In Residence: Small Engine Gallery Expands Curatorial Vision
By Samantha Carrillo
Elbow Room N.M. struck up a virtual convo with resident Small Engine gallerists Bradford Erickson (Austin, Albuquerque) and Luke Hussack (founding member, Albuquerque) about zen and the art of running an indie gallery. Notable artists in their own right, their synergistic tenure as a curatorial duo has given rise to an expansive exhibition and performance history.
Standing tough at 1413 Fourth Street SW, The Small Engine space has a storied history. Now a collaboration between Erickson and Hussack, this isn’t the gallery’s first visionary manifestation. Originally founded by artists Raven Chacon, Scott Daniel Williams, Luke Hussack, and Mat and Malinda Galindo, Small Engine is gearing up for change, including a shift in curatorial perspective and upcoming summer 2017 residences.
Y’all describe Small Engine as an effort to spotlight the experimental, DIY art scene in Albuquerque by showing local, national, and international artists and works that call traditional roles within contemporary art into question. What inspires the current incarnation of The Small Engine Gallery?
Bradford Erickson: We at The Small Engine Gallery saw a vacuum in the local creative community, and we have worked to meet the needs of the local creative community as a whole, allowing artists and musicians access to needed exhibition/performance space that might otherwise not be available to them outside the university or more commercial avenues; providing gallery visitors with fresh perspectives; and serving as a gathering point for those in the creative community to socialize, network, and exchange ideas.
While in the past Small Engine has operated primarily as an art gallery, exhibiting solo and group shows, we are shifting gears and hosting a series of mini-residencies this summer for several local New Mexican artists. The goal is to provide much-needed studio space to artists while inviting the community to interact with resident artists via open studios, artist talks/presentations, and musical performances organized by the artists themselves.
Luke Hussack: In this dire time of failing economic structures, it is our role as intelligent creatures to provide a more efficient and productive alternative to the crippling effects of a capitalist hierarchy. Here at Small Engine, we offer a counter-action movement solution. We create our own economy.
We work tirelessly running a gallery space year upon year. Shows are booked, walls are painted, and floors are swept. We buy the best cheese from Whole Foods for all the openings and spend thousands on lightbulbs. In the economy we have created to balance our current climate, our gallery consistently loses money each year … instead of gaining or breaking even.
Y’all share a wall—and a community!—with Barelas gallery GRAFT. What are some of the benefits of Small Engine Gallery’s collaborative relationship with GRAFT and your collective audience.
Hussack: GRAFT is a force to be reckoned with. They work as a single, organic, being to provide the best possible experience. As separate entities, they are creative superstorms! We are humbled by their existence! They also have the only hot water in the whole building.
Erickson: As alternative art-spaces, GRAFT and The Small Engine have overlapping audiences, and we often operate in tandem when organizing events and openings in order to maximize exposure/attendance. While we operate independently of each other, and employ different styles of gallery management, we both strive to provide the same opportunities to local artists, collectors, and looky-loos.
Maybe it’s our physical location, but we tend to be the last stop for a lot of people on First Fridays and local arts crawls. Due to this, we tend to hold later hours than some other art spaces in town and have become known as a hotspot of social activity.
Given Small Engine’s mission—“question traditional roles within contemporary art”—is there anything in particular that you look for in an artist’s body of work, portfolio?
Erickson: I can’t speak for Luke, but I look for artists who are confident in their craft, are technically competent (and willing to challenge their abilities), and exude a sense of humor in their work. I like artists who use the space in nontraditional ways, and this is partly why I’m interested in hosting the Small Engine residency program; to be honest, gallery shows can be quite boring, but the opportunity to see the artist’s studio and works in progress, and to have the ability to discuss the work with the artist, seems far more interesting to me.
Hussack: For an artist to even be considered, their stuff has to look great on Instagram.
These immersive, month-long residencies are slated for this summer. What ought we expect?
Erickson: The concept is rather simple. While The Small Engine is a dynamic space, we feel that potential is undermined by the consistent use of the gallery as exhibition space because we do not operate as a commercial art gallery.
The space is often unused between opening and closing receptions, to the detriment of many other parties/interests. Furthermore, hosting touring and local musicians can be a challenge when exhibiting artists have work in the gallery.
In response to these perceived issues, we hope to open the space to more activity by offering it as studio space to local artists, and we are interested to see what work people may make in response to the space, community itself.
Additionally, many artists in the community lack proper studio space, and we hope that by providing them this opportunity, these resident artists (and others inspired by them) may find themselves in a studio of their own in the future, further contributing to discourse in the creative community.
What was the last, best show (either exhibition or concert) you saw in Albuquerque? And what made it so great?
Erickson: That could be a long list. … Last fall, we had the opportunity to host a number of touring musicians at The Small Engine, and the performance by Blondi’s Salvation (Nances, France) was absolutely amazing—probably one of my favorite performances there. The energy they brought to the space was incredible, with their weird Euro-surf indie-rock and France-by-way-of-Austin aesthetic.
Given the current administration’s chilly attitude toward public arts funding, it seems important to educate the public about what these funds, including grants, can do for local, independent arts orgs. Did Small Engine Gallery’s receipt of an Warhol Foundation-funded, 516 ARTS-administered grant open any doors for y’all?
Erickson: Without the funding we received through the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts (from the Fulcrum Fund via 516 ARTS), the gallery in its current iteration would not be possible. Initially, when we took over the space, we operated on a vanity gallery model—collecting funds from artists in exchange for exhibition space—but we found that model cost-prohibitive for most artists.
Currently our budget is covered by a combination of grant money and financial contributions by Luke and I, and subsidized by our meager 10 percent commission on in-gallery sales. We far prefer it this way [compared] to how it was funded previously.
While it does cost us money to operate the space, the rewards far outweigh the investment; I am able to maintain a modest studio in back, and Luke’s various musical projects use the gallery as a practice space, while offering other local artists space to make and show work.
To learn more about The Small Engine Gallery, visit:
Photos courtesy of artists + The Small Engine Gallery
Featured photo: From “Beyond the Flesh: New Works by Jodie Herrera”
Samantha Anne Carrillo is: a Burqueña; a freelance writer & editor; a social media consultant & brand strategist; and a fourth-wave feminist & devout situationist. Connect with her at facebook.com/samanthaannenm, samanthaannecarrillo.contently.com and twitter.com/SamAnneCarrillo.