“We Have All the Time in the World,” Air Sweet Air’s last show of 2012, was also the gallery’s final event in its Lowertown space. It was a joint exhibition, by gallery proprietor and multimedia artist Cheryl Wilgren Clyne and painter Alex Kuno, a favorite of the gallery. At the start of 2013, no official announcements were made, no press releases sent out, Clyne just quietly closed the doors and moved out of the space.
I’ve been a fan of the gallery from the beginning; I’ve written about a number of its shows right here, in fact. I noticed the absence of programming and sat down with Clyne recently to find out what happened, why she shuttered the space.
“It’s not a sad story!” she says, right off the bat. She tells me Air Sweet Air’s closure wasn’t due to the usual troubles that beset commercial art galleries – money, lease issues and the like. “This isn’t about having to close,” she says. “I’m really proud of what we accomplished in the little over a year I ran the gallery in our Lowertown space; things were going well, actually. It’s just that I wanted to try to find a new approach to connecting artists with collectors, to come up with more ways to create programming with the community than I felt was available to me in a conventional storefront, for-profit gallery space.”
I ask her to elaborate on the sort of re-imagined art space she has in mind. Fundamentally, Clyne says, she’d rather spend her energies cultivating connections with the community through engaging programs, and collaborating with artists to make and present work – in a variety of places. She explains, “I feel like I have this incredibly valuable experience under my belt now, and I got to present really amazing artists’ work in the gallery,” but she says she also found herself feeling hamstrung by the needs of operating the gallery day to day and keeping the exhibition-and-sales machinery going.
“There’s so much more I want to do than that! I kept thinking: there has to be a better way to connect artists with collectors.” So she set about deconstructing the various roles of a gallerist – programmer, impresario, art broker; she decided to try handling the operations of each role separately. For example, Clyne says there’s no reason you have to bundle the activity of selling art with the making and showing of it. So, she’s currently experimenting with facilitating the sale of work by local artists one-on-one, serving as a private consultant for individual collectors interested in tapping her expertise, artist connections and informed eye to help them find some art to buy – part curator for hire, part matchmaker. She’s hoping an individually tailored approach will allow for more sales of artwork, but also longer lived and more meaningful relationships between artists and collectors. And with the commercial side of things handled separately, Clyne says she’s liberated to present work by a variety of artists under the umbrella of Air Sweet Air, to create arts programming designed for delight and community engagement rather than economic return on investment.
“I’m on the lookout for a new space, and I know I’ll eventually want to put down roots again, but I want to be thoughtful about that process.” She says, once she does land on a new spot for Air Sweet Air, it will probably look more like an arts center than a traditional gallery space. But right now, “I don’t want to be bound to just one site, I’d like the freedom to move around, switch partners.” She goes on, “I moved out of the 262 Studios building to take some time to reflect on what I think air sweet air has to offer. I wanted to open up my options.”
At any rate, she says, closing the physical gallery space for now doesn’t mean Air Sweet Air is going away. “To me, it isn’t a building – it’s way bigger than that.” I imagine Air Sweet Air as a crucible for creative experiment and play, a roving art lab that could find a home anywhere, she says: whether it’s one event held in a park or a partner organization’s site, or a month-long pop-up gallery set up in an otherwise abandoned space, like you’d find in the Minneapolis Whittier neighborhood, with Artists-in-Storefronts, or along University Avenue, in the Starling Project. “Space to show work is easy to find,” she says.
“And I’m still committed to the Lowertown arts community,” Clyne points out. “I have a number of projects coming up here, in fact. I’m doing some film showings at Minnesota Museum of American Art in April, and I’ll be participating in the St. Paul Art Crawl this spring. I’m also involved with Northern Spark: I’ve taken the position of Social Media Director for the festival. I’m putting together a collaborative project for Northern Spark, with 12 other artists as well.”
That project, “Astronaut Spirit Academy,” sounds like a hoot: it’s one-night space camp, presented by Air Sweet Air and the Real Engineers Club (“finally, a club for real people who like to make fake things!”). A send-up to 1950s and 60s sci-fi and the golden age of space travel (“astronaut attire encouraged but not required”) will be installed in the middle of Northern Spark HQ: Union Depot. Visitors will be invited to blast off in 12 artist-made rocket ships for a make-believe interstellar voyage led by a seasoned crew of A.S.A. artists. So far, the team includes: Alyssa Baguss, Mandy Martinson, Aaron Dysart, Brian Hart, Phil Olmstead, Julia Marie Ohmann, Jaime Vu, Steven Greenstein. Community cadets can also expect “lessons in space etiquette, training in weightlessness and asteroid avoidance, ‘air sweet air’ sampling, mars and moon rock identification, ritual star gazing” and more. I’ve already got this project earmarked for a visit with my seven-year-old during the festival, but I have a feeling my Space Race-buff of a husband would be just as excited as our kid for an excuse to play astronaut.