The Home Show, the final exhibition at one of Oakland’s most creatively administered and experimental arts spaces, MacArthur B Arthur explores the themes, ideas, and motifs of “home” where owner Kevin Clarke lived and co-curated dynamic exhibitions for the past three years. It reorganized relationships with artists and curators but perhaps most significantly questioned the traditional dynamics of a gallery and the symbiotic support between personal and gallery space. Says Clarke, “To live in a gallery is to be constantly in dialogue with my surroundings… The dynamic of domestic/public private/exhibition that became part of the conversation was a byproduct of an economic necessity. But, that dynamic is here, as a very real aspect of the viewing experience. I hope it made people feel at ease, being in a home.”
Elizabeth Bernstein, Kevin Clarke, Alex Clausen, Carey Lin and Camilla Newhagen’s art bring up fundamental, unique ideas rarely explored: art’s object-hood and indeed its utility. Art has perhaps always intended to be acquired– hung in a home to complement or engage, but what is our relationship to it in the space? How does the space influence or inform our perception? In this show, artworks call attention to how it documents, reinterprets and re-imagines MacArthur B Arthur. Newhagen’s clothing stacks and Clausen’s furniture binding reinterpret Clarke’s effects, but also strips them of use. Clarke responds by placing his bed in the front room for the first time. Where the exhibit has left him living precariously, Clarke returns with placing himself on view; recalling moments such as Edith Farnsworth’s criticism of Mies Van Der Rohe’s architectural ideas to SFMOMA’s exhibition of the Stein’s personal collection of modern art within the museum.
While we viewed The Home Show, we talked with Kevin Clarke about the impending closure of the gallery space, and its lasting legacy in the Oakland arts scene. A graduate of California College of the Arts, Clarke began curating art exhibitions in his home at 41st and Martin Luther King Jr Blvd in August 2009, facilitating exhibitions with co-administrators Alison Offill-Klein, Aaron Harbour, and Jackie Im. “They also kept up momentum when I was overwhelmed, and put on great shows that addressed broad ideas or phenomena with titles like Noise, Procedural, and Stasis. They are the reason that the gallery lasted as long as it did.”
As Clarke narrated, it became apparent this collaborative spirit sustained MacArthur B Arthur and made it a destination: whether it was with his co-administration or exhibiting artists or working with nearby Oakland galleries, a community formed that fostered the arts. Opening around the same time as Royal Nonesuch, they held joint exhibitions and marketed their shows together: “When I was planning the first show I met Carrie Hott, the then co-director of Royal NoneSuch at the farmers Market handing out fliers for their first show;” says Clarke. “… we were on the same team trying to create community and show some of the amazing work that was coming out of Oakland… [B]eing connected to each other, promoting each other’s shows, sending folks to each other’s openings helped make our part of Oakland a destination.” Royal Nonesuch’s co-director Carey Lin’s paintings in the Home Show of Clarke’s sink feels like a celebration of this deep relationship. Later, he formed bonds with Krowswork: “… I’ve always felt like the three of us fed off and contributed to an open-mindedness — a potential for experimentation.”
Throughout its three-year run, many collaborated ideas and dialogue were instigated in the space without commercial interests obfuscating their view. Not to assert economics necessarily stagnate creative development, but Clarke ensured that the ideas and dialogue created when art and artists converged were paramount to the gallery’s definition of “success.” He likens this to the space’s location, and why MacArthur B Arthur was named such: “There are webs of infrastructure, staid and unconsidered, funneling traffic and designating space all around Oakland, like the MacArthur Freeway interchange in my backyard, MacArthur BART around the corner and MacArthur Boulevard, a street level artery linking one end of Oakland to the other…. Familiar and foreign, [the gallery] is a concrete anachronism combining place, identity, performance and art. MacArthur B Arthur is generally here, as a home, and a venue, but specifically out there, not fitting neatly into the gallery category. The name is about the community created by words and movement, ideas on display, pigment, light and form, and BART.”
Clarke reflects upon what he’ll do when the gallery closes its doors and the space becomes entirely his: “Recently, I’ve been most challenged by writing. I’m an artist too, and my drawings and paintings were usually about creating alternate worlds, singular environments or monuments to get lost in. I’m trying to do that with words in creative nonfiction. I’m new at it and have a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying the challenge.” Clarke says he’ll go to Art Murmur for the first time in several years. “I’m also looking forward to going to other shows! Seeing other work and being a viewer for a while.” He’s seen how the Oakland arts have begun to thrive, and is eager to see what’s happening. “Oakland has always been a locus for art and artists, but as a place for interesting curatorial decisions, it seems to have come of age pretty recently. I’m particularly excited to see what Aaron Harbour and Jackie Im continue to do,” Clarke says. “In the past three years, I’ve sent the most beautiful blossoming of the arts in Oakland.”
MacArthur B Arthur’s The Home Show will be a MacArthur B Arthur through January 13, 2013