As a former curator at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and then at François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Alison Gingeras is used to a fairly large stage. Her latest curatorial platform, Oko, (Russian for “eye”) is a 110 square-foot storefront in New York’s East Village. The gallery is a collaboration between Gingeras and Daniella Luxembourg and Amalia Dayan. And despite its diminutive size, Gingeras has already packed a punch with shows of early-career paintings by Julian Schnabel and works by the Polish artist Jerry “Jurry” Zielinski, as well as a book signing for Rob Pruitt. Tonight she opens “The Spirits That I Called” which features two of Dan Colen’s new fairy dust spacescapes —laboriously layered pigments in the form of astral arches — inspired by pre-Rafaelite fairy paintings and Disney in equal measure. “This is the beginning of a bigger series for Dan and I don’t think he was ready to show a whole gallery’s worth of paintings, but he got very excited by the idea of showing these two completely finished pieces here,” Gingeras says. “There seems to be a community beginning to grow around the space. It’s just the start of it, but it’s exciting.”
What was the impetus to open Oko? Well, I had this vision…I have always lived in the East Village and I’m an art historian so I’m thinking all the time about the layers of the history of this neighborhood and its relationship to the art world and the Eighties. I was walking by this storefront and I thought, “The paradigm needs to change in how we’re looking at art.” We’re not going to change the whole system but it would be nice to have a space that’s a curatorial laboratory to do amazing, rigorous things in a tiny storefront in the East Village.
What was here before you moved in? It was this vintage jewelry store called Magic Fingers and that’s what we really wanted to call the space but the lady who ran it for many years and she felt very territorial about the name. At the same time I saw the space I’d seen these incredible fairy dust paintings Dan Colen was working on—he was calling them Magic Arches. So the whole thing has been very organic, it just grew out of a lot of serendipitous things, but also a deep thinking about how we look at art in New York City.
How so? The whole paradigm of a huge bloated art space in Chelsea is not very agreeable for looking at art in my point of view. This place has a really reasonable rent, it can really be about ideas and looking at stuff as opposed to having to put on super commercial shows. Amalia and Daniella really get it; they’re complicit in that idea and they’re also great partners because the share my idea that it would be crazy to be walking down 10th Street and see a 19th century painting or something totally unexpected in a storefront that’s next to a bunch of Japanese restaurants.
So what made you want to open the space with Julian Schnabel? Actually, Schnabel wasn’t really the first show. I let Danny McDonald have the keys before I renovated and he made art here and had this incredible performance of his alterego Mindy Vale. She’s like a gypsy, old lady drag queen so we wanted her to do something for Halloween, but then Sandy happened, so Danny would work here all night and he went to Cooper Union so people would come by and it was like a social club. He didn’t change anything he just added his space to this old vintage jewelry store and after that we renovated, changed the name and did this Schnabel show and the space has become a way to connect to younger artists.
Like who? The next show after this are two really young artists in their Twenties, Borna Sammak and Alex Da Corte. I met those two guys through all these layers, so I said, “Let’s do a summer show here.” And they’re going to do something in relation to the storefront in reference to Claes Oldenburg. One of these guys shows in a small gallery on the Lower East Side and the other guy is from Philadelphia and his career is just gaining a little momentum and he hasn’t shown too much in New York yet and they’re just excited to do a project in this space. They’re talking about this space where you look at it from the window, you don’t even come inside, so it’s really about the vitrine and the storefront. The most exciting thing for me is that I’m constantly texting and talking with them about, “What is it going to be?” It’s the same experience I had at the Centre Pompidou only it’s this tiny little storefront. It’s like a project room and a museum all at once, except that there’s no board of trustees.
“Dan Colen: The Spirits That I Called” is on view at Oko, 220 East 10th Street. Okooko.org
Photo: Christopher Burke, courtesy Gagosian Gallery