Monday, September 13, 2010

Talk About Your Non-Traditional Art Spaces!

Artist Larry Caveney Runs Monthly Shows in His Garage


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • Used by permission

At least one afternoon and early evening a month — usually the third Saturday, though it varies — an ordinary garage door at 4141 Alabama Street in North Park opens up and becomes an art gallery. The proprietor, Larry Caveney, even calls the space “The Garage,” which may lead some art lovers who see the posters advertising his shows to think it’s just a cool name for a normal gallery instead of … a garage, albeit a clean one with paint specks instead of grease stains on the floor (Caveney also uses it as a studio to create his own works) and whitewashed walls to showcase the works Caveney hangs in it.

Born in Asheville, North Carolina — charming traces of a Southern accent still linger in his voice — Caveney has been making art since 1985. He lived in Nashville for a while and then settled in San Diego in 2000. “I showed at the Museum of the Living Artist in Balboa Park and got to know folks from the area,” Caveney told Zenger’s. “In 2002 I got my Masters in Fine Arts degree from Vermont College. It’s a distance program where you do a 10-day residency in Vermont. You also have to work locally with an artist who’s part of the school, someone who’s doing site visits and critiquing your work.”

In his early years in San Diego, Caveney also developed an interest in performance art — the hybrid of art and theatre for which San Diego has been a hotbed since the Sushi Gallery opened downtown in the late 1970’s and helped launch the career of Whoopi Goldberg — which in turn piqued his interest in showing visual art in non-traditional spaces. “I wanted to open a space that would represent a conduit to the community, and that’s how the idea of The Garage started developing.”

Caveney’s work ranges from relatively traditional paintings and collages — many of the latter using elements from art-show catalogues (he likes to incorporate other artists’ works into his own) — to “interventionist” or “situational” work. According to Caveney, situationalism is a movement launched in the 1960’s by French artist, theorist and Marxist activist Guy Debord, who wrote an influential book in 1967 called Society of the Spectacle. Caveney read Society of the Spectacle and “it started making me think about public space.” Specifically, it provoked him to challenge the distinction between public and private spaces, and the ongoing tension in spaces like shopping malls that are “public” in the sense that people are welcome to them but “private” in their ownership and the desire of their owners to see that people don’t do anything there but shop.

Drawing on the examples and ideas of Debord and German performance artist Joseph Beuys, Caveney said, “I go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and build a little stage where I can dance into a painting, and people coming out of the DMV can make marks on the painting. The idea is to make that a collective space that’s an outlet for people” — not merely somewhere people go to get their drivers’ licenses renewed. He also said he works on “paintings on clothing” — not the sort of “wearable art” people usually think of when they hear the words “painting” and “clothing” in the same sentence, but works in which old clothes are shredded, rearranged and used as raw material for the artist.

Another influence on Caveney’s idea for The Garage, he said, was Doug Ashford, a former student at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York City who became a professor there and also a prominent member of a group called Grown Material. “They’d move into an area and set up a gallery space,” Caveney recalled. “One of their projects was to go to their neighbors, find out what they collected and cherished, and show it. I decided to do something like that — but on an ongoing basis, once a month.”

Caveney has been organizing shows at The Garage for two years now. He holds them every month but December and January — December because he’d be competing with the holidays and January because people are still recovering from them. “We had a show in December one year that was a big flop,” he recalled ruefully. Indeed it was such a big flop that he almost stopped altogether. Instead, he said, “I rethought it to include more local artists instead of out-of-town artists. We combine both to support the local artists and also bring new work in.”

Unlike some non-traditional art exhibits which merely open a space and let artists throw things on the wall willy-nilly, Caveney carefully curates his shows at The Garage, selecting both the artists and the works to reflect a particular theme. For his August 2010 show, “Becoming the Animal,” he put out a call to local artists working on pieces that explored the connection between humans and animals, including works that metaphorically dealt with evolution. Not all the Garage shows are themed, Caveney said, and not all of them are multi-artist; he’s done one-person shows too. “We might have a local artist who wants to experiment with the space, and they can jump in with an installation,” he explained.

One form of outreach Caveney has experimented with is a live Skype computer link so even an out-of-town artist — or, as in his August show, a local artist who was on vacation at the time — can communicate directly in real time with the people viewing her work. “That’s another way an artist can get involved in the process and get direct feedback,” he said. “I’ve sent stuff to a lot of shows where I didn’t have any communication or any idea how it went over. On the computer, the artist can talk to people and get their undivided attention, which isn’t always possible in a live show.”

The shows he has scheduled for September and October illustrate both types. The September 18 show is called “Songs of Flesh and Blood,” which Caveney said is “all about the body as cultural identity, internal and external.” In October — he hasn’t set the exact date yet — he’ll be presenting a one-woman show with artist Barbara Goldsand of the Art Meets Fashion group (,who has an interesting pair of professions: artist and registered nurse.

Asked if anyone else has done similar shows, Caveney said, “Not with this consistency. There’ve been shows utilizing alternative spaces temporarily, but because I live upstairs and have the garage as part of the mortgage, I can do this consistently. Eric Wong in Los Angeles [] would set up shows on the top floor of a hotel and take a room. He’s also done shows at Sushi. He’s a great model for me in terms of looking for alternative space. The drawback is the responsibility. I have to deal with the artist at some level. We’ve had great turnouts and we’ve had poor turnouts. When the artist shows at The Garage, they’re buying into the model, and it’s not the typical model.”

One thing The Garage isn’t is a moneymaker, Caveney readily admitted. Though some of the artists who exhibit at The Garage have actually sold works from it, “that’s not an objective, and it doesn’t make that big a difference,” Caveney said. “This is not a commercial model; it’s an extension of my own creative work. We want to experiment with the space and explore some ideas.” He’s already got The Garage booked until the end of 2011 — though he concedes that his mortgage is “upside down” and he might lose the space along with the condo he and his wife Karen live in above it — and though he usually runs his shows in the early evening (6 to 9 p.m. or 7 to 10 p.m.), he might experiment with earlier hours, like 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to see if that creates “a more leisurely experience” than a formal art opening.

According to Caveney, The Garage “has its own life” because it meets a need artists, like other creative people, have to reach an audience. Though most of the people who visit are either his friends or people who’ve been attracted by the posters he puts up throughout North Park and Hillcrest, he’ll also call out to neighbors and others just walking by and ask them to come over and look at the work. “It’s innate for all of us to want to show what we’re doing,” Caveney said — and for him The Garage is an elegantly simple way for him and other artists to do just that.