One of our favorite shows this year was back in September at the W/ Gallery, a small gallery space in the Lower East Side curated by the young talented designers Rebecca Jimenez and Jiminie Ha. And while the entire program this year was strong, including work from 2×4, Leong-Leong and Stand Up Comedy, the events in September were organized by the painter and sculptor Keegan McHargue, entitled “Man Burning,” and featuring performances from the musician Glasser, artist Houston, and performance group Yemenwed, all framed in the space with a gigantic mural that McHargue created for the month of shows. We caught up with him to ask a couple of questions about exhibiting in tiny spaces, the benefits of old friends who are artists, and the challenges—and rewards—of small creative spaces.
One of the most interesting things about the W/ space is its physical constraints. What was your first thought when you saw the space?
Well, when I first saw the space I had the same impression that everyone has … Whoa! It is even smaller than I had imagined. But then I thought … Obviously Jiminie and Rebecca believe size isn’t everything and that there must be something to this tiny little space.
Over time, I have been getting more and more into performance and dance, so I immediately thought that it would be great to force such a small space on performers whose work I already know and love and see how they would respond to it. I have always wanted to incorporate more curation into my practice, and I have also had a desire to do stages and backdrops, so I knew right away that my contribution — aside from the curation itself — would be a mural intended to make the space even more claustrophobic, perhaps even a little frightening. The show itself, right down to the title “Man Burning,” was very much about “The West” or the sort of proverbial “end of the world,” so the W/ space sort of worked well with this concept. In my mind, it was just big enough to fit the last person on earth.
Is that the smallest space you’ve ever exhibited?
Actually, no. I did a solo show many years ago at Maurizo Cattelan’s The Wrong Gallery, which was simply a glass door with a wall one foot behind it to display work on. This was when it was still in Chelsea. Now the gallery itself — as a work of art — is part of the collection of Tate Modern and you can see the doorway installed in their galleries.
Later, someone made a 1/16 scale reproduction of The Wrong Gallery and I made a tiny work for the edition. I think that piece was around 2 x 5 inches. By comparison, the W/ space seemed like the Grand Palais!
What’s your history with the three artists you collaborated with – Glasser, Houston, and Yemenwed. Are they old friends?
Yeah, I knew everyone from before. Cameron Mesirow, aka Glasser, is best know as a musician. We’ve known each other since we were teens on the West Coast. Now we are both in New York and she has a new record out on True Panther Sounds that is absolutely amazing and getting deservedly fantastic reviews. For her performance, she wore a dress designed for the piece by Carol Nhan. Houston is the so-called “corporate identity” of artist and designer Matt Clark. I bet you have seen and been influenced his work already, whether you know it or not. Yemenwed is the collective of dancers Gloria Maximo, Melissa Ip, and Megha Barnabas with sound by Tim Dewitt and sets by Shawn Maximo. I first saw them come together for the performance of “Woman merges w Car” at the Jack Hanley Gallery here in NYC.
What was the biggest surprise out of the three shows you organized?
Well, I guess that the biggest surprise was how different the space felt with each performance. For the Glasser a cappella performance, both she and I really liked the idea of her as a display in a window … just her and a mic. The Houton performance actually involved shoting arrows into the gallery walls, changing the look of the gallery itself. The Yemenwed group installed props for their dance piece, and showed projections on the closed doors, which changed it entirely, while at the same time maximizing the space outside of the gallery as well.
While my part of the collaboration -the mural- was always there, no one hesitated to use the space carte blanche and really make it their own. I tried to encourage that, and I think in the end it felt like three separate individual shows, while at the same time they all worked together naturally as a series.
What was the biggest challenge?
There weren’t too many challenges, really. I did what I do best, and everyone else was enthusiastic and came through with wonderful projects. Small spaces are challenging in certain ways, but they are equally rewarding in others.
See more of McHargue’s work below or on his site