Take one part Coney Island boardwalk sideshow and add one part art fair and one part site-specific installation garnished with a foam of earnest enthusiasm, and you have the fizzy cultural cocktail known as ArtStreet. Doubling down on the success of last year’s Art Hotel, M5Arts has produced a greatly enlarged and extended event in and around a 35,000-square-foot warehouse near downtown Sacramento.
M5Arts is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sponsoring and promoting collaborative and experimental visual art outside traditional museums and galleries. ArtStreet was curated from a competitive global call for proposals that respond to the multifaceted experiences of life on the street. Such experiences might trigger the vagabond poet, the societal witness and the collector of mutable everyday realities. The 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire’s flaneur (stroller, loafer, lounger) was a suggested working model.
The ArtStreet artists were given working residencies of about two months in which to make and develop their work at the warehouse site. Or not. Some took the more orthodox route of studio fabrication. Nevertheless all the artists started from scratch, whether they were assigned areas in the raw, open space of the warehouse or the outdoor loading deck.
The ArtStreet warehouse location is in the strangely beautiful emptiness of redevelopment. Urban rubble often looks like land art. The entrance to the exhibit begins outside at the loading yard. Massive stacks of plastic-wrapped bricks, suggesting Donald Judd’s minimal sculpture, are inadvertently tough competitors to the installation. Given the industrial scale of the site, the most successful pieces are simple solutions capable of holding their ground with the ready-made environment. Sculptor Robert Ortbal cunningly conscripts the wrapped bricks as a component of his installation.
A thicket of yellow hazard tape is stapled in one corner, warning of crossed lines and grave consequences – apt in these political times. Andy Cunningham’s platoon of blue wheelbarrows sits atop raw plywood boxes sprayed with stenciled words, “alt facts,” “money,” “fear,” “love.” Each wheelbarrow is filled with shrink-wrapped white plastic bundles of indeterminate contents – little Christos on wheels. It’s a smart piece, with logic and authority to its materials, and haunting reference to the nomad, the migrant, the refugee and the universal homeless.
The collaborative team of Annakatrin Kraus and Hans Aescht holds the center of the yard with an architecturally based installation. Using white powder-coated rods of steel to outline rectilinear sections of space, corners are bent up, evoking investigative acts, such as peeking under a rug or peeling back city sidewalks. It is also an elegant, lively and whimsical take on the minimalist grid. Daniel Tran dangles large looping bundles of irrigation tubing suggesting biomorphic infrastructure on steroids.
Moving into the interior of the warehouse, the ArtStreet installations get more chaotic. But there is memorable work that should not be missed. Natalie McKeever’s hypnotic video projections of road trips viewed from a car window are pure visual poetry. Layering her projections and editing out specific details, McKeever blurs what is past and present, proffering the seduction of endless reverie on the road. Jason Silva’s massive suspended architectural installation is an ambitious inversion of the city grid and Gioia Fonda’s jumbo wooden kaleidoscope is a witty device for people watching. There are also outstanding examples of spray-painted street art, begging the question of what is fine art.
The warehouse interior takes on something of a fun-house feel, an attitude that may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view. ArtStreet is laudably ambitious, but with so many moving parts, it’s difficult to assess the art. This is a pity, because genuinely thoughtful and worthy work gets shouted down in the visual din.
Experimental, cutting-edge work doesn’t mean anything goes. Work that is unresolved, derivative or missing the curatorial premise by an entire city block needs rigorous editing. Open space that brackets great work is desirable, even necessary. Sometimes the richest experience is ambling down a silent, empty street.
When: 3-9 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday through Feb. 25
Where: 300 First Ave., Sacramento
Cost: Free (reservations optional)
Note: Organizers encourage visitors to dress warmly and to bring cash, as food and drinks are cash only. ATMs are available inside.