Art in a Box (or in a Garage or a Kitchen)

Discover more about alternative art spaces that have served artists all over the world on and off for decades.

Alternative Spaces in Experimental Venues

In the 1960s and 1970s, a wave of alternative art spaces came rolling into the art scene in the United States. These shows were usually organized in places originally intended to be used for other purposes, like warehouses, factory lofts or storefronts – all in stark contrast to the neutrality of the traditional ‘white cube’ gallery space. Although this movement mostly died off in around the 1990’s because of censorship and institutionalization, it has started making a comeback in recent years. Artists are yet again independently funding, curating and showing their work in unconventional art spaces – an achievement worth celebrating considering the twists and turns the scene has taken over the years.

In the Name of Artistic Development

At the start of the alternative space art movement, art-focused New York neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, SoHo and an area comprising of a couple of streets in Lower Manhattan emerged and played a massive role in developing artists and their artistic contributions. These areas flourished for some years before being felled by gentrification increasing living expenses and pushing the very artists who attracted residents in the first place out of the areas in search of lower living expenses elsewhere. Then came the commercialization of SoHo which sacrificed the integrity of the artist-run space in favor of government support.

Soho New York

In the 1990’s the dynamics were shifted once more, when funding for the arts was drastically reduced. It is widely assumed that provocative works by artists like the blunt homoerotic photography of Robert Mapplethorpe and the highly controversial ‘Piss Christ’ by Andres Serrano pushed the limits too far and caused the reductions. Soon after, arts laws were passed that restricted funding, with the goal of ensuring that artists consider the standards of what was considered decency and values in the eyes of the American public. This lack of funds increased costs of exhibition spaces and commercialization of galleries resulted in artists becoming dependent on fundraising – once again giving rise to alternative art spaces.

The Next Generation in Art

Instead of relying on funding, waiting for curatorial opportunities or gallery representation, artists turned to creating their own opportunities. By using a middle-ground between the artist’s studio and academic institutions, galleries, museums and art centers, artists are able to experiment with taking their work in new directions – and even in merging exhibition space with the artworks themselves. Alternative spaces offer artists autonomy and control while drastically cutting costs. Emerging spaces include alternative domestic spaces like ‘Kitchen Space Gallery’ – a kitchen in an apartment in Chicago run by Trevor Schmut and Traci Fowler. They live with the art and it becomes part of their daily lives, while bringing opportunity for experimentation.  The CCA launched a pre-exhibition in my home last month and it also used as an alternative space for the artwork we presented. An interesting example is Alyce Haliday McQueen’s show, “Sweet Dreams.”Dana Sheves - Alyce Haliday McQueen_s Alyce crumbled cakes, sprinkled colourful sprinkles and smashed cupcakes and sticky frosting over countertops and kept the sweet mess in the kitchen for the entire month of the exhibition. Another installation was done in a garage in Illinois and funded through a crowdfunding campaign. The artist used sumi ink and water collected on site to make ink wash drawings, while viewers were invited to select a stick from four separate piles and burn it to provide ashes to make more ink.

Stove in a kitchen with a red towel hanged on the handle and a rug undernethe

Artistic Expansion in Tight Spaces

Art installations can be found in hidden corners all over the world, that challenge artists to think outside the box, sometimes literally, like with Richard Medina’s Box Gallery, which is a cardboard box in which art is shown. There is also Ken Marchionno’s TRACTIONARTS – a window in Los Angeles where videos are projected between twilight and midnight. Not to mention Johann König’s Archiv & Souvenir, housed in a former London car park that was revamped into a viewing space. Described as an ‘experiment’ the ‘gallery’ was launched in the wake of Brexit and the instability it brought to the art world. While most galleries are closing, König is experimenting. It is extraordinary how the need to create and show can spur artists on to even greater creativity – even in selecting the spaces in which to show the art. Let’s hope that alternative spaces will continue to serve and foster artistic growth.

Johann König in London

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