Speak Speak: Grizzly Grizzly and COOP

July 2012

Every month, Grizzly Grizzly will posit questions to our exhibiting artists. These will be big picture questions, designed to give context to their work and working process as well as serve as entry points for conversation. We will post these questions on our blog, https://grizzlygrizzly.wordpress.com/.

We hope that you will enter the conversation and give us your thoughts as well.

Grizzly Grizzly Group Show: Unessential Night

This month, Grizzly Grizzly is pleased to participate in a gallery exchange with COOP Gallery, a Nashville based artist collective. Here in Philadelphia, COOP will present, Dog is in the Details. Simultaneously, in Nashville, Grizzly Grizzly will present, Unessential Night.

COOP Group Show: Dog Is In The Details

As this month revolves around two artist collectives, we thought that we would take this opportunity to talk about the increasing profile and importance of the collective within the contemporary art community. Members from both collectives answered the following two questions.

Grizzly Grizzly, Philadelphia, PA

1. What is the history of Grizzly?

Jacque Liu: Grizzly Grizzly started in 2009 by artists Bruce Wilhelm, Mike Ellyson, Dennis Matthews, and Vincent Colvin. As the story goes, Mike was looking for a studio in the building and saw the space where Grizzly currently resides, and thought to have a gallery. Since then, members have changed a bit and at the time of this writing, gallery members are: Mike Ellyson, Jacque Liu, Matthew Price, Mary Smull, Ruth Scott, Cindy Stockton Moore, and Josh Weiss.

While everything thus far has happened organically, we try to be very conscious of exhibitions and programs. While we are all professional artists, we all approach it from different angles. Each of us has a different background – ranging from curatorial to administrative to education to finance, etc. Given this mix, we pride ourselves on accentuating the strengths of each other in order to create thoughtful and well executed exhibitions and programming.

Ruth Scott: My own personal history of Grizzly Grizzly began in October 2011 so I feel there are other members of our collective that can answer the history of Grizzly more accurately than I.  I first visited the Grizzly space on a visit from England in January 2011. I was struck by the two – person show and the exchange and dialogue that this created in a small space.

In England I had been part of two collectives, one where we collaborated together investing in our own work, The Heuristics Laboratory and the other that was a studio group and gallery space, One Thoresby Street which functioned in a multi- faceted way. It was my desire to join a collective in Philadelphia upon arrival – I wanted to maintain my individual vision yet needed to commit to a collaboration and be part of the Philadelphia art scene.

2. How does the artist collective influence contemporary art in Philadelphia? How should it influence contemporary art in Philadelphia?

Ruth: I still feel rather new to this city but in the 9 months that I have been here I would say that the artist collective contributes so much to contemporary art in Philadelphia.

The varied mix of groups puts a spotlight on artist led activity in the city, demonstrating the variety, quantity and quality of the output of the many individuals and groups. By pooling resources and skills the amount that can be achieved can surpass expectations. The exhibitions, events and happenings that come out of the collectives is the contemporary art in Philadelphia and it strongly holds its own against the larger institutions in the city.

Jacque: The artist collective has a rich heritage in Philadelphia. Established ones like 1026 and Vox Populi are still going strong. They still have good exhibitions and they have been able to stay true to their commitment to young emerging artists for over 20 years.

But in the past few years, there seems to have been a real excitement about artists making their own way. In our building alone (on the same floor, even!), three new artist collectives have opened gallery spaces with a fourth on the way. The three are: Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Marginal Utility, and Napoleon. In addition, sometimes the artist duo, Megawords, will exhibit down the hall as well. All of these collectives have their own audience, and it is amazing to see them all together at every First Friday opening. There are so many people, all there to see art and to talk to each other about art.

This critical mass of audience creates a new level of excitement and importance for the artist’s voice. Through exhibitions, individual artists get a chance to show; but more importantly by creating our own agenda, it empowers the collective’s collaborators to utilize our creative and imaginative skills to simply make programs happen that we would like to see happen. Rather than saying that we wish someone else would do something, we have the ability to propose it to our immediate community, plan it, and then implement it. And while each of these steps is invariably a lot of work, it is always exciting and we are almost always happy to do it.

As the artist collective’s profile increases, it takes us into new and unknown territory.

COOP, Nashville, TN

1. What is the history of COOP?

Ruth Zelanski:  The idea of COOP began in the spring of 2010 between our president, Ron Lambert, and several artist friends. At the time, it was relatively easy to show our own work within Nashville, but it seemed like there was a lack of thought-provoking work from artists outside the local community. Ron has a philosophy that you are only allowed to complain about feeling sick twice before you just need to go to the doctor, and the same applied for the art scene. If you aren’t seeing the art you want to engage with, then do something about it. No more complaining. When an affordable space became available in the fall of 2010, we hastily gathered a group of members and jumped in. Being in a space in the gallery district enabled us to have staggering crowds from the first month. While some of our exhibits seem to confound the average viewer, we have built a reputation for showing ambitious work. The weekly newspaper named us “Best New Art Gallery” in 2011.

2. How does the artist collective influence contemporary art in Nashville?  How should it influence contemporary art in Nashville?

Ruth: Nashville has a long history of having artist collectives, but it seems to have only one active at a time. On the whole, it doesn’t seem like the city of Nashville cares one way or the other about contemporary art. Only the artists do, and it is challenging to sustain a vision without finances. Ideally, an artist collective is greater than its parts, with more ideas, more resources and more opportunities, and is supported by its community and government. In Nashville, a cooperative only benefits from some of those theories.


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