If you were one of the attendees at DC’s (e)merge Art Fair this past September 2011, you probably remember The Free Art Booth set up in the parking garage, and maybe you were lucky enough to walk away with a piece. Maybe you also remember the two jovial guys running the booth, giving you information about each artist and assuring you that, yes, all the work really was FREE.
Sean Naftel (Queens, NY) and Chris Attenborough (Baltimore, MD) are those guys. They met back in 2008 as graduate students at Burren College of Art in West Clare, Ireland. Though Sean came in as a painter and Chris as a photographer, the existential crisis that so often plagues graduate students did not spare either of them, and they bonded over their mutual conceptual concerns of understanding space and place through cultural references and community. Now, some four-plus years later, Sean and Chris have continued to collaborate under the name Peacock Interventions, organizing site specific happenings and interventions that often create a context for people to rethink their understanding of art and its inherent value, and to become personally invested in the experience of cultural exchange.
(E)merge was the third incarnation of The Free Art Booth, the first set-up occurring back in Ireland while Sean and Chris were still students. At this early version, they realized that something transcendent occurred when people received an original work of art for free, donated by the artists who were eager to have their work seen and to help regular people to start their art collections. In 2009 they set up the second incarnation, Free Art Stand, at the SEVEN Art Fair in Miami. They told me that through the three versions, they have exhibited and distributed hundreds of original works of art from at least 15 countries, and that pieces have ended up in the hands of notable private collectors as well as in the collections of the MOMA and the Women’s Museum in New York City. Even more important for Sean and Chris are the relationships that result, among the exhibiting artists (for Emerge many of the works came to them unsolicited as artist learned about the project through word-of-mouth) and between the artists and the collectors.
Sean and Chris and painter Erin Treacy (Queens, NY), have also collaborated to establish Roving Project, an umbrella organization that helps independent curators to organize temporary exhibitions of contemporary art in slack spaces around the world. So far Roving Project has been associated with exhibitions from Elicott City, MD to Kansas City, MO to Ireland, Scotland, and Italy. In each instance, whether organized by Sean, Chris and Erin, or any of their international collaborators, they are interested in utilizing spaces that will benefit from an infusion of cultural vitality; they promote projects that are multi-beneficial, creating opportunity for artists to gain exposure, for communities to encounter contemporary art, and for abandoned or underused spaces to experience new life.
Plywood Gallery, in North Baltimore’s Belvedere Square, is the most recent of these projects, and where I met Sean and Chris for our interview. Plywood is a joint venture between the guys of Peacock and Nelson Carey, the owner of Grand Cru, a wine bar two doors down from the gallery. Chris proposed the idea of a temporary gallery that could also be used by the wine bar for tastings and special events, and Nelson was sold. The storefront that Plywood now occupies had been a jewelry store that fell casualty to the economic downturn, so luckily it was already set up with gallery quality lighting and needed only a good cleaning and a fresh coat of paint to make it a proper exhibition space. At the time of the interview, the absurdist work of Tennessee artist, and fellow Burren College of Art alum, Hali Matlsberger, was on view.
Maltsberger’s show was the third in the space since its’ opening in October 2011, preceded by solo shows of work by Ian Umlauf and Jim Lucio. So far the work exhibited at Plywood has reflected Sean and Chris’s interests in the de– and re-construction of cultural associations to place, but they are currently restructuring their program so we’ll have to wait and see what comes next. On the gallery website, they claim that Plywood will only occupy the space until another tenant is found, but my fingers are crossed that it will be a while before that happens. Baltimore needs another exhibition venue for smart, relevant work, especially one so committed to community participation.
The week before Christmas they organized a Holiday bizarre and open call for art from around the area. Artist Mei Mei Chang of DC (featured by TSV on May 20, 2011) was one of the participants, along with artists of all career points from through out the region. They also organized a bon fire that was set up in the Beleveder Square parking lot and the guys from the wine bar brought carts to vend bratuwurst, oysters, hot cider and wine.
To see more work by Peacock Interventions: http://web.me.com/cjattenborough/PEACOCK/interventions/interventions.html
To learn more about Roving Projects: www.rovingproject.com
And to learn more about Plywood Gallery: www.plywoodsite.org