If you’re trying to make it as a full-time artist, you’ve probably thought about makin’ some merch. Not “merch,” as in Louis Vuitton handbags that serve to turn your work into luxury brand; I mean “merch” as in small, thoughtful extensions of a larger body of work, which can be made and bought at a low price. Gagosian is schilling its Cindy Sherman tea sets and Keith Haring skateboard decks, and for them it seems like an afterthought. It’s time for Bushwick to get in on this.
In come art heros Jen Dalton and Jennifer McCoy. Their new space in Bushwick, Auxiliary Projects, will present multiples alongside artists’ work, so artists can make money from the things they love without divorcing it from their ideas, and normal people can start art collections on a budget at the affordable limit of $300 per piece. The best part is, the model allows art and ideas to circulate; people can borrow and trade little works of art, rather than see it disappear into a collector’s home forever. The first show (which opens tonight, November 9th) presents work by sculptor James Huang, who often appropriates and resizes industrial objects. He’ll be showing Swiss Army knives made of felt, plaster, and plexiglass alongside his larger cast-plaster sculptures.
Whitney Kimball: So you became interested in starting this space because you started meeting artists who you felt were underrepresented?
Jennifer McCoy: Yeah, for a long time, there were just so many artists we admired who were not on the gallery circuit. We thought it would be really fun and worthwhile to make a place for them.
Jen Dalton: On the other side, we started to meet people—who were not artists, who were not in the art world—who expressed an interest in collecting, but never would jump at the huge prices of galleries and museum-quality stuff that they were seeing around. They were just never going to be those people. Even if they had the means, they just didn’t feel like they had the expertise to jump in at thousands and thousands of dollars.
I was also thinking about when I have small objects or works that I have around, that they really do start conversations about an artist’s larger ideas. Even if I buy something at an auction, people ask about it, and you can use these small objects as windows into the artist’s larger concerns.
I really think that ideas travel with these objects, and part of the idea of curating is this idea of taking care of something. And for us, that means not just the objects but the whole body of ideas that accompany it.
WK: And essentially, this is for smaller side projects?
Jennifer McCoy: Well it’s a very small gallery, its under two hundred square feet, but what we are trying to do, even in a really small space, is work with these artists to make a series of small unique works. So each work is like an edition, except they are not identical multiples, they’re each handmade. We do have enough room so that we can show some of their larger work which is representative of their practice, but it’s pretty small.
Jen Dalton: It is predicated on smaller shows, not group endeavours. We work with artists, so we create multiples which are just for us to handle for them. So it's about showing their major work but, if we can, having these artworks which are more transparently available to be disseminated throughout the arts community.
WK: Why did you pick James Huang as the first artist?
Jen Dalton: I’ve known James for over ten years. I met him at a residency program in ‘99. I have always had a huge admiration for his work, and he has been working at this really high level for a really long time. He was just the first artist that we both started thinking about as we started conceiving the space.
We were really psyched when we approached him, and he said he already had this idea for multiples that he was about to start. And so it was just such a perfect fit that he had this amazing idea for this series of Swiss Army Knives in different materials, and they’re so beautiful.
Jennifer McCoy: And then he started building things before we even figured out how or what or where or whether we even if we could get a space! So there an enormous amount of faith on his part that we would someday get this together.
WK: Are there other manifestations you are starting to think about, as in small multiples?
Jen Dalton: I think the artists would have to lead the way that way. I mean, James is a sculptor, so that was easy to start with. But one artist we’re currently speaking with is far more into video and performance. She’s thinking about performative objects, so we have to work with people who can deal with our tiny space and who really wanna make these little produced items that can go out. But yeah, those items can be wacky or electronic, or any of those categories I think can be really exciting.
WK: Both of you pay attention to digital and electronic work as well as the inequities in the art world. Is that something that you are particularly interested in? Showing more females and net artists and people who are traditionally underrepresented?
Jen Dalton: I’m always thinking about that. So far, naturally, it’s working out the way that I would hope, in terms of the artists that we are interested in working with. In terms of inequities in the art world, I think another thing that I am always thinking about is class issues. One of the reasons I’m excited about this project is that it might be a model for an art ecosystem that doesn’t necessarily depend on the one percent. And if it could work, that would be a really interesting thing to explore further.
With every economic decision that normal people make, it’s about what can you get? What can you support? You have real choices to make, and so, by having some things that are relatively low-cost, we’re hoping that the choice can extend to fine art. Which is too often just trafficked by the people for whom, you know, its either that or a Ferrari. We are hoping that art can be, you know, it’s either that or an extra hand bag.
We’re also excited about the idea that we have hooked a very rudimentary e-commerce on the website. The great thing about the stuff online is that they have the price on there. No one is going to have to wade through this mysterious system to participate financially, it’s just there.
Jennifer McCoy: And I’ve thought for a long time, that it’s kind of alienating for artists to make things that they themselves couldn’t afford. It’s not like $250 is a small amount of money, but it’s certainly a lot more reachable than $5000, which is considered a cheap work of art— but still out of reach to all but the most wealthy people.
WK: It sounds that this could be a model that’s less about branding one artist and more about investing in a community.
Jennifer McCoy: I hope so. I like that idea. I hadn’t thought of it in exactly those terms, but I like that idea.