Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Outside opinion: background on Zeke's Gallery for the newbie


As part and parcel of running this here gallery, I frequently get asked by students about interning here, so that they can get some experience under their belt. For the most part these things work really well for the student and for the gallery. Part of the requirements for the internship are the writing of a paper for whatever school they are interning at. Recently, I got my first experience with an international student, Hiroyuki Sasaki is an exchange student from Keio University in Japan who is currently studying at McGill. I was quite taken and impressed with his final paper, and asked if it would be alright to post it up here. He said "yes." And so here it is, in slightly more than 2,500 words it gives some insight into how things work here - along with some analysis of Roadsworth's art. [I've added the links, and don't forget that Mr. Sasaki's first language is not English.]
“Art Gallery” is defined as a space which exhibits the art pieces and sells them to the art collectors and to the public. People generally tend to get the impression of the art galleries that the galleries force the customers to buy the art pieces in high price, so that many people feel reluctant to go and appreciate arts at the art galleries. However, Zeke’s Gallery is definitely the exception. When I first visited the gallery with my resume, I doubted that I had come to a wrong address. Since the director, Chris Hand, initially started renting the space as office of a CD wholesaler business, Zeke’s Gallery never appears as an “art gallery” for the first visitors. There are several shabby couches, potted plants, untidy desks, innumerable beer bottles, and art pieces on the wall. The space seems like a student apartment rather than an art gallery. As we can understand from the gallery’s logo, Zeke’s Gallery is literally opposing to the idea of “white cube”. (Plate 1) He is intentionally, or perhaps unconsciously, sweeping away the professional atmosphere from the gallery, and opening the space as a free community centre to the public. As Zeke’s Gallery appears different from the other galleries, the gallery certainly works differently from the others. In my essay, I would like to examine Zeke’s Gallery’s new style of “art gallery”, and argue about the significant role of Zeke’s Gallery in Montreal art world. I will also discuss about a graffiti artist, Peter Gibson, alias Roadsworth, and demonstrate the gallery’s supportive attitude toward new artists.

By the grace of its unusual atmosphere, Zeke’s Gallery was elected to a Best Gallery in the Montreal Mirror’s Best of Montreal from 2002 to 2004. However, right after the publication of the magazine, the director of Association des Galeries d’Art Contemporain de Montreal, Mark Lanctôt, wrote a wrathful letter to Montreal Mirror to criticize the Best of Montreal election. He wrote as following.
“Leafing the Best of Montreal (May9), I was stunned by the results of Best Galleries. How can your readers be so badly misinformed? The Montreal Musuem of Fine Arts is, as its title indicates, a museum, and private spaces rented out to artists such as ArteVISTA and Zeke’s are not actual Galleries.”
The way Hand runs his gallery does not appear to be formal, that some galleries have hostility toward Zeke’s Gallery and toward the director, Chris Hand. The mandate of Zeke’s Gallery is “First Solo Shows”, that the gallery only holds exhibitions of the artists who have never had a solo exhibition before. Moreover, the director never rejects the offer from the artists even if he is not attracted by their pieces. Hand often says that in actuality, there are hundreds of artists who have no chance to show their works to the public, and most of them will give up their careers as artists without exhibiting their pieces. Considering these artists’ situation, Hand offers his gallery as the gateway to success for the artists.

However, Mark Lanctôt also criticizes about Hand’s way of choosing artists.
“Commercial galleries choose to represent a certain number of artists. This choice is subjective. They defend a certain vision of what they consider to be “good art” and choose the artists and artworks to exhibit accordingly. Because respectable gallery owners and directors only exhibit what they believe in, he or she establishes professional mid-to long-term partnerships with artists.”
As he points out in his letter, the commercial galleries generally select the artists by looking through the slides of their pieces and the academic artist statement. However, Hand says, when the artists call on Zeke’s Gallery to ask to have their exhibition, “we just talk.” His way of running the gallery certainly appears absurd to the other art galleries.

In Art Management written by Masanobu Ito, the author argues that there are generally three types of art gallery. The first type is the art galleries that frequently hold their original exhibitions and runs it by selling the art pieces. They generally contract with the artists, and wholesale their art pieces to other art dealers. The second type is the art gallery which runs by only offering their space to the artists. This type of gallery occasionally holds exhibitions, but they basically generate incomes by renting out their spaces to the artists. The third type is the art gallery, which runs the gallery only by selling pieces of art. This type of gallery never holds exhibitions, so there is no strong connection between the galleries and the artists. Zeke’s Gallery can be included in both the first and the second type. However, Zeke’s Gallery is a non-profit organization. The gallery offers its space for free to the new artists, so that rent, electricity, cleaning, or salaries are included in Gallery expense. Therefore, the gallery has abandoned the commercial purpose, and established itself as an alternative space for any artists in Montreal. In addition, Zeke’s Gallery is excluded from the category of “commercial gallery,” so that we can describe that the gallery established a new style of gallery in order to produce the new generation of artists.

His way of running the gallery is extremely risky and appears as optimistic way to the other art institutions. However, the most strong point of the gallery is the supportive attitude toward the artists who have not been considered as “artists” in the public and art institutions, such as graffiti artist, Peter Gibson, who was arrested last year and charged with eighty-five counts of public mischief. Zeke’s Gallery was planning to hold the first solo exhibition of Gibson in January 2005. However, because of the sudden arrest of the artist, it was inevitable to cancel the exhibition.

Peter Gibson is a graffiti artist, who begun to stencil cyclist symbols on the roads in Montreal over three years ago. He depicted from giant light switches to owls onto the roads in the plateau Mont Royal, and he uses the road and city environment as canvas. Although he distances himself from other graffiti artists, his artworks are generally considered as “vandalism”. The issue of whether to call him as a public artist or a graffiti artist is highly controversial. However, considering his artistic style and his present situation, I will discuss about him as a graffiti artist in my essay.

With the invention of the spray paint, the graffiti art emerged in New York in the late 1960s, and spread throughout the United States, Europe, and other world regions. Since its emergence, the graffiti art has not been readily accepted as “art works” which is exhibited in a gallery or museum, because of its location and the unconventional representation. The graffiti artists produce their work on public or private property without permission, so that their action is generally considered as “vandalism”. Galleries and museums are inclined to ignore the graffiti art due to the problem of its location and representation. Thus the graffiti art is always isolated from other art, and defined as “criminal” in society.

Most graffiti artists depict on the public property as a means of resisting particular group of legal, political, and religious authority. For instance, young artists employed forms of graffiti to transform the political meaning of the Berlin Wall by the time of its destruction. Furthermore, in the former Soviet Union, the graffiti had emerged as a resistance to the constellation of Soviet authority. As we can understand from theses examples, the graffiti art was established as a means of expressing the artists’ political or personal messages in order to appeal to the society or to resist to political authority. Thus, since their expressions are extremely radical, sometimes their designs do not fit in the existing environment.

However Peter Gibson is subtly different from other graffiti artists. Unlike the others, Gibson paints his designs in relation to the existing public environment such as car park-marks or passing lanes. He contemplates about the relationship between his works and the public space, so that his designs integrate to other existing road marking around. For instance, he depicts a yellow owl onto the ground by using the white line as a perch. (Plate 2) Likewise, he depicts a giant light switch in the car parking area. (Plate 3) He also uses the same color as the existing traffic marks in order to interweave his works to the existing environment. By using the public space as a means of his artistic expression, he transforms the city to a new environment.

Despite the fact that he is an anonymous graffiti artist, great numbers of residents in Montreal know his works. Passers appreciate his works on the road, and his works has certainly become a part of the city environment. The considerable numbers of residents were surprised by the news of the artist’s arrest. The writer for Montreal’s Le Devoir, Bernard Lamarche, says, “It is absolutely shocking that there is a criminal attitude against his art. They should hire to do more of this around the city to acknowledge their supposed willing ness to be a cultural centre.” Moreover, Richard Cote, the political adviser to the Mayor of the plateau Mont Royal, says, “Roadsworth’s work makes people smile.” Perhaps, it is more appropriate to call him a “public artist” due to the positive reaction of the public toward his works. Therefore, his works transcend the realm of “vandalism,” and make an opportunity for us to enjoy seeing art in our city environment.

Even though a great number of people in Montreal appreciated his graffiti art as “art works”, his works had not been in spotlight until his arrest. Art galleries or museums in Montreal had ignored his presence because his works would be categorized in illegal “graffiti art”. However, there are some cases in the past that graffiti art was recognized as “art” in the art institutions. In the 1970s, galleries in New York and Europe introduced the graffiti art as a new style of “art” in the art world. For instance, in 1985, an art dealer of Denmark, Yaki Kornblit, helped to launch the careers of several graffiti artists from 1984 to 1985 at Museum Boyanano von Beuningen in Rotterdam. Likewise, an American graffiti artist, Barry McGee, was commissioned to produce a graffiti art mural for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1996. Although these cases are uncommon examples, the graffiti art has started to be recognized as “art” in recent decades. Some art institutions have endeavored to introduce the new style of art to the art world and to the public, and their activities have eventually expanded the realm of visual art. Zeke’s Gallery is the one of such art institutions which actively bring in the new form of visual art, and extensively support the new artists, such as Peter Gibson.

Right after his arrest, Zeke’s Gallery started the charge dropping campaign on the Internet. Hand urged various art institutions and Montreal residents to write a letter to the mayor to drop his charges. After starting the web-based campaign, various art institutions and publishing companies asked the gallery for information about Peter Gibson and his works. For instance, an Irish magazine publisher, CIRCA Art Magazine, inquired for further information about Peter Gibson, and the reporter, Claire Flannery, wrote an article about his works in the magazine which was published on March 7th, 2005. Likewise, Le Devoir, Montreal’s Mirror, The Gazette, and other newspapers discuss about Gibson and his works in numerous articles. Perhaps, now Peter Gibson is one of the artists who are at the center of attention in Montreal art scene. At the same time, art institutions are required to reconsider the value of visual art: what is art, and what is not art.

As we can understand from Peter Gibson’s example, some artists are not accepted as “artists” in most of art institutions, and isolated from other artists who exhibit their works at galleries or museums. However, when we turn our gaze to the public sphere, considerable numbers of people are appreciating their works as “visual art.” In this contradictory situation, Zeke’s Gallery plays a significant role. The gallery has ability to turn his eyes to the new artists who are excluded from art world. Moreover, the gallery does not only introduce those new styles of art to the public, but also brings them into the art world, and expands the realm of visual art. In the case of Peter Gibson, Hand’s effort eventually became an opportunity for other art institutions to reconsider the value of visual art, and made the public be aware of their surroundings which is full of various forms of art.

There is no way to deny the fact that Zeke’s Gallery is the most unusual gallery, and Chris Hand is the most eccentric director in Montreal. However, when we look the activity of the gallery over again, we are able to distinguish its function from that of other art institutions. Zeke’s Gallery is a place to produce the new artists and their new style of art, and introduce them both to the art world and to the public. By putting the welcome mat for the new artists, Zeke’s Gallery has possibility to find the unknown artists who are automatically excluded from art world.

Furthermore, Zeke’s Gallery produced not only the new artists, but also the new gallery goers. Its unpretentious atmosphere makes people feel comfortable around art, and also allows the people to easily come to the gallery to appreciate art. It is quite natural for the fact that Zeke’ Gallery was selected for the Best Gallery in Montreal Mirror’s Best of Montreal in the past three years. Zeke’s Gallery is the place where people can look art, and discover art. The gallery is open to every new artist, and every person who is receptive to the new artistic ideas. In other words, the gallery breaks the boundary between the art gallery and the public. Zeke’s Gallery is the place where art and public interact. The gallery has unlimited possibilities of shortening the distance between art and public, and the dialogue between art and public certainly creates new style of art, and a new style of art gallery.

Bushnell, John. Moscow Graffiti: Language and Subculture. Boston: Unwin Hyman.
Cooper, Reid. “When the Stencil Hits the Road.” Good Reads.ca.
Ferrell, Jeff. “Urban Graffiti: Crime, Control, and Resistance.” A View of Offender’s
World: About Criminals. Ed. Mark Pogrebin. California: Sage Publications. 2004. 33.
Ito, Masanobu, Ayumi Okabe, and Yoshio Kato. 2003. Art Management. Tokyo: Musashino Art University Press
Lanctôt, Marc. “Gallery Guff.” Montreal Mirror. 2002. May 16
Lanctôt, Marc. “The Business of Art.” Montreal Mirror. 2002. May 30
Waldenburg, Herman. The Berlin Wall. New York: Abbeville. 1990.
Walsh, Michael. Graffito. Berkley: North Atlantic Books. 1996. 11-12.
Oh, and Mr. Sasaki got an A on the paper and the course.

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