On Friday, November 3 there were two competing receptions to choose from. The first was the juggernaut of SoWa First Fridays, usually crowded with a wide range of Boston art lovers, and an ecclectic mix of artwork in the dozen galleries of the Thayer Street complex and other nearby Harrison Street. The second was a one-night-only event at the tiny Axiom Gallery in Cambridge's Inman Square for a show called "Art Cake: The Delicious Transient New Medium".
The openings in SoWa were, as always, full of conversation and hand-shaking. Business cards were shared, books were promoted and social niceties were observed. It was, unsurprisingly, a very mature affair, with any art students present left to linger along the edges and wonder where all the 'crazy artists' that they had heard about might be hiding.
Axiom, however, was where they should have been. Crowding as many people into their tiny space as were dispersed throughout SoWa, the event had the feeling of truly tying together a range of artistic interests under a simple theme, and forgetting or refusing to be constrained by the usual limits of age, experience, or status. It had the kind of energy and enthusiasm that has been in short supply in Boston lately. Where we once had a wide variety of spaces run by young artists looking to tap the youthful energy that Boston has in excess, there are now but a few groups operating with far less visibility than their predecessors.
For "Art Cake" each artist created a work using cake as a thematic element. Rob Coshow's "Crab Cakes" crawled along the floor, tiny crab robots covered in cake. George Fifield's "File In A Cake" looked simple enough, but housed a hidden cd-rom which could be extracted and presented on a computer. James Manning's cake protruded with the sharp ends of saws, hammers, and bricks. The night was filled with artists performing with their cakes, or destroying them, or engaging viewers in the experience they were creating. Ravi Jain had created a "Wikake", a wiki page where his online audience would determine the configuration of a cake to be made in the future. In the crowded space, it was impossible to experience each performance or concept before being drawn to the next one, but the overall impact was of artists who had taken a simple idea, cake, and run with it in many directions.
Axiom Gallery is currently in their second location, and about to move to a third. This makes them luckier than other groups currently operating, who find ways to make exibitions in temporary spaces, and notify the faithful via email and fliers. A group called Casualiving has hosted a handful of events on Mission Hill in basements and living rooms, including "Post & Roast" and "Pouring Out Champagne" (which also happened on the 3rd). Another group, Pirate Gallery, describes themselves as "a barebones, traveling gallery built on the premise of piracy on the high seas, or the streets of Boston, and exposing hidden art treasures by promoting local talent at little or no cost to the artists. We pirate the show space and artists provide the treasures."
All of this is to say that the DIY scene may be down, but not out. While rising rents, and the tendency to turn every building into luxury condos, mean that we probably will never see a scene like Kingston Street in the 90's again, there are still groups trying to find a way to make Boston work for them. Those who feel left out at SoWa are starting to find out what has always been this city's strength, that good ideas and strong energy will always draw an audience, even if it is to a basement or attic.
This week one of those groups, Axiom, is making a great leap forward by taking over operations at Green Street Gallery in Jamaica Plain. James Hull, who has directed Green Street since it's opening, is taking an extended sabbatical, and has decided that the future of the gallery should be in the hands of the young and energetic Axiom.
Axiom co-directors Heidi Kayser and Phaedra Shanbaum are both very excited about the new opportunity. They have already planned their schedule for the first year, including a kickoff exhibition which, among other things, will include a piece in which Ravi Jain recreates his Drivetime experience by bringing a car into the gallery.
Will a move to Green Street change the way Axiom works? Probably, but they will undoubtedly bring the same perspective that has helped them survive this long. Green Street Gallery has never been very stodgy, and the new direction with Axiom at the helm promises to finally offer an alternative space that will appeal to the one asset Boston has more than any other: youthful energy.
"Art Cake" was a one night show on November 3, 2006.
All images are by the author and courtesy of Axiom.