Photo: The barn doors at Kings Oaks Art
In his recent musing on The Death of the Gallery, critic Jerry Saltz described the bewildering fizzle of the gallery culture in New York as market powers and tastes are pulling the carpet from under the cultural institution. The forum in which he once reveled was a gallery scene that promoted conversation about art with a certain historic continuity and certain consequences for artistic merit—and that is fading away, he decries. But he finds an optimistic coda by stating that the dethroning of the gallery might serve to unveil the reality of multiple art worlds and bring a certain democracy to audiences and artists.

Certainly in the theatrical world we’ve seen an exuberant wave of breaching conventional settings recently, as in Sleep No More—an interactive adaptation of Macbeth that invited the audience to follow its characters through a 1930’s styled hotel. Unconventional approaches to exhibiting and performing are nothing new, but we are seeing a greater propensity for these situations across the arts. Large-scale cultural shifts are making it necessary to reassess how art is disseminated. Streaming digital content has siphoned the audiences from movie theaters, music stores and bookstores so that those that remain are redefining their roles. The struggling economy and skewed art market have forced many galleries to mutate or shutter. It can be frustrating and perplexing, but the relentless drive to make art motivates many to strike out on their own or initiate new collectives and novel outlets.

The pop-up exhibition carries an air of excitement for the magic of ephemeral moments and the inventive problem-solving that goes along with such endeavors. Mickey Rooney’s rallying cry, “Let’s put on a show!” still resounds with youthful and foolhardy spirit when a group wants to express itself—naysayers be damned. As a young upstart nation, America still has the psyche for revolution—fighting against the odds to establish what we believe in. As with any sort of revolution the potential for chaos is a constant outside of the mainstream. But the excitement of carving a new path gives one zeal to battle and blunder through the hazards. Thus in many incarnations we find ourselves charmed by the makeshift, the thrown-together, the spontaneous, the dark horse and the underdog.

This will be the second year I am organizing a pop-up exhibition in the barn and chapel of Kings Oaks farm in Newtown. Last year after cleaning out these time-crusted spaces and making them ready for exhibiting, the nine artists enjoyed a positive response that encouraged us to try it again this year. While last year was a massive blur making delusions into reality, this year I have a bit more clarity to step back and see what this strange thing we’ve built is. Putting together a show from scratch is an experiment in finding out and showing what’s possible. When artists put on their own shows it is a bit like a dog carrying its own leash. Artists tend to want the controlled liberation, which they invent in their artwork to exist elsewhere. In an artist-made exhibition the creative act spills out of the boundaries of the rectangle or sculpted surface and into the space in which it occupies. The whole event becomes a creative act.

As Art at Kings Oaks is a group show, the creative act is a delicate blend of its constituents—and I’ve tried to surround myself with inspiring constituents. This years’ returning artists are David Graham, David Fertig, Celia Reisman, Matthew Merwin and myself. We are joined by Pam Sheehan, Sarah Peters, Jonathon Wells, James Stewart and Robert Andrew Parker.

There is no concept that groups these particular artists, nor agenda for their selection—they are just a diverse and committed crew banded together for the thrill of the show. The chemistry of pairing these impressive artists with an engaging space is unexpected and potent. The idiosyncrasies of artist and architecture meet at fitting intersections. With a white walled gallery, the artwork can more or less preserve its original intent, but in a gnarly barn and ghostly chapel the affect of the artwork is altered. Likewise the spaces take on a wholly new character. Initials carved into the wood long ago or grease stains on the floor garner a classical poise.

Having last years’ precedent and much of the setup already taken care of should make this years’ preparation easier, and it does, but it also emboldens the invisible monster of expectation. The threat of disappointment looms above us, but that’s just the sort of adversity that we are eager to rally against with sleeves rolled up, elbow grease applied, teeth gritted, and creative minds united. Let’s put on a show!