[Note: All answers by Jordan Stein. —Eds.]
When was your organization founded, and why?
February, 2017, although I’m not certain it was founded and even less sure it’s an organization. I wanted to make a space for people and art in my neighborhood.
You don’t have a name, regular operating hours, or a web site, correct? Could you elaborate on your (political? existential? aesthetic?) decision to forgo these typically standard things?
Good question, and that’s right. It’s not so much the “typically standard” that rankles, although it does, but that I have very limited time and money to operate this thing, so nonessential items have been put aside for the moment. Initially, and partially, this refusal was less an active or political position than a practical one.
A parallel answer might be that rent is enough of a drag; who needs a name? I like that the only center of the project is the physical space itself. This is not a broad or blanket stance, but an intuition based on the increased professionalization of art and its players. Though I suspected this streamlined and unorthodox approach would make things easy (or easier), in fact it makes most all decisions other than organizing exhibitions and paying rent something of a nightmare. That feels terrible, terrific, and most of all, unresolved.
Yes, for example, to expert photographic documentation, but where to store or post the images? Yes, of course, to increased visibility for artists I care about, but why connect with so few eyeballs? Yes, naturally, to the eccentricities of my space on the second floor of an active cushion-making business, but how to avoid a sense of exclusivity or in-the-know-ness? It’s unclean, and, as it stands, exactly what I can handle. Thankfully, it’s not my job; I think the project would suffer if it were.
What details you do like to share about your organization, and why?
Where and when folks can visit. I generally do an opening, a closing, and keep appointments. There’s no writing about the shows because as long as the door is open, I’m there and we talk. But the door is downstairs, so I continually have to run up and down to let people in. And it doesn’t lock automatically, so I also have to walk people down and lock the door behind them when they leave. It’s like I always have a third eye on that darn door.
Who is your audience, who are you trying to serve, and who do you hope to reach?
I hope to reach anyone who finds their way. That said, the audience is largely comprised of people I know — a lot of artists, curators, and folks who work in the arts. I send an email to a group of people and a handful of them appear at the appointed time and place. The idea of service is more complicated, especially in a city under siege, like ours. I do wonder who I’m serving, and why, and why now. Aside from myself and, I hope, the exhibiting artist and a few friends, the jury’s out. I’m skeptical of crowds — not nearly as skeptical as I am of clicks — but I just… I believe in small audiences. It has, however, been exciting and surreal to have strangers ringing the bell in this last month.
Growth is a tough concept when an idea is engineered as personal and direct, let alone when it’s unchartered or an explicitly financial loss. It helps me to imagine my efforts as an art or writing practice; if I’ve got something good or something I’m struggling with, I’ll send a chapter over. I’m trying my best to remain true to my interests — art and artists, improvisation, non-hierarchical and alternative spaces and contexts for art, collaboration, and no communications budget.
The first three artists you’ve shown are Zarouhie Abdalian, Brett Goodroad, Lutz Bacher: is there any through-line between these individuals and their work that might give us a sense of what motivates you as a curator (please correct us if “curator” is the wrong word)?
Not to be cheeky, but for starters, they’re all alive. Outside of this project, I’ve done a fair bit of archival work and am really interested in overlooked histories — buried stuff, you know? I never imagined consistently working with artists I might actually share a meal with.
As far as through-lines go, I’m trying to remain blind to most all concerns except enthusiasm and feasibility. This necessarily means that the roster, as of yet, is comprised of artists I know, like, and trust; presumably they trust me, too, although you’d have to ask them. Zarouhie, Brett, and Lutz are visionaries, able to beautifully and hauntingly transform ideas and experiences into unpredictable forms, but they’re very different people and very different artists.
Zarouhie is a sculptor and installation artist who invents, exploits, and misemploys tools of various kinds to explore latent political and labor histories within particular sites. She lived in the East Bay for several years before returning to New Orleans, where she was raised. She inaugurated the project with a constellation of black lacquered maple wedges called Simple Machines. They found various cracks in the space and inserted themselves. My friends Jesse Schlesinger and McIntyre Parker, two great artists, helped me fabricate them, which was essential. I got us burritos and we went to work. It felt like an honest way to begin.
Brett is an astonishing painter who lives by Ocean Beach and paints in the backyard — big canvases somewhere between figuration and abstraction, informed by masters like Goya and Watteau. He also draws and creates extraordinary monoprints. Most all the work portrays strange, singular allegories about growth, survival, and sexuality. His friend Kurtis Alexander, an SF Chronicle journalist, helped us hang a selection of recent pieces and people really flipped out over them, which was fantastic.
Lutz is an artist I’ve worked with on several projects, large and small. Her practice is motley and strange and sad, like the world, and always changing. She’s really at the top of her game, too, and has been active for decades. She showed a new piece, a print on paper that wrapped around the midsection of the entire space, like a belt. McIntyre and my old friend Josh Pieper, a pro from SFMOMA, helped me install it, which I couldn’t have done on my own.
Regarding a title for the work I do, as per your question, I like “organizer,” but sometimes “curator” helps in getting paid.
Renny Pritikin’s “Prescription for a Healthy Arts Scene” lists 23 requirements for a robust cultural scene in any city. How do you think the Bay Area is doing, and how does your organization fit in? (And please, feel free to disagree with Pritikin, or any of his points.)
If that’s the prescription, we’re not dying, we’re already dead. As you know, it’s a tough time for the poets of the world, let alone countless working families forced from the city as a result of the rise of the technology class. A ton of artists exist in a sustained moment of crisis, able to stick around because of a consistent teaching job or rent control, or, for the lucky ones, both.
For that reason, the shoestring and unclassifiable projects are especially exciting to me at the moment. This guy Steve Quick conducts a weird, roving enterprise called The Sleeper. I checked out his latest incarnation in an Alameda garage last weekend. And I recently learned about an alternative space called STABLE about two hours north of San Francisco, but it burned down in the incredible fires that destroyed so many people’s lives and land.
Although I’m pretty pessimistic about the future of our cultural lives, I value so many people and institutions in this community. I’m not pessimistic about artists.
What is the greatest challenge facing your organization currently?
Money is a bad deal. Huge thanks to you, Open Space, for an opportunity like this, which carries an honorarium; it’s crucial.
In less dire news, press is weirdly tricky. We’ve gotten a little coverage lately, which is great, but, you know, art publications have decided that the project’s name is the building address. Artforum has a fact checker, which is wild in such a fictive industry, and their first question was something like, “Is the official name of the gallery this address?” My answer was pretty clearly “no,” I thought, but I suppose it scrambled something and they printed the address anyway. Since then, people have been walking right into the building, which isn’t exactly ideal, especially because I’m rarely around. Thankfully, my host is Cushion Works, a thirty-five-year-old cushion-making business in the Mission operated by a terrific couple, Susan and Gary. Susan’s really into the project and it wouldn’t be possible without her. She went to CCA, and for the last dozen or so years has been renting out the second floor as individual artist studios. She works right by the front door, and when able, has been showing folks around the space when I’m not there. She says it doesn’t bother her, and it’s kind of beautiful that she’s a tour guide, but I really don’t want to put her out.
What should we be asking you?
People may wish to know that my day jobs — as a curator at KADIST, teacher at CCA, and independent curator — pay for this. Aside from that, there are likely some good questions about visibility, legibility, access, timeliness, money, politics, and diversity. Maybe how to find me?