Whether you source the Bible, Alexander Graham Bell or Helen Keller, the idiom, “When one door closes, another opens,” has worked wonders for prophets, inventors and visionaries of all kind.
Add Metro arts maven Kyle Laidig to your list. On Jan. 20, Laidig, owner of Baader-Meinhof, an indie art venue in his rented home on South 6th Street, got the bad news. After two and a half years of operating said arts space, Omaha Premier Property Management ordered him to “close its doors” to future exhibits. Not exactly a vote of confidence for this persevering arts promoter post COVID.
“It gave notice that, unless I complied with their demands to cease and desist the gallery operations, I would have my lease terminated in two-weeks-time. My first reaction was feeling crestfallen,” Laidig said. “I had moved to Omaha to build a gallery program, and the prospect of having to shut down made me feel defeated. If I am no longer able to run the gallery, what am I doing here?”
Despite the initial setback, Laidig rallied and continued his art space odyssey until the latest version of Baader Meinhof landed fortuitously at 2001 Vinton Street with its inaugural exhibit, the aptly titled, “Flowers.” When it officially opened its doors April 14, Baader-Meinhof raised its profile and the bar for the developing Vinton Street arts and entertainment market in the Metro. It did so amidst a perfect storm of good fortune, determination and networking.
It’s an auspicious, yet suitable beginning for a curator/owner who, in the face of adversity, chose to go big rather than go away. Or did the gods finally shine a light on him? Was it simply fortuitous, or did Laidig make his own luck because he refused to give up on his quest? Perhaps both.
“The new location at Vinton Street came together very serendipitously,” Laidig said. “For the past two and a half years, I have been operating the gallery program out of my home, a duplex in Little Italy. It had always been a situation that existed in the gray. How legal was this? When would it all come crashing down?
“I panicked and reached out with full force of existential urgency, and a dear friend, Talia Witherspoon, responded immediately suggesting I take a look at a property her father owned on Vinton Street. Built in 1947, the building was originally a grocery store. Talia and I sat down, hammered out a plan and got to work.”
The main gallery space is 3,280 sq ft divided into two sections: a small entryway gallery and then the main floor. There is a back-office area on this floor as well. The building is flanked by two private parking lots on the east and west sides of the building with a two-door drive-in garage which connects to the basement space for receiving and shipping of artworks. By all accounts, the transformation from grocery to gallery was swift and purposeful.
“Preparations for the opening (April 14) took a shockingly short amount of time,” Laidig said. “Only two and a half months will have transpired, starting with the morning I first visited the space to the opening of this inaugural exhibition. It has been a whirlwind of activity, and I cannot overstate how indebted I am to Talia and the support team who has been instrumental in the smooth development of the space.”
Witherspoon, for whom a love of the arts was instrumental in her career as a Waldorf instructor, said “Kyle’s need for a new space as well as his enthusiasm and vision were the motivators for my involvement. I will help Kyle manage operations, the building, the build-out, and finances. I will primarily serve as a pragmatic fixture to the gallery.”
The venue is quite unique, both in regard to other arts venues on Vinton Street but also to the Omaha Metro as a whole, Laidig said, especially with regard to display and curation.
“For instance, the lighting system we have designed makes use of LED-fixtures tuned to a temperature of 5000K, a stark white, which is most optimal for rendering true color and detail. All of this may sound a bit nerdy, but the devil lies in the details, and we have gone to incredible lengths to create a space which allows for a heightened sense of presence with the art.”
The new Baader Meinhof will allow much more expansive, ambitious programming. The gallery has 11 ft ceilings and over 235 ft of running walls, accommodating art installation at an increased scale. Located at the west end of Vinton Street’s arts district, it will allow for a greater footprint in terms of accessibility and mission, a struggle for the gallery’s initial residential home on South 6th St.
Previously the mission of the original Baader-Meinhof has been focused on bringing art from outside the Midwest. With the increase in both scale and location, Baader-Meinhof on Vinton will begin to present programming that features artists working in the Midwest.
“One of the most difficult realities has been the frustration that the mission of the program seemed irreconcilable with engaging regional artists,” Laidig said. “After two and a half years of consistent programming, and with some semblance of an international footprint, it feels like the proper time to open the doors up to fostering opportunities and working relationships with artists working nearby.”
“Nearby” also includes Baader-Meinhof’s objective to survive those first critical years at large in the Metro and along the Vinton Street corridor. Laidig’s curatorial skill has served him well in the past as several of his exhibits have featured prominently in Reader’s annual A-list, operated he admits “on what could be generously described as an austerity budget — virtually nothing.
“One of the biggest challenges the gallery will face in the year ahead will be finding sustainable models for patronage and support, building relationships with community members to help realize long-term funding structures to ensure that we can serve the local community as effectively and expansively as possible.”
Is Laidig up to the task? Will Baader-Meinhof both successfully fit in and stand out in an area comparable to the place Benson First Friday carved out in its share of Metro arts? Witherspoon thinks so, and so does artist Josh Powell, the co-creator of Project Project, which along with venues RBR G and Generator Space uniquely serve Vinton Street.
“Kyle brings unbounded zeal and far-reaching vision,” Witherspoon said. “It’s clear to me that this opportunity to expand into a larger space can bring him within reach of achieving his life’s dream. To own and operate a renowned gallery with a stable brick & mortar location that makes programming nerve-free and can generously accommodate large scale work.”
Add a large-scale work ethic because, as she says, without Laidig’s “willingness to throw himself into all aspects of the project, niggling details like scraping paint and sourcing building supplies, this wouldn’t be possible.”
Powell agrees that Laidig “will navigate challenges well,” especially establishing a niche benefitting other galleries along with his own.
“Vinton has a neighbor-support-neighbor attitude. I think he understands that and is looking forward to that kind of atmosphere,” he said. “Baader-Meinhof’s original location focused mainly on artists outside of this region…acquaintances of Kyle’s from his time spent on the east coast. In my conversations with Kyle, it sounds like his Vinton location will consist of a similar method of programming including local artists as well. So, artists outside of the region will add a new component to Vinton.”
Most of all, Powell is hopeful that regardless of the programming, “A rising tide floats all boats. Vinton seems to have had a broad range of galleries providing something for all walks of life. I think foot traffic will increase with the addition of Baader-Meinhof.”
If hope does “Spring” eternal, then it’s fitting that the rebirth of Baader-Meinhof blossomed in April with large, vivid prints of flowers on canvas by Benjamin Langford from Brooklyn, NY. No mere decoration, his floral arrangements simultaneously burst full bloom from their ivory walls and explore the ways in which images supplant one’s sense of the “natural” through increasingly vivid modes of representation, Laidig said.
“This exhibition, ‘Flowers,’ is quite personally meaningful to me. Ben is one of my oldest friends and was one of the first people with whom I shared deep kinship with regards to aesthetic philosophy and ideas about art.”
If “Flowers” successful opening is any indication, Laidig and the Metro have much to look forward to and be grateful for with Baader-Meinhof’s second coming. As for the original on South 6th Street, after all parties reached an understanding, that venue will continue to hold exhibitions but “refrain from listing the street address on the gallery website.”
Looking back at the past three or so years, Laidig admits his concept of a gallery “has been built from absolute zero. I had never run a space before and beyond my own interest in art and a minor network of colleagues, I had no clue what I was doing, just some notions and the belief that it could work.”
The original Baader Meinhof taught this entrepreneur a lot, particularly that sometimes “the best way to really learn is to try and fail and course correct and try again. To be clear, I feel very lucky and very blessed in all of this. I could not have done any of it without the undying support of dear friends and colleagues.”
Though Laidig now has “a profound appreciation for the traditional model of working under more experienced individuals before striking out on one’s own,” his own muse has served him well, opening up yet another door to conceptual art, this time for Baader Meinhof Redux on Vinton Street.