Monday, December 22, 2008

IAO Projects

Posted By on December 22, 2008, 10:08 AM

Alternative art in Utah has been gaining popularity over the past year, and a smaller gallery has been making strides to get it a spotlight along side other forms. IAO Projects has been promoting local and national artists our of its small space for the majority of 2008, giving artists who don't fit into conventional terms a chance to showcase their work in a bigger setting, bringing more of an east-coast feel to the art scene in Utah. I got a chance to chat with current Director and Curator Albert Wang about the gallery, its history, its current showing at Acme Burger, and a number of other topics that came to mind. ---

Albert Wang

Gavin: Hey Albert, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Albert: Honestly, I really am a very private person. I hate to talk about myself and prefer an elliptical manner when dealing with my personal life in the press. I'm no Paris Hilton; that's for sure! Anyways, I am currently the gallery director for the cutting-edge contemporary art gallery Iao PROJECTS located in the Salt Lake City area. I went to Vanderbilt and then Yale. I moved to Salt Lake City from Philadelphia approximately 4 years ago for a new day job. I have enjoyed studying art, with a particular focus on the contemporary era after 1950. In May 2008, Shadna, who was the former gallery director of Iao Gallery, assigned me to become the current director of Iao PROJECTS, which was an innovative idea that I had proposed to him earlier in the spring. I had spent approximately a year studying the art market particularly in the Denver and New York City areas and understanding how the conjunction among gallerist, artist, and collector functioned. Also I am a huge fan of literature too. Big fan of Pessoa and Samuel Beckett up to Stephanie Meyer. I really relish a man with various or missing or pared down identities, a poet of the highest order who could allow for a flexible use of personalities to express anything he desired. Geewhiz, if only I could kill my addiction to reading too many back issues of ArtForum within the restroom and obscure Italian poetry that isn't Dante...

For those who don't know, what is the IAO Gallery?

Albert: Iao PROJECTS is an alternative, avant-grade gallery featuring paintings, works on paper, photography, sculpture, installation art, and video works that forge a new path within the Utah and international visual art scenes. Currently we represent 25 experienced and emerging artists who are based in all types of places ranging from Utah (of course) to Mexico City/Los Angeles to Cologne, Germany to Brooklyn. The ultimate goal is to provide museum-quality pieces for the Utah and by extension, worldwide collector base while offering a challenging curatorial experience to the public. Shadna and I decided that the typical white-box huge space was not in line with what was expected from the typical visitor who may check out other venues such as Kayo Gallery or Phillips Gallery or Meyer Gallery.

How did the idea come about to open up a gallery?

Albert: Iao PROJECTS is a complete reboot of the Iao Gallery which Shadna had founded at the ArtSpace Bridge location. But the PROJECTS is a mirror of an innovative micro-gallery setting transfers to the Salt Lake City location. I was inspired by Andrea Pollan's 200 square foot space Curator's Office in Washington D.C. as well as The Wrong Gallery (size about 1 square meter large) started up by the famed art prankster Maurizio Cattelan and his posse. Of course, the gallery has 108 square feet which has some mystical properties that only Shadna knows about. I guess that I had the idea for Iao Gallery to host a contemporary art space after this summer, its lease was up at the old space. After researching a bunch of galleries in Denver and New York City, I figured that it would be fabulous to extend the legacy that Kayo Gallery (and thus, Kenny Riches' ideas) into a banner space that would signal Utah as an emerging art market for some of the most innovative artworks to the world rather than merely catering to the regional tastes that one can garner from back issues of Southwest Art.

Gavin: What drew you to the 9th and 9th area?

Albert: Shadna was going to be ending his lease at the end of May 2008 for the original Iao Gallery space. Originally, he and I had applied to the BCollective located at 780 East South Temple and the gallery application got rejected apparently by the board. So basically I had perused the Craiglist's ad listing for commercial properties, and bingo! There was a rather small space being offered at the 9th and 9th District and I talked it over to Shadna. This was all before I was offered a partnership into the Iao Gallery as well being called to become gallery director of the forthcoming Iao PROJECTS. It's funny that the 9th and 9th District rings off the tongue with a cultured metaphor, a musical tonality. I like the sound of it. It's a happening place and it's too bad that there isn't another gallery located around here (there's a few world gallery stores but they are geared more for knick knacks rather than curated programs). It isn't the East Broadway district where Kayo Gallery and Michael Berry Gallery and Saans Photography and Signed and Numbered Gallery are located but it's a good start. Oh, and Charlie Hafen Gallery is about four blocks south of us so that's all cool and down with us.

Gavin: Was it difficult getting set up or did things come together smoothly?

Albert: Yes, in terms of getting people out there to recognize the gallery at first. It was easy to find the space on a second try after the rejection from BCollective. Getting set up within the 108 square foot area was challenging enough in that we lost some potential space with two desks and a storage bookshelves for paintings, works on paper, sculptures, and art magazines and files. However, these hardships were overcome by a persistent use of IKEA's design philosophy about going upwards when you can't go outwards. Got to love those Swedish designers there with the Zen-like tips when it comes to thoughtful design work. The physical attributes were not too difficult to surmount as we have expanded our artwork to encompass some of the hall space where Brett Sykes' large-scale cellular phone photography is being featured in addition to the Matt Glass piece the Senator relished. Also with the blessing of Mr. Alan Ireland, the Iao: Acme Burger Company gallery has allowed Iao PROJECTS to grow into a nearly 3000 square foot area that we originally could not have dreamed of. This completely allowed us to peruse a less aggressive program with some stunning outsider art executed by Jo Tuck or expressionistic figurative artwork by Jeffrey Hale.

Gavin: What were some of the first showings you had up?

Albert: Our first show for Iao PROJECTS was online through "YOUTUBE SOCKS" ( and it was quite a hit I believe. We had a few hundred visitors come through online there and apparently it garnered enough attention that Michael Workman invited us to Bridge Art Fair Wynwood and John Leo invited us to Fountain Art Fair this year. I suspect a lot of people were not expecting this overwhelming response that a project space would playfully consider the gallery deconstructed as a virtual space but from a curator's standpoint, it allows one to examine how much of our lives have become more reliant on technology to the point where too many husbands are having sex with Blackberries rather than their wives. I think that online, art has become a cool and subversive tool to remind us how much we need to remain human against a world of cool indifference and passionate obsession with false idols of imagery.

Gavin: Do you find it difficult operating as a small business in SLC, especially when focused on the arts?

Albert: That's rather fascinating. Yes, we may be rather small but we tend to carry a huge stick of silent workings. It is difficult to operate in terms of growing the gallery operations rather quickly despite our not-too-bad leasing costs but I think that all arts organizations and commercial galleries have their share of difficulties within the breaking into the Utah market. Still, I suspect that a lot of the gallery owners who survive here have deep pockets and after all, since they are catering more towards people's popcorn eye candy rather than challenging, in-your-face, intellectually stimulating stuff. Ironically people tend to behave as if galleries were all competitors rather than a collective trying to achieve a common goal. I guess that perhaps I aim more towards a socialist's view of the art world. I admit that the artists I have chosen share a common thread. Yes, there are lots of other wonderful artists but it's a matter of weaving them into a strong blanket of our curatorial program. It's like a person who has to promote the whole fabric of what the gallery's mission is formulated for. I think that the downfall of the current economy has cost people's interest in the arts, particularly the speculative market but I suspect that the tried and true supporters who desire works from the heart will be able to come and experience the works from a much more contemplative rather than lustful mode. Which is awesome because the communicative aspect rather than the commercial transaction is emphasized.

Gavin: You have an impressive roster of artists. What's the process like getting an artist involved? Do you approach them or vice versa?

Albert: There is no magic formula for determining which artists ought to belong on the roster of a certain gallery. It is a long and treacherous process that involves working through delicate legal paperwork as well as committing the artists towards the overall, broad goals of what a gallery is meant to achieve for their careers. Unlike most commercial galleries, we emphasize a strong bond between the artist and gallery owners as well as collaborative work among our artists through the Flatfiles programme as well as the collaborative artwork, particularly with the Kurtz Peng conceptual art project. It's a two-way street. We had a lot of artists submit portfolios online. At first, Shadna and I chose to use Craigslist as a way of discovering up-and-coming artists who are completely unknown. For example, I was able to discover the works of Boston-area printmaker Mark Phelan through this venue. He is represented also by Aeon Logic Art Gallery in Brooklyn as well, which we have encouraged. Phelan is an extremely solid mixed-media printmaker whose private imagery and fantastic surrealism caught my eye with its rather postmodern storytelling similar to a novel by John Barth. I recommend the viewer to catch his work to see what I mean in that respect. Craigslist is rather unorthodox but it allowed Shadna and I to view new work that may not be seen in typical online venues such as Artists Space or the Drawing Center.

Some of the artists were found by complete accident or the touch of immediate fate. For example, I found the work of Circlegal (or Michelle Kurtz as her real name is) when I saw her rather large-scale graffiti stick figures on the billboard at Sixth and Main near the TRAX stop. It was tough but I had to do a reverse search using Myspace to find who she really was. Last summer, qi peng and her began to document the way she painted the billboards, which I later incorporated into the YOUTUBE SOCKS exhibition. It was astonishing that their partnership has been rather fruitful in producing intrusive, in-your-face street installations to random crazy drawings to rudimentary photographs of their temporary work. Circlegal also has an extremely strong body of solo work and Kurtz peng plan to strike again in New York City during late December and Las Vegas during early January. I really admire their willing to take large risks as well as anticipate flexibility to sneak their artwork into public spaces without any qualms just like the way that Banksy threw some of his own work into major museums. No kidding, those brave gimmicks are the only way that emerging artists are forced to enter the art world game by being noticed. After all, an angry mob is more likely to respond to the unexpected art rather than people who are completely indifferent to it.

Gavin: Is it difficult keeping everyone on board organized and displayed equally?

Albert: Yes. I guess that if I were a cold-blooded capitalist rather than a progressive Marxist like Che in my economic politics then I would base the shows and press releases on who sells the most. However, I am extremely democratic in my approach to promotion of our artists on our roster. Both the established and emerging artists have an equal shot at exhibiting in both group and solo shows here at either Iao PROJECTS or Iao: ABC. Organization can be tough especially in getting the press releases out on time and negotiating with Mr. Ireland on which artworks will get displayed at the Iao: ABC location. However, too much seriousness and organization can be detriment to one's own enjoyment within the art world. I think that a certain amount of play (in terms of the Magister Ludi novel by Hesse) is necessary for people to want to escape the everyday trappings of normal perception into this alternate universe where reflection and thoughtfulness is encouraged. This is why I enjoy mixing it up for the crowd in terms of being able to have each artist put their best foot when time comes up for their show when they need to shine. I try to create a continual stream of well-planned exhibitions that grows the direction of the gallery's curatorial projects so that Iao PROJECTS can become a more respected venue for the bridge between Utah and international artists.

Gavin: Tell us about the showing at Acme Burger and what you've got on display.

Albert: The current show at Iao: ABC is the solo exhibition for our Seattle artist Eric Osborne entitled "Sk8ter Kickstand." ( It was a difficult show to curate as Mr. Ireland was not too persuaded about the existential tenor of the artist's emotional voice. However, I was able to discuss with the public about the rather startling vision and personal history that remains coded within the mixed media technique and the motifs of hidden violence and its tension with hard-fought love. I think that it is a rather optimistic show despite its upheavals being depicted within the sculptures. However, the show is up now and it looks rather fascinating especially when mixed up with the cinematic works of Matt Glass or the anti-globalization paintings of Barry Wolfryd. Everyone is going to have a different version of their private iconography which speaks from their entrails and I seriously do try my hardest to place the artist's true sense of humor and exploratory trails into the context of the restaurant as a conceptual project of a contemporary art museum. So the demarcation between the idea between solo and group shows can be blurred like a set of bad optical lenses. Definitely cool when the Jenga goes down there. Eric Osborne is a skateboard mixed media artist as well. I think that his ability to act as a postmodern shaman who can transform the garbage and leftover pieces of both life and physical objects is incredible. There are inklings of a personal history that remains a complete riddle in a different light. However, I feel that it is important not to argue with what he has decided to leave intact, to try to keep people from unraveling the Legos a little too much there. I just hope that people don't mix up Osborne with Kurt Cobain just because he is from Seattle, you know. He is really fabulous guy and very laid back with a certain profound sense of existential hope and despair all bundled up within layers of a Zen koan.

Gavin: Why did you choose Acme instead of a more traditional setting?

Albert: Wow, I think that particular question could be one of the most difficult ones to have me answer. I have always been a huge of Alan Ireland's gourmet hamburger restaurant Acme Burger Company and it has been a rather posh place over there. I saw the offbeat purple exterior mashed up with the industrial look and it really looked out of place with the somewhat predominant pioneer or Grecian architectural styles of downtown Salt Lake City. I thought that the shape reminded me of this elongated art museum (particularly Donald Judd's pad in Marfa, TX) and envisioned about rechristening it as such. Mr. Ireland and I have been good friends and in fact, we came from the same borough of Queens, New York City. I feel that this kinship, even though I have a much more radical view of what art ought to aspire to, could be in line with what we are trying to achieve with fulfilling what the artists desire. Mr. Ireland used to run a gallery space up in Boston (don't know which one honestly) so it was not too difficult to develop our partnership in having our Iao PROJECTS and Iao: ABC artwork being featured there. It is an irregular space for mounting large-scale work but as one can see, it has worked in its special way.

Gavin: Do you know what the employees and customers think of the gallery?

Albert: Well, overall the Acme employees have had a positive response or indifferent look to the artwork which we have presented. I had one waiter there who disliked everything except for the Barry Wolfryd paintings. I didn't mind that because at least, he was responding to the overall program whether or not he dug the underlying ideas. Honestly, indifference is the worst enemy of the art world, which is why controversy must be injected into the system to keep the people awake rather than cultural zombies. Customers rarely look at the artwork which is rather disappointing. Until we can magnetize the huge collectors to come and fly into Salt Lake City or christen new Steven Cohens and Beth DeWoodys here in Utah, I don't know whether Iao: ABC is going to be on the strongest footing yet. But it's a matter of time and I had a face-to-face discussion with a potential guy who owned a sports car and wanted some interior decorating of his flat but I never heard from him again in terms of follow up. Again, it will be a matter of time.

Gavin: A little state-wide, what are your thoughts on the local art scene, both good and bad?

Albert: I probably won't want to be too direct on this question since I prefer not to burn my bridges here. I think that a lot of artists are too obsessed with technique at the expense of the conceptual drive of the piece(s). A lot of it derives from the rather perfunctory academic art training that predominates at both BYU and University of Utah where the professors tend to focus more or less on five drawings classes in progressive style. Skillful handling of paint and the pen cannot substitute for poor executed and engineered ideas because it provides a false crutch for which the artwork can serve to throw a challenge to the normative ethics of society.

Gavin: Is there anything you feel could be done to make it bigger or better?

Albert: Well, this would be a thorny question. Since I am not on the board of the Salt Lake Gallery Association, I really don't have any input on the decision making process of how Gallery Stroll can be conducted. However, I do enjoy it although it is difficult to go through the galleries through the Salt Lake Valley as they are dispersed everywhere from 500 West to 1300 East. People like me without a vehicle have a hard time to engage with the variety of galleries that are here so perhaps an "art bus" could be a good way to encourage people to want to peruse each exhibit in a line up. We are extremely happy that the Gallery Stroll incorporates contemporary art venues such as the Pickle Company, Salt Lake Art Center, and Kayo Gallery. After all, Shadna and I are always open to new ideas about how Gallery Stroll can promote a more progressive world view similar to what NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance) and the WGA (Williamsburg Gallery Association) have been able to achieve during the past few years.

Gavin:What are your thoughts on Gallery Stroll and how its developed over the years?

Albert: I like Gallery Stroll in concept although Shadna and I have noticed how much people are more into the wine and boozing and hobnobbing that predominates the Utah art scene here. Needless to say, I am skeptical about whether these social activities enhances an art dealer's ability to focus an artist's career. Perhaps the main thing is that it humanizes the artist rather than presenting the person as a gallery's commodity. I have been to the stroll for 4 years and pretty much it has been the same with fairly little expansion except for new players such as Kayo Gallery and the new Palmers' Gallery location near Tony Caputo's.Hopefully, the Gallery Stroll here will encourage galleries to gather together rather than compete and to focus on collaborating to do mutual group show that are well-curated and focused on developing new ideas rather than rehashing some of the hackneyed themes that consistently appeared all too often

Gavin: What can we expect from IAO over the next year?

Albert: Well, Iao PROJECTS is going to be running fast and busy during the upcoming year. Apart from the collaboration with Acme Burger Company, we are trying to coordinate some out-of-state projects with The Conference Room Gallery which is run by my good friend Daniel Gellis over there in Los Angeles. He also represents Barry Wolfryd who is having a solo show there in January. Also, we are focusing our attention on getting some investors on board to fund more ambitious projects. So if you know of anyone who is willing to help us in this endeavor, then feel free to contact us to help us to obtain a larger white box gallery space and some start up capital as we broaden the horizons. For example, I will be flying around to search for people to help us out to fund expensive ventures such as the Miami art fairs, etc. Expect us to have our artists busy to deliver some of the most political, philosophical, provocative artwork during 2009. No one can stop us now as we gain momentum for having a stronger curatorial program and to demonstrate that Utah can have a consolidated forum where people are not looking just at the artwork but perhaps inspiring discussion and criticism and perhaps even death threats (hmm...) for the artists just to boost the visibility of the Utah art market. I just don't think that indifference to our art environs is the best solution because in that case, wallpaper could have been just as easily procured.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Albert: Well, okay, here are some shameless shout-outs for the gallery itself on the Internet. IAO Projects in general.Plus Gallery (Denver), Glowlab (Brooklyn/Soho), Anna Kustera (Chelsea), DCKT Contemporary, NurtureArt and Black Dragon Society (Los Angeles). And finally, importantly, people who aren't Iao PROJECTS but whom I wish to give props to: The Conference Room Gallery run by my friend Daniel Gellis, the most important art fair in the world, Art Basel, Our favorite independent art fair Iao PROJECTS got invited to, Michael Workman's Bridge Art Fair we got invited to as well, an awesome resource for curated artist run by my friend David Alan Frey, a selection of awesome contemporary online art resources one time for your mind, Gavin's Underground blog so awesome and honest, The Awkward Hour, Ugallery, awesome online gallery and finally, the most important art gallery alliance in the world (not always but good enough), the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA). And by the way, if you want to learn HOW to collect art, read Paige West's book called The Art of Buying Art: An Insider's Guide to Collecting Contemporary Art published by Collins Design. Don't be scared to buy art just because you don't understand it. This is the only addiction that is highly recommended, seriously.

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