A few weeks back, on the cusp of their grand opening, I had a chance to sit down with husband and wife team Ashley Sloan and Calvin Ross Carl to talk about their new gallery in Kenton.
Carl & Sloan Contemporary took over a satellite space at Disjecta, and promises to become a bright spot in the Portland art community (and not just because of the new fluorescent track lighting and the co-curators jovial personalities). This isn’t the first time the two have touted Portland’s art scene. Their previous project, Open Wide PDX, was an effort to highlight all of the new work being made in the city that wasn’t being fully documented. Both practicing artists, Carl and Sloan have deep ties to the community and the bevy of alternative spaces and commercial galleries here.
[half]N&C: Where did the decision to start a gallery come from?
AS: I feel like it was the same with us getting married. We never even talked about it, we just agreed that it was something that was going to happen.
CRC: For me, I didn’t realize how much of a consumer of art I was until my senior year of PNCA. Victor Maldonado pointed out to me that I was really ravenous about collecting artists in my mind. And I didn’t realize that I was kind of weird in how much I sought out other people. I’ve always passively joked that I am a better picker of artists than a maker of art.
AS: Ever since we’ve been together you’ve always joked about (in a sort of non-joking fashion) ‘I’d hate to see the day that I open a gallery and I don’t make work anymore.’ Like whenever I talk to you when you’re working in your studio you’ll say, ‘It’s really great that I’m working in my studio, but someday, when I don’t do this, I’ll have a gallery.’
N&C: And are those two things mutually exclusive? Both of you have fine art backgrounds; how does that make itself known, or does it? You’re not going to show each other are you?
CRC: [Laughs] God no.
AS: That’s always the first question from people at work: ‘Cool. So you like opened a gallery, are you going to show your own work?’ [Laughs][/half]
[half]N&C: I figured that’s how that was.
CRC: I always joked about it as it being like one day where I just stop making art and am only showing other people’s work. But I only see that as if this really truly pans out. I can see this as the first step to being a gallerist some day. I don’t necessarily see us as starting out at that level. I think we’re somewhere between an alternative space and a commercial space right now. But I can easily see that someday fulfilling me with the same kinds of desires that I get out of art by just picking artists.
AS: Because I feel like we’ve talked about the fact that we’re both artists but what we get out of art is that community engagement: talking to other people about the work that you make. It’s kind of the same when you’re curating a show. It’s the same kind of engagement: ‘Hey you should come see this thing that I’m doing.’ But it’s the gallery instead of the work that you’re making. It’s very fulfilling in a similar way.
CRC: You get to create a lot of talk around art and you don’t have all of the messiness of having to make the art.
N&C: Fred Wilson talks about that. He talks about how he doesn’t need to make anything to get what he wants. He just puts things together and that’s all he needs to do.
CRC: I mean it is funny because I’m definitely not one of those people. From talking to Johnny Ray Alt at HQHQ, he talks about how since finishing school his artistic practice is now his curatorial practice.
AS: I wouldn’t think that either of us would say that that’s our art practice in any way, but I think we might make less work because we’re doing it.[/half]
[half]N&C: And that’s really because you both work in more traditional media than say, social practice artists.
AS: Neither of us work in a medium that would ever be confused with social practice or gestures or performance. But I would be really surprised if Calvin stopped making work because he’s so consistent, but I’m kind of more on again off again. Like I have different fulfillments from like working at a gallery or doing different things and then I’ll go back to art. Like when we were doing Open Wide, I was actually making a lot of work, but I’d then go off and on.
N&C: That actually leads quite well into my next question. Apparently I wrote pretty good questions!
CRC: This is moving along perfectly! [Laughs]
N&C: I was going to ask how this maybe translated from your previous project with Open Wide PDX?
CRC: I mean it was a job.
AS: I think of the gallery as totally an extension of that. Especially the community that we built out of that. I mean how many artists do we know because of that project? We know almost everyone we know in Portland because of Open Wide, and then extending from that are the people we want to show and the people we want to invite.
CRC: The reason we started doing Open Wide in general was because there was a lot of good work being made that wasn’t being documented in any way whatsoever.
AS: It initially started because Calvin’s friend Scott moved to New York and he wanted to have something to send him to remind him of what it was like to live in Portland. And then we were like, ‘Wait a second. There are all these amazing things happening!’ It was 2007 or 2008 when places like Appendix and Gallery Homeland opened. There were a bunch of really cool alternative spaces that were opening because of the recession and there was almost no coverage of it. And we were like, this is actually a much bigger deal. It’s not just sending photos to Scott in New York of what’s happening, people should know about this.
CRC: That was Scott Wayne Indiana.[/half]
[half]N&C: Him and his little ponies. Everytime I see a new one I think, “Scott’s in town!”
CRC: Or his parents! They were doing it for a while.
AS: Or someone is copying him.
CRC: But I think that was when I identified that there’s a weird problem that the Portland art scene has. And now, being an artist, I feel like I’m at a point in my own art practice where I’m experiencing this a lot. I think we’re actually pretty good in Portland at having at least some alternative spaces that are showing people who are emerging and fresh out of school who are idealists and are hungry. And then we have great mid-career places.
CRC: But there’s a really big empty area in between where we don’t have any places that are necessarily showing all those people in that weird gray area between emerging and established.
AS: I think that might have to do with our age. We’re in that. We’re no longer the students. When we did Open Wide, we were those students. We were those people who had just graduated and we were that crew, but now we’re thirty-somethings and it feels like this drop. Like, I’m not going to show in someone’s garage anymore, but I’m not going to show at Elizabeth Leach either. So who shows this work?
CRC: It’s kind of like you’re too old to be a revolutionary but not old enough to be the vanguard. [Laughs] I think that’s the weird area we’re trying fill. And it sounds bad to say, but I feel like we’re trying to poke at a lot of people who are overlooked.
AS: People who we think have been making strong work in Portland for a long time who have been overlooked for different reasons or haven’t been pushed into that specific gallery. And we’re like, that person’s awesome. They’re a professor somewhere, they’ve been making work consistently, they have a devout art practice but nobody’s picked them up.
CRC: I feel like that’s how we’ve been applying the lens regionally.
AS: But it’s different when we look at people outside of Portland who haven’t had the opportunity to come here or wouldn’t be exposed to Portland otherwise.
CRC: The people out of Chicago or New York that we’re talking with are further along or on the cusp of something really big. And I think that’s a really exciting time to bring them to Portland. Because it’s just like they’re starting to get enough spread to where them showing in Portland makes sense.[/half]
[half]N&C: So what kind of percentage in town/out of town are you showing right now?
CRC: It’s probably 40 out of town, 60 percent in town. We’re trying as much as possible to get a good handle on that. A huge part of it for me is that there are so many good artists in Chicago that I’m obsessed with.
AS: Or like on our recent trip to Switzerland there all of these amazing contemporary galleries, and there was a Portland artist that we’ve never even seen! And I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I have to go to Switzerland to see artists from my hometown?’ That’s ridiculous! And all of these spaces were beautiful and funded and why don’t we have that in Portland? I want to be showing this contemporary work.
CRC: It’s because we don’t have that Swiss currency.
AS: The francs are…strong. [Laughs] But I think Calvin even showing at LVL 3 in Chicago was a big leap for us. Having those connections in Chicago, and then my connection to the PSU MFA program…we have people that came through that program that we’re going to show.
CRC: And I’ve really been obsessed with those Chicago artists since Raphael Rubinstein wrote Provisional Painting. There’s some kind of movement going on there that’s not quite in that world of casual abstractionists or anything. There’s something a little beyond that. And I think a lot of the people that we’re picking to show could be lumped in at first glance with the casual abstractionist movement, but they’re much more meticulous about it.
N&C: So is there a general type of tone for the work you’re showing?
AS: It’s kind of embarrassing to say, but we have a Pinterest that we share between the two of us. We put in the images, and I know we haven’t had any shows yet, but you can tell when somebody fits or they don’t fit. And most of it ends up being painting. Like we were looking at Melanie Flood’s work, and we realized that we hadn’t looked at a photographer yet.
CRC: All of the work that we’re looking at tends to revolve around some kind of formalist approach to painting. And even when we’re looking at say, photographic work, it’s through that same exact lens. Ugh. Pun intended.
CRC: [Laughs] It’s photography that relates more to painterly planes as opposed to the technicalities of photography.
AS: Like the work we’ve been looking at of Melanie’s is very up front. She was like, ‘This is the work that boggles the mind of the photography community. They’re not into this work.’ But we’re into that work.
CRC: Pretty much everyone I look at has an all over aesthetic. That’s just what I’m always naturally attracted to. And that’s what everyone I look towards kind of fits into. Like one of my favorite artists ever is Anne Truitt. And she makes her beautiful big cube pieces that are just absolutely entrancing to me, but then you[/half][half]get people like John McCracken whose surfaces are equally interesting, but you know they’re coming from two totally different worlds. And I always find myself on the Anne Truitt side where there’s an emotional quality embedded in all of that surface. I think a lot of the people we end up picking fall into that and tie back to those Truitt sculptures.
AS: And then I throw a wrench in it and bring out my angry feminist. [Laughs] Part of the reason I quit my MFA was because I got so fed up with the representation of women in contemporary art. Study after study after study was like, ‘Women don’t do well in contemporary art. Women are not shown in galleries. Women aren’t given faculty positions.’ And I became really upset that I was pursuing a career where I wasn’t going to be given the opportunity or the clout or the authorization to enter a world that I want to be in. And so when we decided to open the gallery I said, ‘We’re showing 50% women.’ If we get to be in a position where we get to say what is art and what’s not art, and what we get to show…it’s not that I’m just showing feminist work, I just want to represent women and men equally. And I want to choose artists from a different spectrum than the automatic assumption. That’s really important to me.
CRC: That’s really been one of our goals all along: being really militantly aggressive toward showing women. Which is a really funny stance to take on it.
N&C: You almost have to be.
AS: Because all the studies I was reading showed that people thought that preferences and opinions in art are based on a meritocracy. People think that you are brought to what is good and what is not good, and that’s not true. Like in the symphonies, there are studies that show that women were totally underrepresented until they made people audition behind a screen. And it’s great with musicians because you can actually do that. […] But with art, it’s really hard to separate the person from the art and the meritocracy of what we think is good art and bad art. And I want to say that sometimes the natural inclination is wrong. Maybe the work you’re drawn to isn’t the work you should be drawn to, and you should force yourself to look at this other work.
N&C: And it’s not just you. It’s what you’ve been told over and over again.
AS: Exactly. It’s the canon. And the filters that we’re looking at art through. Am I looking through the press that they’ve already received? Am I looking through an old boys’ network that’s filtering what I am going to see? How do you break that cycle? I’m investing myself in doing just that. And I don’t have a brilliant answer as to how you do that…
CRC: You open a gallery.
CRC: You talk about being on the receiving end of that where you’re an artist that honestly needs the approval of people who have power over you to show with them. That’s the exciting thing, is that now we get to usurp that and switch roles where we get to have the power of picking.
AS: I would hate to have people think that we chose our artists haphazardly. We’ve literally had fights about each artist back and forth for weeks!
CRC: It’s a pretty interesting dynamic when you have two different aesthetic ideals to look at all of the artists through.[/half]
[full]N&C: So what can you tell us about the show that is up right now?
AS: I think the three artists in this show are a really good tone to set for the gallery. They’re all doing work in painting and sculpture, and it’s all very…testing…that’s part of the reason we named the show Testable Predictions. They’re very experimental.
CRC: All three of them, Amy Bernstein, Perry Doane, and Michelle Liccardo, are all people who make really meticulous moves in their work that feel really experimental.
AS: I don’t agree! I feel like Amy makes very meticulous marks, and they look experimental, but they aren’t. And it looks the same, and if you didn’t know the process you would think it was the same, but with Michelle and Perry, they’re kind of playing with stuff. I think that their work has similar gestural qualities, and might look the same, but I think their mark making is coming from different places.
CRC: Yeah. That’s true. It’s funny, because it’s kind of an old trope when you’re opening a gallery to have your first show be a group show. And it’s funny to have this three person show, because after this we’re not going to have any three person shows. Despite the fact that we won’t be representing any artists, we will be treating each show like a solo show. There might be some two person shows for some people that we think really work well together, but that’s it.
AS: And we’re also planning on showing video and experimental work between taking down and setting up the longer shows. We’ve got Damien Gilley’s book opening between our first and second show.
CRC: We’re going to try to do one night special events in between exhibitions. That’s where I get really excited, because that’s where I get to be that really annoying picker of art who’s just obsessed with finding artists. Because if you’re doing 6 week shows, you get 8 or 9 a year, and these really meaningful one night video events essentially let you double that amount. I just get really excited about finding good artists.[/full]
N&C: Anything else you feel like we should know?
AS: Well I also wanted to give kudos to Half Dozen, and Tim Mahan and Bonnie Green. Because I feel like a lot of what we do is because of them.
CRC: Yeah, I mean Tim was a huge inspiration for wanting to open the gallery, because he taught me how you could run a really great space in a really lean way.
AS: Because he worked at a Chicago art gallery for years. And he had that great experience, and we met him when we were doing Open Wide. And it makes me happy when he or Bonnie comment on our Instagram!
Testable Predictions is up now at Carl & Sloan Contemporary through April 12th. They are open Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 at 8371 N Interstate #1 in Portland.