Grizzly Grizzly

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Image from Grizzly Grizzly's "Other Possible Titles" (Image courtesy of Grizzly Grizzly)

With others like Bodega, Little Berlin, Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Marginal Utility, Napoleon, Practice, Vox Populi, and 1026, Grizzly Grizzly is a prime example of a collective model that forms the backbone of the Philadelphia art scene. If you want to know about the local flavor, just look at “Threaded Interface,” an interactive installation of projected thread, reflecting a responsiveness to the hand that’s in keeping with Philly’s craft and folk culture (it was part of a 2012 city-wide fiber festival). The recent “Warrior Dash” brought in non-Philly-based painter Jamison Brosseau and JR Larson, artists who exhibit a lot in New York, but take a primitive and handmade inspiration that’s pitch-perfect with Grizzly Grizzly’s programming.

Much of what they do also has a community goal in mind, for instance, “Dog Is in the Details,” an exchange with the Nashville collective COOP, or Community Supported Art, an art subscription program based on community supported agriculture that’s been looking at new ways of growing the local collector base. I ask them about some of those initiatives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they sound enthusiastic.

You have been doing a series of exchange shows with collectives around the country. What are some of the conversations that have come out of that? What do you think that does, beyond exposing the local community to new work?

Cindy Stockton Moore: The exchanges have started a lot of conversations about the benefits and challenges of running a collective space, and we’ve learned that each city has its own set of both. That knowledge shows us where we can grow as a collective and also points out where we are doing well. We’ve also taken away a great deal of knowledge in terms of ‘best practices’ administratively. The exchange shows are also the time that our group comes together as artists – and not just as curators or facilitators. In each of the off-site exchange projects, we get to turn that collective/critical eye inward and come up with innovative ways to bridge the differences in our own practices. It’s a challenge, but part of what makes this effort so worthwhile.

Would you mind telling me a little bit about the CSA (Community Supported Art) program? Are you continuing it?

Jacque Liu: Community Supported Art is an endeavor with us and another Philadelphia artist collective, Tiger Strikes Asteroid.

In our inaugural season this past year, we commissioned nine local artists to make 50 “shares.” These shares ranged from sculptures to DIY rings to prints to paintings to drawings to records. Each work was unique; and even multiples were individualized. Interested consumers/collectors purchased a share and in return received three “farm boxes” of locally produced artwork at intervals through season.

For each of the three pick-up events, we also programmed an accompanying exhibition of the respective share artists, along with a number of ancillary events. Among the most successful were two process-oriented workshops and demonstrations: a Do-It-Yourself Ring-making Workshop with Sarah Kate Burgess and a printmaking demo by Ivanco Talevski. Audiences and shareholders were really excited to learn how the artwork was made. We hope that this created a lasting impression on how shareholders view and understand the artwork that they now live with in their homes.

Response to the CSA has been overwhelmingly positive, and there is definitely interest from the community for it to continue. For future CSAs, our hope is that we’ve created a model and that we can eventually give it to someone else to carry on.

In 2011, you showed “Other Possible Titles,” a juried exhibition with around 250 submissions, where a winning work was decided by visitor votes, and that person (Samantha Mitchell) was awarded a solo show. First off, how’d you filter it down? Did you meet any new artists in that process?

Jacque: There was a lot of work submitted for this show. It was and still is by far the most work we’ve shown in one exhibition. From the 250 submissions – which was actually 750 pieces to look at because each submission had 3 pieces – we culled it down to 35 artworks. It was a bit tricky because whatever we accepted into the show could potentially receive a solo show, depending on how the audience voted. So everything we picked to go into this show had to be something we stood behind as a gallery.

We were lucky. The entries that we received were by and large amazing. We met a lot of new artists in Philadelphia, New York, Ireland, Australia – the reach of this call was incredibly long. After a number of marathon panel meetings, we found work that we all thought spoke in some way to us, aesthetically or ideologically. A number of these artists that we’ve met through “Other Possible Titles” (OPT) have stayed in touch with the gallery and some of them have subsequently shown with us as well.

After putting the show up came the fun part of engaging the audience. We handed out “I Voted – OPT” stickers and made a ballot box to tease out the Election Day references (the show was in a November). It was so great to see so many people walking around with these stickers on.

Generally speaking, we know that our contemporary art-going audience here in Philadelphia is very strong. They see a lot of art and are in touch with the artists, and can recognize immediately where the exhibited artwork fits into the context of art history. By empowering them to vote, we leveraged their knowledge for a really great show that turned out to be Samantha Mitchell’s work while simultaneously getting them more invested in what they see.

[“Totems and Topographies” was a show exhibiting Mitchell’s abstract, geological paintings with a New Mexican feel].

What was the impetus for that show? Do you think you’d do it again?

Jacque: The idea for this show came about after I attended a lecture by Nina Simon. Nina is a brilliant and very forward-thinking exhibition designer who does design and research on participatory museum experiences, much of which is shared on her blog, Museum 2.0.

While most of her methods involve audience participation, the goal is ultimately to create more meaningful and cultural experiences.

Was there any idea or show you’ve had in the past few years that really stuck with you? Any theme that you’d really like to explore more?

Cindy: The one thing that ‘sticks out’ to me in the programming is very literal… it’s a column that is in the middle of the space. Several shows (notably Jeff Williams’ ‘There is Not Anything that Returns to Nothing’ and Matt Giel’s photograph in ‘Duett’) have dealt with this ‘obstacle’ in amazing ways. It’s made me very attached to something that once was an annoyance. As far as future programming and ideas, that’s part of the magic of the space… it’s anyone’s guess what will come back around.