Hybrids are nothing new. Laundromats double as coffee shops, retail stores transform into music venues at night, and the rise of pop-up shops has helped to change our sense of the function of business in public space. Now we have the phenomenon of the apartment-gallery. In the past few years, across the Bay Area, artists and non-artists alike have opened up their doors (literally), curating dynamic shows in their private living rooms, garages, and hallways.
One such space is a 3000-square-foot warehouse in the Mission district. Over the past few months, five roommates — including Matthew Waldbillig, a recent graduate of the California College of the Arts MFA program — have been converting half of their new living space it into an alternative gallery. “Our goal is to debunk the antiquated notion of a place only having one allotted function,” says Waldbillig. “Much of the artwork we plan on showing collapses genres, and it makes sense to reflect that same ideology in our space.”
Waldbillig’s yet-unnamed space follows in the footsteps of several “living gallery spaces” that have opened within the past few years: Zughaus Gallery in Berkeley, The Spare Room Project in Bernal Heights, and Important Projects in Oakland, to name a few. Jeff Mark, one the four roommates/directors of Zughaus, believes that the Bay Area is unique in fostering a sense of support amongst young artists. “As opposed to Los Angeles or New York, the emerging art scene here doesn’t as feel cut-throat. We are trying to create an alternate creative lifestyle and community here in the Bay in which we support each other as young artists, and a major part of that is exposure.”
The biggest challenge facing these residential galleries is staying afloat financially. “We are entirely self-funded,” says Waldbillig, who is currently applying for a grant from Southern Exposure (more on that later) to help cover the gallery’s costs. Both Waldbillig and Mark name paint as their biggest cost. “You would be surprised how much of it we need,” says Waldbillig.
Sarah Hotchkiss and Carey Lin are among the emerging artists whose work is currently showing at Zughaus. Hotchkiss explains, “So many young artists live and work in the Bay Area, and there simply isn’t the infrastructure to support them all. It becomes necessary to find alternative venues beyond the established places with already-full rosters.” The provisional galleries empower a DIY community. “Instead of waiting for a gallery to call you up,” continues Hotchkiss, “you make it happen yourself, and on your own terms.”
The rising presence of these “living room galleries” may not come as a surprise. The Bay Area has long been a location that fosters alternative methods of engaging with art (the Carville Annex, ATA, and Hallway Bathroom Gallery to name a few unconventional “hybrid” spaces), and these newer residential galleries are following in a long lineage of this experimental tradition. Southern Exposure created the Alternative Exposure grant four years ago to support this expanding phenomenon, and they now receive over 160 applications a cycle, about a third for gallery spaces. “This is something to take very seriously,” says Courtney Fink, the Executive Director. “The rise of the residential art space informs the greater art community here. It creates an energy, and a lot of people are taking notice.”