Upon first being invited to curate an art show within the co-working scene at WorkWell, I confess I felt out of place. It seemed to me that this desire to re-conceptualize the interior of the ‘ideal’ office, as provocative as it appeared, emerged none-the-less from a decidedly decorative-based perspective and had little to do with an urban-art scene or playing host to contemporary artists for that matter. How could this little corner of Irvine, located within a business complex, really capture the attention of modern viewers? How could I establish a sustainable practice in alternative ‘art’ spaces and responsibly provide the community with the education of and exposure to the art cannon?
After reading and re-reading WorkWell’s comments and questions, I saw that they envisioned art to be their tool to find harmony between daily-work life and the greater art world. The team at WorkWell aimed to bisect both the art world, growing businesses, and foster opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue. For example, WorkWell invited me to literally “shake things up” in the city or “highlight the artists in Irvine to build bridges to a larger art scene.” All concepts and questions that must thoroughly be cast and deserve to be addressed when opening a new gallery space. As an academic, whose intellectual and professional life has revolved around historical art history, that is specifically events and processes occurring at least two centuries before 2018; it seemed to me, that I would have little to contribute to addressing those issues.
At best, perhaps I could come up with hackney platitudes, for example locating within the ‘beige’ city of Irvine an emerging art movement and providing a physical space for those artists to engage in a dialogue with the surrounding art scene and art market. But, beyond already well established and trodden ground, how could I productively choose the issues raised within the framework of WorkWell and the City of Irvine in my own emphatically pre-contemporary centered work. Ideally, I would like to make a relevant and maybe even thought-provoking contribution to the contemporary art scene in Orange County. Well, it took some effort and zooming out to come to, what now seems to be a self-evident realization. Namely, that the City of Irvine has always been and still is about much more than just a ‘masterplanned’ city.
The separation of art culture from the city of Irvine, by the carefully controlled decisions of our city planners, was the result of many complex responsibilities to the community to shape the urban environment into the growing metropolis that we love today. Yet more recently we have seen planners utilize art to develop a more visible, creative, and inclusive urban planning and place-making. This kind of active participation and promoting a role for galleries and contemporary artists in Irvine, is a focus on revival rather than invention. The key point I want to make is that Irvine has now arrived at a period where the boundaries between an art scene and urban planning are in convergence.
It is clear that the temporary mural by Zio Ziegler for Tilly’s, has had reverberating echoes. Not only on individuals and families, but also on commercial and private businesses located in the city. Just last month we saw muralist and painter Nate Frizzell complete a mural for Cadence Park and we also saw world-renowned artists Beau Stanton complete a mural inside Bishops hair salon. In small doses, we see residents embracing the art world and engaging with artists more directly. I am no exception.
Within the curious personal intellectual nexus that I, as an academic usually elide, as my profession, I too have come to terms with the fact that the art scene has played a pivotal role in my very professional speciality, namely the promotion of artists and facilitation of murals in urban spaces. Most recently, encompassing a project in Irvine that looks to break a world record for largest hand-drawn mural by artist James Thistlethwaite. Perhaps paradoxically, and admittedly in large part due to my contrarian nature, spending my childhood in Irvine, now among the many centers for emerging contemporary art, was the perfect circumstance for creating a private art gallery located within an alternative art space, a co-working business.
Indeed growing up going to museums has increasingly demonstrated to me how unflinching and simultaneously uncomfortable the institutional ‘white cube,’ a term coined by Brian O’Doherty, can be when confronting art and the art canon. It was this unerring child’s gaze that for me demanded the interrogation of institutional spaces and search for an alternative way to engage with art. I would say that my current profession is the direct outcome of the indelible sensory stimuli of childhood. It seems to me that the current ‘space’ for art has been defined as requiring a quest or excursion from its viewers. It has erased or occluded a daily interaction art if one is not a collector or patron. By housing paintings and sculptures that people can experience and engage with on a daily basis, co-working spaces really have the capacity to train a new generation of patrons of the arts. This alternative space could offer a way to become more willing and able to engage with profound questions of history, culture, and identity in the world and mediascape that surrounds us.