The Bay Area offers a rich history of alternative and experimental art spaces that have served as platforms for a diverse range of artists. Dig below the surface of contemporary art and you will find alternative spaces at the roots. But what is an alternative space? The definition is open-ended. They are sometimes storefronts or apartments, stairwells or windows — basically any space that might be used to present art.
In fact alternative spaces are more often defined by what they aren’t: they are not conventional commercial galleries, or white cubes, or museums. They are sometimes temporary gestures, defined less by built space than by a drive to support artistic experimentation. They are typically run on a shoestring budget — or no budget, as the case may be. There may be a hint of commercial activity — and why shouldn’t there be? — but they do not offer representation in the traditional sense. They do, however, support artists by providing space to realize new ideas. They are always a labor of love and an ongoing investigation of sustainability. Hours may be spotty — sometimes these folks work day jobs and night jobs to sustain their art habit, so call ahead. Here are a few spaces to consider the next time you are looking for an alternative.
Aggregate Space, Oakland
Aggregate Space is an artist-run gallery with a specific focus on sculpture and digital media. The Featherboard Writing Series, a regular program, brings together visual artists and writers “to explore a new set of themes, tropes, or images.” Up now: New sculpture and video by Pete Hickok. For more information visit aggregatespace.com.
Alter Space, San Francisco
Alter Space occupies a 5,000 square foot section of the building that formerly housed Stormy Leather, the city’s premier leather and bondage retailer. In addition to studios and collaborative workshops, Alter Space’s programming engages remnant history of the former occupants with a jail cell residency and peephole gallery; also featured is the “The Bowery,” a permanently situated, evolving display of dioramas by the artist Koak. Upcoming: Remembering is Everything curated by Bean Gilsdorf and A. Will Brown. For more information visit alterspace.co.
Krowswork, directed by Jasmine Moorhead, specifically focuses on new media artists working in video and photography — it is a hybrid gallery with an alternative agenda. Rows of former church pews in the main gallery create an oddly inviting space to take in time-based media. Moorhead solicits submissions on the website by stating “Out-there ideas welcome.” Up now: Ursula Brookbank: SHE WORLD. For more information visit krowswork.com.
Royal Nonesuch Gallery
Royal Nonesuch Gallery, Oakland
Royal Nonesuch is an artist-run space in Oakland’s Temescal district. It is a small storefront space with a community-driven agenda and a clear focus on participatory events and projects. Up now: Three weekend-long shows in January curated by Jackie Im and Aaron Harbour. For more information visit royalnonesuchgallery.com.
Stairwells, San Francisco
Stairwells is an itinerant series of temporary site-specific exhibitions accompanied by new publications and off-site “field trips,” organized by Sarah Hotchkiss and Carey Lin. A recent series of projects was staged in a private home in Bernal Heights. Coming up: Field Trip #3 on February 10, location to be announced. For more information visit stairwells.org.
2nd Floor Projects, San Francisco
Margaret Tedesco founded 2nd Floor Projects in 2007 out of her San Francisco flat. Another hybrid project space, 2nd Floor Projects straddles gallery objectives and an alternative agenda. Limited edition broadsides, often hand assembled by Tedesco, are commissioned for each show by writers who may or may not respond to the exhibition. Coming up: 2nd Floor Projects will participate in Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair. For more information visit projects2ndfloor.blogspot.com.
Store Front Lab
Store Front Lab, San Francisco
Store Front Lab is a special project by Yosh Asato and David Baker occupying a storefront space in the Mission District and featuring “experiments of community interest,” which last anywhere from a day to a month. Up now: Obsolete Californias presented by Shipping and Receiving (Heather Smith and Torreya Cummings). For more information visit storefrontlab.org.
The Great Wall of Oakland
The Great Wall of Oakland is a 100′ x 100′ projection wall on the exterior of a downtown Oakland building. Every first Friday of the month, barring inclement weather, features an international variety of video and animations — audio is broadcast on 89.5 FM for viewers to tune in from their cars, in addition to speakers on site. Oakland School for the Arts Digital Media is running a Kickstarter campaign right now for their upcoming show in February. For more information visit greatwallofoakland.org.
Will Brown, San Francisco
Will Brown is a collaborative project, organized by Lindsey White, Jordan Stein, and David Kazprzak — it presently manifests as an experimental exhibition space in the Mission district storefront that was formerly home to Triple Base gallery. A recent event, launching a limited edition “fun(d)raiser” with artist Tauba Auerbach, promised “champagne, cake, and spontaneous applause.” For more information visit wearewillbrown.com.