Though Wikipedia claims that the historic pop-up art event went “mainstream” in 2007 in New York City where space for exhibiting artistic work was very limited, anyone with first hand experience or knowledge of the Sixties will fondly cite you chapter and verse about similar “happenings” of a Hippie subculture.
And anyone who experienced the birth of the Old Market will recall Omaha’s successful DIY efforts to celebrate an underground or alternative movement replete with art, design, music, fashion and the drug of choice, especially in an artist loft or studio.
The pop-up may have gone mainstream—now we even have pop up museums and websites—and so of course has the Old Market, but the need for counter culture creativity without traditional spaces, expert guidance or tight security and control will often surface where and when you least expect it.
Such has been the case locally in the past decade due largely to the efforts of the Metro’s two most influential entrepreneurs on behalf of the emerging art scene, Joel Damon and Josh Powell, founders of Project Project on Vinton Street.
Yet, not satisfied with that successful venture—birthed no doubt by their own history of DIY one-nighters in Council Bluffs and Omaha—the two arts promoters are ready to embrace the Metro with another of their signature pop ups. Bear Hug; One Night, appears this Friday, April 28, from 7-10:30 p.m. in two temporarily abandoned sites at 500 South 18th Street and 1801 St Mary’s Avenue: The old Dakota Tile Building with 10 artists and the old Standard Oil and now marked Law Building with about 13 artists on 3-4 of its 5 floors.
But Bear Hug promises not to be another random large group show similar to their past endeavors such as Destroy Rebuild Repeat in 2010 and the storage unit exemplar Science Fair in 2012. Instead, Damon and Powell have reached out to fellow artist/curators to create and install “multiple interdisciplinary art” which suggests an exhibit decidedly more complex as well as diverse. Better organized but not without its surprises and spontaneity.
“We’re all so busy running our own spaces that we thought it would be fun to include other curators in the mix with other artists,” Powell said, “to have everyone involved treat this as a bunch of solo shows in which the artist would install, promote, make a Facebook event and de-install all themselves.”
Though they have been about this sort of experimental, alternative exhibiting since their first collaboration in 2009 at the Bancroft Street Market, the initial response to Bear Hug has surprised even them.
“It (Bear Hug) will probably be the most video art and animation I’ve seen in a single event,” Powell said. “Nolan Tredway, Jamie Hardy, and Peter Goche are all using projectors and doing some sort of video work. Thomas Prinz, Samantha Krukowski, Ella Weber, Launa Bacon, Rob Gilmer and Ian Tredway will be doing installation work and possibly Dan Crane and Will Anderson as well.”
The exhibit will also include the crumpled and plated metal sculpture of Chris Prinz, photography by Alex Jochhim , paintings by Damon and mixed media collage by Powell. In addition, Peter Fankhauser will create video on monitors in the site stairwells and Omaha Under the Radar will provide performance acts inside and outside the venues.
In addition, expect to see or hear the sculpture of Michael Villarreal and Laura Simpson, and experimental music performance from Jim Schroeder among others as artists continued to come on board last weekend.
Though Bear Hug might strike some as being more traditional than past Pop Art events, Powell says he is encouraged by the experimental vibe some artists are lending to the exhibit, still a work in progress.
“Thomas Prinz has expressed a real feeling for the space,” Powell said, “and along with his normal ripped paper paintings, is creating more of an architectural installation, making the viewer feel more consciously part of it or not part of it as they pass through. Ella Weber might be doing an installation of as well that is in her bedroom of her parent’s basement.”
It’s work like this that artists Hardy and Jochim say gives Pop Art shows their true merit and place in the Metro.
“Pop Up shows invigorate an art community,” said Hardy who calls these DIYs a “collective happening where the usual white walls and ideas of a ‘gallery’ are left at the door. It can inspire artists to work outside their normal medium. It also takes the art audience out of their normal comfort zone which is something good for all.”
Jochim agrees and thinks a pop “shakes us all loose from our routines, makes it exciting and unknown for us all.” Go, he says, and viewers will see “artists getting creative with their installation space. It will be everyone figuring it out for the first time together, the space, the flow, the artwork.” Don’t go, and “you’ll miss the energy that’s generated by all this creativity and interaction.”
And it’s that energy and being in the moment, Hardy says, that connect pop up art shows to the “happenings” so popular in the 60s.
“Viewers will witness many installations and compositions of work that will only exist for that night,” she said. “It will truly be an ‘experience’ you have to be there to truly comprehend.”
Being primarily an installation artist herself, Hardy’s contribution to this site and time specific event “is a great opportunity to showcase my work. Entitled ‘bare bone,’ it will consist of two video projections and one sculptural element. I plan on utilizing the windows too, making the building come to life…this work is incredibly special to me and reflective of where I find myself at this moment in time.”
Jochim, no stranger to the experimental, alternative art scene as the owner of Petshop Gallery in Benson, will exhibit a collection of 35 photographs from years past, utilizing both of the old, non-functioning pink and blue bathrooms in the Dakota Tile Building as part of his installation.
Part of the charm of the best pop ups is that very opportunity and ability to transform the site itself so that in effect it becomes part of the exhibit, thus altering the venue in such a way that the viewer might experience it as if it were the first time, every time. It’s a phenomenon best remembered in past exhibits at the now defunct Underground space at the Bemis organized by the likes of past managers Jeremy Stern and Damon himself as well as artist/curators who showed there such as Rob Gilmer and Tim Guthrie.
After the Underground’s lamentable demise, Damon and Powell went above ground in order to keep its alt vibe alive, and ever since have managed to find “empty spaces” in places and in quantities that have surprised even them.
This includes the home of Bear Hug. Powell contacted Ryan Ellis with PJ Morgan Real Estate and Geoff DeOld with DeOld Anderson Architecture “to see if they knew about any empty spaces around town that Joel and I could put a show in.
“They both talked about the buildings in the Flatiron area and referred us to Royce Maynard, president of Dicon Construction and owner of a few empty spaces it that area. It quickly became apparent that we suddenly had a lot of space available to us.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Or soon will be the day after Bear Hug opens and closes this Friday night. Which of course is the nature of the pop up. Here today, gone tomorrow. But not without leaving an impact and perhaps a taste for more, New Media and the Avant-garde that is, which some believe is a real boon for artists and viewers in the Metro in spite of its obstacles.
“Unfortunately, I think traditional galleries, especially those trying to make a dollar, might be afraid to show work that could be difficult to sell,” Powell said. “These pop ups break down that fear. They let the artists create without thinking about that money factor.”
Hardy too is encouraged about pop ups’ “place” in contemporary art.
“It’s a compelling time for the visual arts scene in Omaha,” she said. “We are seeing it expand in a very organic way through the love and determination of those like Josh and Joel. As more installation and video is experienced and shown, as it will be at Bear Hug, the more artists, young and old, will see the potential within the mediums. It is evolving and Bear Hug will play a pivotal role in that evolution.