Isolation Room/Gallery Kit’s presence in Daniel McGrath and Dana Turkovic’s dining room may even be overshadowed by the unanimous acclaim it has received. The dual-titled project exists as both a singular viewing experience and an eminently exportable gallery with downloadable blueprints. Situated in the pair’s St. Louis apartment, the 7′x7′x9′ Isolation Room offers month-long exhibitions meant to facilitate a solitary consideration of the work. This innovative approach has attracted artists from around the world as well as the attention of Artforum and ReadyMade. Isolation Room/Gallery Kit manages to balance a critique of commercial and curatorial agendas with a thoughtful approach that allows each work “the smallest possible collaboration between the gallery space, curator, artist and audience.” The project continues to evolve into an elegant alternative to the traditional gallery environment. Jay Lizo’s show at Isolation Room, Jimma!, is the first to be fully solar powered with zero carbon emissions. Find more information online at http://gallerykit.blogspot.com/
Isolation Room/Gallery Kit
Dana: We started the project in July 2010.
Daniel: Built it in summer, first show was an Ed Ruscha/Joe Goode collaboration print.
Dana: To run an interesting space with minimal effort.
Daniel: Yes, the laziest possible format for a gallery. The opposite of work.
Dana: 2 – Daniel McGrath and Dana Turkovic
Daniel: Additionally, I’d like to give a shout out to the artists and Fed Ex. They have been very generous in trusting us. Also Rebecca Harris and Douglis Beck wrote essays voluntarily and Annie Wischmeyer invited us to rebuild the gallery in New York. No gallery is an island.
Dana: We pay for everything out of pocket. Part of the concept is that its a gallery with zero or very little overhead as we are only asking for one work, of which makes for a space running with very minimal cost.
Daniel: Thanks mum and dad! No seriously, it’s a self funded hobby.
Dana: We both “curate” exhibitions and invite local, national and international writers to contribute essays to each of the works on display.
Daniel: It rises and falls on the faith we show in the project, yes.
Dana: So far, we are giving the work a one month duration in the space. Basically, we will run 11 months out of the year, with one month hiatus.
Daniel: Only one year so far. About a month for each show.
Dana: An opening reception and by appointment. We have also contributed to exhibitions/events in other cities, whereby we built the Isolation Room as an alternative venue.
Daniel: Organize? Interesting choice of words. Sometimes we rent videos and watch them next to the Isolation Room. Sometimes we rebuild the gallery in far flung metropolitan cities. The opening receptions often become a beer fueled salon style round table. It’s quite different from an awkward gallery setting. Planning is anathema to me.
Dana: Its sort of at whim. At the moment we are just working from personal archives of artists we want to work with on a site specific piece or work we think might translate well in the space.
Daniel: Ad Hoc. Beyond that a lot of trust in each other’s taste in art.
Dana: See answer above.
Daniel: Yes, in theory we do, but it’s more invitational so far.
“Isolation Room is an evolving project that will focus on one artwork per exhibition cycle. each piece will be placed in a physical state of quarantine, situated in a modular viewing space inviting an extended period of contemplation. Building on an ongoing interest in containment, the constructed room allows for the smallest possible collaboration between the gallery space, curator, artist and audience. At its core one work stands in isolation. This is also an opportunity to protect work from a forced theme, loose contextualization or commercial exploitation. By placing the individual piece as a subject in isolation the work is then encouraged to exist and be perceived from an aesthetic standpoint.”
Daniel: That’s the official story anyway. Ultimately, we both really love the art we want to show. Art is the possibility of sharing that love with a stranger, both as an artist and as a gallerist. It’s corny, mawkish sentimentality perhaps, but a lot of curators like Walter Hopps (he started Ferus Gallery and curated Duchamp’s first retrospective) have said similar things, and I tend to agree with Hopps’ assessment.
Dana: The lack of interest from the art community as far as opening receptions. The struggle between the public and private nature of the project and helping potential viewers understand that we are welcome to visitors who are either hard core art goers or just curious people.
Daniel: The press blitzkrieg is working, which is either a source embarrassment or pride depending on how you look at it. Or WHO you are when looking at the reviews. Either way the coverage is certainly encouraging from my point of view.
Dana: To give people a model of how you can function as a highly conceptual art space, with minimal money, a cost efficient method of bringing in artists that are interesting, and with the potential for satellite spaces in other cities it would allow us to then show St. Louis artists in other cities.
Daniel: I like to imagine an artist ‘Utopia’ in St Louis. Think like Thomas More for a moment. My utopia consists of groups of artists who take advantage of low rent space, the expert fabrication facilities and an arts administration that joyously EXPORTS, PROMOTES and FUNDS the talent that exists HERE to OTHER places. How cool would that last part be? Currently, I reckon the productive energy here is impressive, lots of good artists that can hold their own with anyone else in the world. But somehow this energy tends to become insular and exhibit signs of an ‘inferiority complex’ and eats itself in pettiness. That is a failure of administrative nerve at the highest levels not at the level of conception, fabrication and production. For example, why not pay for a young artist’s return ticket to Moscow or Tokyo so that they can get on with projects internationally? Who knows, maybe an unknown 20-something St Louis artist gets serious critical coverage in the UK or Germany. That’s what works in the general economy so why not replicate export strategies? (Maybe that success is seen as a threat to various hierarchies around here.) That return ticket abroad brings the artist back to the cheap 4,000 ft studio and their part time jobs ready to make more work to export. Instead what you tend to see is a few knackered old hacks (writers, admin and artists) getting all the action locally and smothered youthful energy. Thomas More’s Utopia was satirical land where the “sheep eat the young men”, critiquing the way Tudor England’s upper-class was unethically abusing human capital by clearing villages for cattle grazing. Same thing exist here. Take writers for example: By denying to their magazine editors that anything good happens around here, there’s been incalculable damage wrought on the local scene. Instead of judiciously vouching for a few artists here or gambling on a gut instinct, there is a callous destructive dismissal from many writers who actually have a national and international voice. Writing about art is an ethical responsibility it’s certainly not a job. So instead of exporting quality and prestige, we then get stuck with importing work validated elsewhere.
Dana: As a ‘democratic’ (Small d) gallery space, we are hoping to build more gallery kits in other places and turn over the space to curators to run the space as a loose network.
Daniel: Yes, world domination! (A hybrid of DIY, KFC and the Baader Meinhof Gang) and hopefully a few people are inspired to build their own gallery systems. It’s by no means out of anyone’s reach. But I’m personally hoping that Arsenal win the English Premier League and deny Manchester United their record 19th. Championship. ‘Man U’ are too big for their boots.
Images courtesy of Isolation Room/Gallery Kit.
James McAnally is the executive editor and co-founder of Temporary Art Review. A graduate of Washington University, James McAnally is a founder, Co-Director, and Curator of The Luminary Center for the Arts, a nonprofit artist resourcing organization based in St. Louis. In his personal practice, he works as part of the artistic collaborative US English.