 installation “Prayer Flags for Healthcare” repeated slogans from health care reform proponents on colorful cloth in the style of Buddhist prayer flags.
Situated near the back of the house in a closet that once held tools, Zacharis sole piece that she created for the show—“Disconnected: A Mother’s Warning”—incorporated a massive amount of bottles that had once contained pills that her mother ingested during her fight with cancer, chronic pain and disability. Some of the bottles still contained medication, and the installation included a radiation mask and tubing from the oxygen tank her mother had used. Her mother kept these devices and bottles with the intent of making an art project out of them on her own. Despite her wish to work on getting better, her mother’s experience in navigating the health care system meant that doctors would just “throw pills and devices at her,” Zacharis said.
For Zacharis, it was important that viewers came up with their own feelings and thoughts when attending the show. When talking about her own piece, she stated, “Ultimately its some pill bottles and oxygen masks and tubes. It’s not inherently political, it matters how you think about it.”
Mirelle Zacharis never believed that the No Assumption show would allow her to keep the house. She did, however, know it would examine and highlight the issues that she and her mother endured: the deeply intertwined realities of the health care system, disabilities, foreclosures, job loss, the Recession. Her aim was not to get people to vote for a certain candidate, but to present “a testament to how certain elements of the bureaucracy have to change.” Zacharis considered the financing and production of the No Assumption show a gift, intended to transform her experiences of loss and foreclosure into something intensely personal to her audience.
The No Assumption show was a rebirth for the house, diffusing the sadness of the foreclosure with the creative energy of the artists and curators. Zacharis hopes this transformation will eventually happen with all the foreclosed, boarded-up homes that occupy Twin Cities neighborhoods in some way—preferably to be occupied securely by real families and people again. The No Assumption show sparked Zacharis’ desire to continue producing shows and other alternative artistic forms of engagement. “I can’t wait to do more; I wish I had more foreclosed properties,” she said.
With the current increase of in-home galleries in the Twin Cities, artists and curators alike are finding ways to support art, create community and tackle the complexities of bringing work home. If you are interested in contributing to the growth of these spaces, you can check out more info below—or work on starting a gallery of your own.
In-home Galleries (email us to add to this list):
They Won’t Find Us Here:
3500 Bryant Ave. S., Minneapolis
1419 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
Upcoming Event: Sunday, December 12, 2010, for the Take Acre record release show, also featuring Lighted and the Quaking Bogge. 8 p.m., $5.
The Dressing Room (Art of This)
504 24th St. E., 3rd fl., Minneapolis
Upcoming Event: Saturday, December 11, 2010, Fancies by Anna Tsantir, 9 p.m.-11 p.m.
Holly Hilgenberg is a local writer, artist and thrift store shopper.