Art exhibitions in white walled gallery spaces are often described as “too sterile.” While they serve as a blank canvas so the viewer can focus on the artwork itself, sometimes the biggest distraction is the overwhelming emptiness surrounding the work.
Repurposing a space that isn’t a gallery can create a richer context for the artwork because it develops a relationship with the surroundings and this can be a unique and unforgettable experience for the viewer.
This past weekend, curators Alexa Hoyer and Elisabeth Smolarz produced an art exhibition in a florescent lit, wood paneled old medical office on Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint called “This Won’t Hurt a Bit.” It was anything but sterile.
The white casement windows on the building’s facade literally set the stage for the weekend performances by Hossanah Asunction, with viewers seated on the sidewalk looking into the storefront. Another performance by Lara Allen happened on top of the reception desk.
Behind the reception desk, “Sameer Kapoor staged a spoken word performance about how in the year 2040 Greenpoint has become the wealthiest, most affluent area in the city. It’s a mixture of current facts and fiction that playfully comments about gentrification, pollution and impending doom,” explained curator Alexa Hoyer.
Past the waiting room, which also served as the socializing area, there was a long narrow hallway where 1 min songs played by No Hope, a collaboration between curator Elisabeth Smolarz and Jan Wilker, that were “contemplating the current state of affairs.”
The corridor connected examination rooms, laboratory areas and x-ray rooms where artists were invited to show their work in what felt like an open studios of sorts.
Hoyer explained that “we invited a variety of artists working in various disciplines from different parts of our lives and various art communities…The rooms make it possible for each artist to be seen individually.”
Room after room, discovering each installation alongside outdated exam tables felt like a treasure hunt. The space itself provided a visceral feeling of the unknown for the viewer in much the way a patient might feel heading into an examination room, except instead of potential bad news, the viewer feels a sense of excitement for the novelty ahead.
On choosing artwork for the show, Hoyer said that, “we were looking for works that complement the setting without compromising the unique voice or content. Some of the artists added components of the former medical office to create site specific installations and others used the rooms as more traditional spaces.”
The glass cabinet displayed by Hoyer’s former professor Cyriaco Lopes, which is part of a larger project ‘Crimes against love’ that deals with crimes against homosexuals, was an interesting juxtaposition in a room with a dilapidated drop ceiling and ripped up vinyl flooring. The viewer was invited to take a closer look and literally step on the installation as long as they took off their shoes, playing into the delicateness of the subject matter that exists in a violent and crude world.
Harriet Salmon treated the space in a much more straight forward but no less effective way with her colorful patterns of photos she creates in her studio then digitally prints on silk.
On first glance Alexa Hoyer’s installation called “Natural History Project” seemed like a collection of nature photos, but on closer look there was a distortion in the perspective while the landscapes had a painted effect that created a subtle disconnect and curiosity for the viewer. Hoyer said that she is “interested in exploring the representation of nature and narrative, playing with the slippery border of the real and the imaginary … The pictures raise questions about the reality that is often assumed in a photographic project.”
Nearby a room held office hours during which visitors could interact with Naomi Miller, Public Intellectual.
The hallway ended in the X-Ray room with an installation called “Machines” by Philadelphia artist Tim Belknap. Clunky and awkward hunks of metal “robots” were remote controlled by guests. Their unexpected and strangely timed movements were perfectly suited for a space that housed odd and outdated medical machinery used to diagnose broken bones and failed insides.
While the variety of work and artists in “This Won’t Hurt a Bit” might not make sense together in a traditional gallery, presented within the context of the Medical Office, the show successfully united the work into a broader theme of unexpectedness and curiosity, playing off feelings that might be experienced in an actual Medical Office, but here without the anxiety and pressure. This show was fun.
While the Medical Office won’t be available for any more art shows, look forward to more collaborations between curators Alexa Hoyer and Elizabeth Smolarz.