Tag Archives: Space One Eleven

DIY

Unsanctioned but tolerated

There’s a lot of talk these days about DIY (do it yourself) approaches to urbanism, with everyone from taggers to neighborhood residents taking control of their built environment and bypassing the authorities to do so. This interesting article in The Atlantic Cities talks about crowd sourcing techniques in the urban setting, and how some cities are starting to rewrite their rules to take advantage of this grassroots civic energy (above is one of many tree wells scattered through public right-of-ways in Birmingham which, in the absence of trees or sustained municipal care, have been unofficially adopted/planted/maintained by adjacent merchants or residents).

Channeling the energy and sanctioning it

Graffiti is an ancient method of transforming public space without official sanction; above is the announcement of the next phase of an art project at 20th Street North and First Avenue at the vacant Brown-Marx building  coordinated by Space One Eleven and Operation New Birmingham (see our earlier post). Blank sheets of plywood that would have been prime targets for random graffiti are instead sanctioned for graffiti.

They paved paradise…and then they changed their minds

In San Francisco, that bastion of “people power” with its history of bucking societal norms, it is perhaps no surprise that the city has taken DIY to a new level of seriousness and sanction. Back in 2005 an art project consisted of feeding a city meter, then rolling out some grass into the parking spot to reclaim that little piece of asphalt as green space. Today the city’s “parklet” program allows neighborhoods to petition to officially–and semi-permanently– close down parking spaces and design and install (at their own expense) tiny park spaces (above). Permits are renewed yearly, so if the neighborhood decides it really needs that parking space back, they can do it.  It’s been a fascinating example of how grassroots DIY ideas have broken through the “system” and changed the rules. And in this case, an illustration of the triumph of human needs over those of the automobile–a few spaces at a time.

[Parklet photo courtesy of Wells Campbell via Atlantic Cities)

Art and its absence

Validating our humanity on various levels

As we’ve discussed before, Birmingham has a poor record of supporting public art. While other cities large and small use public art as a routine component of urban revitalization, we have no comparable strategic program here (pictured above is “Chat” in downtown Brisbane, Australia by the sculptor Sebastian di Mauro; the whimsical knit bombing is by others). The absence of a good public art program is ironic given the local artistic talent that the City has, as well as  the ability of institutions like UAB and the Birmingham Museum of Art to attract all sorts of international talent to their stages and walls on a regular basis.

Long overdue

One of our readers alerted us last week to the public art project (above) at the base of the Brown Marx Building. For several years ugly, protective scaffolding has been erected around this large, historic vacant building at the corner of First Avenue North and 20th Street (several plans for mixed-use conversion over recent years have fallen through). Art students with local visual arts non-profit Space One Eleven were sponsored by the City and Operation New Birmingham to create art across the long expanses of plywood. It’s low on budget but high on creative energy.

Now that's attention to detail

Particularly satisfying was the portrait of Mayor Bell (detail, above), whose fingernail reflects an image of the downtown skyline. We love that.

Feast for the soul

For a major building to present such a forlorn aspect to such an important public intersection is disheartening. The art project goes some way to brightening this condition (and will soon by joined by a pilot project, also sponsored by the City and ONB, to install more art in vacant storefronts along 20th Street). Demonstrating the power of temporary public art is a good start towards implementing a permanent public art program in targeted areas of the City.

Looking better

That last image of the burger-for-the-soul brings us to a nice tangent–John’s City Diner (above), one of downtown’s oldest extant restaurants, and around the corner from the Brown Marx. The facade experienced an unfortunate renovation–guessing the early 1970’s–with tile and metal siding. Over the last weeks the owners have been partially renovating the frontage, revealing the beautiful art deco detailing still remaining at part of the top floor. Fingers crossed that the canopy and storefront can also be renovated. And that the iconic neon sign can remain lit for many more decades to come.

[thanks to trowzers for the Brisbane shot]

 

 

 

Art of the Urbane

So THAT'S what we can do with the broken meters

Directly east of Space One Eleven Gallery, a new contemporary art gallery has opened downtown. It’s called Beta Pictoris and it’s the brainchild of Guido Maus (you can view the gallery website here). The shot above shows the storefront on the 2400 block of Second Avenue North.

Guido moved to Birmingham 5-1/2 years ago from New York City (he is Belgian). He ran furniture galleries in Tribeca before his wife, an expert in antique furniture restoration, was lured to Birmingham to help the Museum of Art with their collection. After a furniture venture here, Guido decided to follow one of his dreams and open up a fine art gallery, showing both local and national artists. His first show exhibited both Birmingham and New York artists, and according to Guido, “visitors couldn’t tell the difference.” He is interested in upending this notion of “local” vs. “national” art, to establish dialogs through visual art.

Dressed to kill

This interest in dialog is why his current show is so spot on. Entitled “Dazzling”, it exhibits photography by local artist Sonja Rieger (the example here is “Kitti Smoking” and the image is courtesy Sonja Rieger and beta pictoris gallery). Sonja photographed drag queens while they were gathered at a large, African-American drag event in Birmingham’s west side. Close to 500 people turned out for the opening night of this show, and, according to Guido, provocative discussion was everywhere.

“Art should provoke discussion, not just look pleasing.”–Guido Maus

Guido feels there is a vibrant art scene in Birmingham, but no vibrant art market. This is why so many galleries are forced to sell art that “looks pretty” and is acceptable to interior decorators–and that’s fine; there’s a place for that. But Guido feels there’s also room to support other artists who are stretching the boundaries beyond what is just pretty, towards what is provocative.

I have long felt that urban areas must have artists and art in order to be truly vibrant. This city could do a much better job of offering incentives for artists to relocate here, for galleries to open and flourish, for public art programs. In the meantime, kudos to Guido for sticking with the Magic City and choosing to take a risk that a provocative, intellectual approach to art can work here. His small gallery is just a start; he’d like to open a much larger space suitable for large exhibitions, artists-in-residence, etc. Mark your calendars for his next opening Friday May 28!

Passionate about the power of art

Finally, a brief note about the pic at the top of the post: Space One Eleven, the neighboring gallery, has put together a great piece of urban “public” art, utilizing street trees, storefront windows, and yes, broken parking meters. I’m only half-joking when I suggest we may have finally found a solution to repairing the vast number of broken meters across this city!