Leading up to Making a Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Spaces, a visual art exhibition with accompanying events that spotlights a rich history of Bay Area artist-run, independent and alternative spaces, intern Michael Fontana talked with Kevin Krueger, founder and director of Alter Space, about its role and identity as an alternative art space, the unique works and events they curate, and the general relevance of alternative art spaces to the Bay Area art scene.
[Michael Fontana] What ideas and conditions led to the founding of Alter Space?
[Kevin Krueger] Alter Space began as an attempt to build a community around creatives who come from a diverse set of artistic interests. Kristin Olson and I founded the gallery in December 2011. We were largely inspired by the architecture and history of the space itself, which prompted ideas about how we would utilize it.
When we first opened our doors, we felt strongly about reaching out to the larger Bay Area arts community, a move that saw us working closely with outside curatorial projects and events. Shortly after, we established the Jail Cell Residency Program and the secondary/project space called the ‘Peephole Gallery,’ both of which sprouted from elements in the building that were left behind by the leather and bondage shop that had occupied the space for twenty years prior.
[MF] How does Alter Space constitute and function as an alternative space?
[KK] A lot of people see the words ‘alter’ and ‘space’ and immediately recall ‘alternative space’, which is there of course, though more specifically we were interested in the physicality of space and notions of change and alteration when thinking about exhibition building in an environment like this.
We’ve established ourselves as an alternative space by way of intent. Being founded by artists, and run on the day-to-day by artists, we’ve created a model that allows for experimentation and ambition in areas that may be outside of current commercial trends. While Alter Space exists on a for-profit model, it distorts the conventional idea of what a gallery is. Hosting a residency program in the basement of a commercial gallery adds to the flavor.
Alter Space remains a place where production, investigation, and display exist simultaneously. The definition of alternative space is ever shifting, and while the gallery has evolved over the years, I believe it’s in that root ethos where you’ll find what constitutes an alternative space.
[MF] What is the relevance of alternative spaces to the Bay Area art scene historically and contemporarily?
[KK] The Bay Area’s alternative spaces are where you’ll find some of the most exciting and emerging art in the region. The size of the city helps to engender a range of collaborations and cross-over between artists, spaces, and anyone else who’s willing to join. People are taking up exhibition space in strange locations and artists are installing work in challenging environments.
In the past, the Bay Area has attracted the counter-culture. Today, it’s livability is daunting and unsustainable. It’s a different place now compared to when I moved here ten years ago. While there are some wonderful projects happening all around the the Bay, there’s definitely an artistic exodus from San Francisco. In a time like this, it is extremely important to help keep alternatives thriving as voices of strength and agitation—places where the atypical can manifest.
[MF] How does Alter Space go about programming a unique and varied series of art exhibitions and events?
[KK] Exhibition-making is what we love and we have an opportunity to make a lot of them!
I believe that because we have been welcoming towards guest curatorial proposals, our audience and engagement within the art community has grown at a quicker rate than it may have otherwise. We would often work with as many as four or five curators per year which amounted to around half of our gallery exhibitions. In a way it kept us guessing, but it also provided a much more diverse set of artists and exhibitions than we may have achieved on our own.
The Jail Cell Residency and the Peephole Gallery are the most unique aspects of our programming. The residency studio is a strange subterranean room with a Jail Cell inside of it and the projects that have been created in that space are often responding directly with its physical and psychic energy. The Peephole is an unusual spot to view art. It goes against a white-walled approach and forces a viewer in close proximity to the work. They must press their faces and maneuver their bodies to look at the art, which can only be seen through peepholes in the walls of the public restroom. These spaces speak to the industrious nature of the Alter Space team and the artists who we attract.
The exhibition: Making a Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Spaces is on view from July 9th – August 20th, 2015.
About the Author:
MIchael Fontana is a Communications Intern for SOMArts Cultural Center and a undergraduate student at Oberlin College.
Top Photo: Practice in Paradise by William Emmert & Joey Enos exhibition at Alter Space Feb 7th – March 7th, 2015