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Three Platforms: A Brief Story of Art of This, Dressing Room and David Petersen Gallery

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This is an incomplete history about three unique art spaces with three different models and three distinct means, but one unifying end – to support contemporary artists and their work by creating a platform that at a particular time and in the particular place of Minneapolis, did not exist. It is a brief history about a tremendously unique community full of a rich and diverse population of artists and enthusiasts who have time and again supported challenging and rigorous artwork when it has been provided a forum to flourish. This is a story about a very simple idea. And it is a story still very much in progress.

Art of This was founded in the summer of 2006 after a group of artists were displaced by a studio building being sold to condominium developers. The project originally manifested itself as an artist-run studio and gallery space that was intended to more visibly support a small, tight-knit community of artists whose work was experimental, underrepresented and/or marginalized entirely. The support for this work, having been provided a space to exist and thrive without commercial pressures, soon grew to include a significantly larger portion of the community that embraced the artist-centricity of AOT. After its first year, when I joined the group, the infrastructure of the project expanded as well, relocating to a slightly larger space with a more accessible location and becoming a non-profit organization in an attempt to increase its funding options.  AOT constructed broader programming by including artists working at diverse stages of their careers, creating a variety of exhibition formats and collaborating with various arts organizations and projects.  With its two physical venues, AOT presented the work of nearly 300 artists – visual artists, multimedia artists, performance artists, musicians, dancers, writers, and curators. Having closed the doors of its permanent space in the autumn of 2010, AOT continues to support artists through the One Nighter Series, an annual series of one-night only projects and events; Imprint, a publishing project organized by AOT co-director John Marks; and an Open Studios website that enables artists to create a free web space for their work.

Dressing Room was conceived in the basement of Art of This. A gallery in the apartment of artist Crystal Quinn and myself, Dressing Room sought to provide a unique space for emerging and underrepresented artists to ‘try on’ their work. The project was thought of as an intermediate space between the privacy of the artist’s studio and the public space of a gallery. This in between-ness and indeterminacy of whether the space was gallery or home, whether the event was private or public, and whether the project was complete or in-progress, presented both privileges and challenges for the artists, the audiences and the hosts. Like Art of This, the reception of this project was supported by those who sought an experience that was not currently available in the community. The physical gallery was just a white wall – 8-foot high and 20-foot wide – but the project encompassed both a one-night exhibition and a limited-edition book project. The creation of these artist-made books, often with collaboration from the ‘gallerists,’ was integral to the success of the exhibition as it became a secondary outlet for the artist’s work and provided a tangible supporting document that gave more insight to the viewer. Dressing Room presented 13 exhibitions, each with an accompanying publication, between October 2010 and May 2012.

The idea of an eponymous commercial art gallery was originally half-baked, slowly rising from endless conversations with other artists about the lack of commercial support for artists and their work in the Twin Cities. There was a void in the community. In a relatively affluent metropolitan area rich in resources including world-class institutions, artists, and curators, it seemed somewhat illogical that a commercial art gallery did not exist within the international context and dialogue of contemporary art. It seemed somewhat odd that, unlike Minneapolis, cities such as Portland, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Richmond were represented by commercial galleries in international art publications, reviews and art fairs. Despite a tremendous amount of philanthropic and public support for non-profit institutions, or maybe because of it, Minneapolis was missing this particular element in its art scene. David Petersen Gallery – before it was even given a name – wanted to fill this vacancy by becoming a platform that would not only participate in the art world beyond the city’s limits, but add to the community a long-absent perspective of contemporary art as something that was indeed bought and sold, and thus vital to an artist’s long-term growth and success. This gallery wanted to be not only a site for art, but a node within an international network of artists, institutional professionals, gallerists, and, critics and collectors. Instead of being a Minneapolis art gallery, it desired to be a gallery that happened to be located in Minneapolis. Its platform would thus enrich the art scene of the Twin Cities by bringing in artists from around the world while simultaneously elevating the presence and stature of the work made by local artists.

The story of this gallery has just begun. The steep climb needed to accomplish its goals has been under way now for the past two months. The first exhibition, a group show titled Make Hay, opened in late September, and the second show, City of Seals, is currently on view. There are two more shows scheduled, two others in the works. The gallery was accepted into the New Art Dealers Alliance last month and hopes to begin participating in its fairs in the near future. Sales are thus far slow, as expected, but progress is surely being made. What hasn’t been slow, however, is the tremendous support from the community. As with the previous two projects, David Petersen Gallery is offering a site for a perspective of contemporary art that was missing from the local dialogue, and the artists, enthusiasts, curators, and collectors have responded positively to both its presence as a commercial entity and the work being exhibited within the gallery’s walls. Despite a commercially based model seemingly contradictory to the previous two projects of which I have been involved, the primary goal remains the same – to provide a platform for critically challenging contemporary art that will support artists and their work – and its success will be measured by its ability to meet such a goal.

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