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How to Escape the White Cube and Make Your Dreams Come True

In conjunction with the No Vacancy II pop-up exhibit, Creators' Editor-in-Chief Marina Garcia-Vasquez leads a panel on the creation of non-traditional art spaces.

This following is an excerpt of the transcript from the panel that took place at the pop-up art exhibit, No Vacancy II, on April 1, 2017:

Marina Garcia-Vasquez, Creators' Editor-in-Chief: Thank you for joining us for Deconstructing the White Cube, a conversation on curating DIY, alternative, and non traditional spaces. When Irina Makarova, Alison Sirico, and Adam Mignanelli asked if I was interested in moderating a panel for No Vacancy, I was excited to delve into the theme, as everyday on Creators we publish articles that are meant to inspire young artists along their way and show the possibilities and freedom found in making contemporary art. We are in what is currently considered an artist neighborhood, in a pre-war commercial loft building that was built in 1931. It is made up of 10,000 square feet, over four floors. It is a gem of a building and an art opportunity that no longer exists in Manhattan-proper. We are here to discuss the realities and possibilities of making art in New York today. This panel is meant to be a resource and a living conversation. The people that make up this panel have learned by doing, wearing many hats, and juggling multiple projects to see their vision out. Their art practice at its core involves creating and curating community.

Ambre Kelly: I am a co-founder of SPRING/BREAK Art Show, and I am also an artist.
Andrew Gori: I am also a co-founder of SPRING/BREAK. I am a filmmaker.
Irina Makarova: I am a co-founder of Alt+Esc Platform, organizer of the No Vacancy event, and I am also a writer.
Alison Sirico: I am also co-founder of Alt+Esc Platform and co-organizer of No Vacancy.
Adam Mignanelli: I started the Ballast Projects, a curatorial program.
Brian Whiteley: I am New York artist and founder of the Satellite Art Show.

For the sake of anchoring our conversation can each of you tell us what your definition of a traditional art space is and how this reflects the current art world climate?

Ambre Kelly: Traditional at this point seems to be kind of anything because galleries are closing and on the white box is not necessarily a cool thing to do anymore. I started working in the art world when I moved to NYC In 2006. My first job was with Design Miami and Art Basel and it was traditional to me in terms of building up the temporary walls that are typically white and putting artwork on these walls. When I left my job, I wanted to do something outside of that space. For me as an artist and a tiny collector when I can, I don't show art on my walls. They are green and pink and there is a furniture around it, so I think the art is typically not shown on white walls.

Andrew Gori: In an art fair space and culture, we started seeing a white wall as a something that gets equally distracting as anything else because you walk through a traditional art fair and after a few booths you almost can't see an artwork anymore because you are so used to this sanitized consistent space. The idea of traditional is the classic idea of creation which the architecture and environment should not interact with art work unless its installation. Since the use of traditional space became more acceptable that's being potentially contested which is interesting.

Irina Makarova : The idea of the four white walls has been around for a way too long. Even if it is not a white wall, it still contains a commercial angle to it where gallerists and dealers think primarily about sales and forget to think about the public. They don't transform the space to its maximum potential and that's why we started this project to get away from that.

Alison Sirico: The white wall space represents a hierarchy and having to start from the bottom.

Adam Mignanelli: Some of my first experiences with seeing a fancy looking gallery, you think it is a very intangible thing that's very similar to the way that luxury brands treat themselves and making their stores look and it almost becomes like a standard when you put your suit on if you are going to a certain type of job and if you don't do that, you are not taken seriously. Our goal was to counteract that because it doesn't really work. These walls are metaphorically crumbling behind the people. A lot of the exhibitions I have done have various elements to them but it is always in a weird space or something that I was thinking would not be taking seriously but it was. So the world of creativity is starting to follow these trends.

Brian Whiteley: The white wall space doesn't really invite interaction and the idea of exclusivity puts people at a distance from the work. Going back to the art fair motif, seeing art you love and finding out the price tag distances you from the work completely because you realize that you can only love the work from afar. For what we are doing— the people on the panel— we are trying to make it accessible, democratizing it, and allowing people to truly get into the work. We are all creators, so we go to each others studio and we talk art. There is a separation between the commerce and creation and we are trying to find a way to bridge that.

For Andrew and Ambre, in 2009, you established the now highly acclaimed SPRING/BREAK Art Show. Can you give us a brief rundown of the work/collaboration you did leading up to the art fair?

Andrew Gori: It started with a space. We were doing one night shows in the church gymnasium in Nolita. With a bunch of friends we made a gallery together. We had no money, so we paid this church $500 for five hours in Manhattan that we got from the entire group of friends and artists. We got to know the parish manager because we originally had done shows in the gymnasium they owned. So he told us that we seem like people who do stuff and bring people to it. So that lead to the first SPRING/BREAK when we had four stories in a school in Nolita where we could whatever we want.

Ambre: Coming back to the traditional art space question, historically the church was one of the commissioners of art and art was shown in that space. The white boxes didn't exist back then. We were given a space from the church because they are the institution that had the resources for us to do things. In 2011 it was our first show in conjunction with the New Museum's launch of the Ideas Festival. We actually partnered with them. Andrew and I curated our first show at the school that year but as not a part of SPRING/BREAK, more like a test. That worked and it was fun. In 2012, we came up with a theme and that's when we understood what SPRING/BREAK would be.

In an article, Ambre, you are quoted as saying, "The idea was to create a curator-driven art exhibition that could represent a humble 'improvement' on the art fair model. A unifying theme would envelope the numerous exhibitions in the space, the sales of which would be commandeered by this overarching idea rather than simple trade show tradition." How did you develop your business acumen?

Amber: With my experience of working in the art fair system for many years before even considering to launch SPRING/BREAK. I saw the inner workings, the behind the scenes, and got to know basically everything that happens in an art fair. With SPRING/BREAK, we had to figure out how do we this without sponsors when we are not wealthy? The church was donating the space for us which was amazing. When sales started to happen in the initial years, we learned that we could be a resource for artists and curators who are not dealers. We could actually make business where we could provide services.

Andrew Gori: I had zero business acumen. I think what actually helped me is around the time we started to make SPRING/BREAK, we were broke and we started a consultancy, so we actually would do anything for anybody for money. Just the fact that we were desperate, you know, it is kind of good to suffer sometimes. You will actually learn so much.

Alison Sirico, Sara Blazej, Irina Makarova, Lydia Pettit and Adam Mignanelli in Phaan Howng's installation for No Vacany. Photo by Vivian Wang.

Adam Mignanelli, you are an artist, curator, and design director at Vice Media, can you share with us how you manage to balance your participation in the arts and how all of these experiences bring value. Be honest!

Adam Mignanelli: The number one reason I am able to do all of this is because I am single. I don't really do anything else. I work and I do art stuff. I worked at Vice and quit in order to do art stuff and came back again. Once I went to Kinfolk Studios, a coffee shop, bar, and studio space, and I met the guy who opened it. I proposed to him to do an art gallery show at his bar and it worked. This entrepreneurial spirit worked. I've come back to doing my own work.

The founders of No Vacancy. Photo by Charlie Rubin

For Irina and Alison, in creating the Alternative Escape curatorial team and publication, you work to connect rising stars with new opportunities. What is your definition of new opportunities?

Irina Makarova : The important part is connecting people.

Alison Sirico: The opportunities can include gallery representation, a show, a new friendship or a collaborator. Through organizing events, new relationships form. Also, we are a magazine and we interview a lot of artists who have never been interviewed before, so a lot of times, we are one of the first chances artists have to talk about their work in this kind of public sphere.

Satellite art fair has been lauded for it's experiential and performance driven environment outside of the pristine Art Basel convention center. What is the importance of producing a spectacle? How is that a useful attribute for an artist?

Brian Whiteley: In Miami, they don't have the same art culture that NYC has. So, curating younger experiential artists from exciting new spaces and presenting performative programming during Basel turns into a bold statement during that fair week, which is typically pretty vanilla. People came into SATELLITE and they didn't know what was going on. I guess finding a way to blur lines for visitors and art lovers is the goal for us. Miami Art Week is a huge international art week and huge opportunity for exposure and until SATELLITE there was no opportunity for the real creators. Now there is an opportunity to see true artistic vision, and we don't hold back that vision in anyway. It is very powerful.

Andrew Gori: One of the things that is constant here with SPRING/BREAK and Satellite, the economics behind it is very important. The real estate situation and just the need for money from people who are probably least expected to do that like Catholic church or a hard rocking South Florida dude who has a hotel who could say "Let's go for it." This space and bunch of other places are still in disrepair because their owners can't afford to bring it back up. It is much easier for young people who have vision do something with it. 

Click here to learn more about No Vacancy II. 

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