All over the United States, museums and commercial galleries seem to be receding in importance for young artists and serious art viewers, as alternative spaces gain traction and become important, interesting places to exhibit and view contemporary art. Although Little Rock, the affable and charming capital city of Arkansas, is historically not home to a wide variety of institutional art exhibition spaces, it seems to be suddenly alive with alternative art spaces. Two of the most interesting are Good Weather and Garland House.
Good Weather is a gallery located in the suburban garage of curator Haynes Riley’s brother. That might sound like a revolt against the white cube, but in fact Riley has designed and implemented an elegant space that epitomizes whiteness and cubicness, while maintaining its conceptual base in garageness (“Garages,” writes Riley, morph “into domestic galleries indicative of vastly different tastes and socioeconomic [conditions:] a wood shop, an indoor patio, a makeshift living room, an aviary, and so on”).
Riley is a designer and sculptor who did his undergraduate work at Savannah College of Art and Design and received his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2011. Upon moving home to North Little Rock after graduate school Riley saw few venues for the exhibition of contemporary art, so he founded Good Weather in late 2011 and converted his brother’s garage into a gallery to show the work of his many talented and ambitious friends. The first show was an exhibition by Tony Garbarini in October 2012. Since then the exhibitions have shown work by artists from all over the United States, artists whom Riley meets through travel, studio visits, and participating in various artist residencies.
Some of the most intelligent and engaging new work to be seen in Arkansas in the past few years has appeared in the (mostly) monthly shows that Riley organizes from afar (he currently serves as visiting faculty at Minneapolis College of Art and Design) with the help of his family and Arkansas friends. Recent artists he has shown include Ezra Tessler from Brooklyn and Jenny Gee from Vancouver. Artists who would otherwise never show in Arkansas have found a place here.
Riley’s next show will be Plaza by Lauren Cherry and Max Springer, opening October 27, 2013. Information about the gallery, photographs of past shows, and a video interview with Riley can be found on the website. The work in Plaza can be seen at the opening reception and afterward by appointment.
Garland House has a very different vibe than Good Weather. It is located at 1114 Garland St. in an interestingly isolated area of downtown Little Rock. The house is a somewhat dilapidated, rambling old Victorian, where artist and teacher Phillip Rex Huddleston lives with a collection of roommates. The genesis of the Garland House shows was a birthday party held for one of the roommates in 2011 that included music, food, and an art exhibition of works by friends in honor of the birthday boy. The event was so successful that the group decided, beginning in May 2013, to organize art/music/food parties on an ongoing monthly basis. Usually several visual artists are shown in the upstairs hallway and rooms, local music is featured in the living room downstairs, and hors d’oeuvres are served in the kitchen, where a contribution for consumption is collected. Recently, readings by Little Rock literati have been added to the mix. As Facebook posts indicate, all the cool kids are at Garland House on the first Friday of each month.
Huddleston chooses his visual artists from his wide network of friends, and the work shown is heavy on two-dimensional mediums—mostly drawing, painting, photography, and printmaking. The most recent show included works by Little Rock photographers Heather Canterbury, Elizabeth Strandberg, and Mark Thiedeman. A giant zine show was held in August, and there is still a monthly merch booth that includes zines and prints, including prints from Huddleston’s own wonderful series of classic novels in comic strip form. Garland House information can be found here.
Good Weather brings in super-talented artists from all over the United States and Canada, whereas Garland House showcases the work of somewhat younger, somewhat more rambunctious local artists, but both bring exciting new energy to a city that has been, in the past, a kind of visual arts backwater.