Alex Gartelmann

Alex Gartelmann
Artist

When my roommates and I signed a lease for a row home in a sleepy neighborhood just off Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia, the idea of having 350 people in our house at any one time never crossed my mind. I never really thought about how many people 350 actually is, in terms of physical space. As it turns out, 350 people is a lot, especially for the first floor of a row home. Fortunately, I live with two of the most laid back, open people I have ever met in my life, in a neighborhood where the cops only show up at 5 AM when you are raging to bad dance music.

The open floor plan of our first floor just happens to be exceptional for displaying art work — for a first floor of a row home. Sometime around December of 2007, I thought to myself, “Wow, we could totally do a show here. Easy.” I formulated what I wanted to do for a show and mulled it over before presenting it to my housemates, Hannah and Fernando.  I approached them about the possibility of putting up some artwork on our first floor and having, in essence, a salon-style exhibition. I put the idea out to neighbors on 8th Street, too, and got two responses of, “Sure, sounds good.”

Making the first floor basically empty for months at a time seemed like something that wouldn’t reoccur, at least not for a long time, so I decided to go all out. I had an idea for a show I wanted to curate. The idea was to basically fill a space to its maximum capacity and overwhelm the viewers, mirroring the glut of information we find ourselves presented with every day of our completely (even if we try to fight it) oversaturated lives. Hence, My House Gallery presents “Art Glut.” To execute this, I invited 54 artist to cram the first floor of our not-that-big house with their art. This is the juncture where the unanticipated, underestimated, and incalculable moments of being new to curating caught up with my somewhat naive idealism.

I had formulated a name for the space, came up with a decent mailing list, made some press contacts, and lined things up in a way that I imagined a gallery would. And for the most part, things went as planned. But when one does something with a large number of people, of course, there are going to be bumps in the road. There were phone calls from artists mid-morning, while I was at my day job, saying they had rented a truck and were waiting outside my house to drop their work off. There were names incorrectly spelled. There were last-minute requests for non-existent pedestals. There were phone calls from artists, mid-morning, while I was at my day job, saying they had rented a truck and were waiting outside my house to pick up their work. But it was nothing that I couldn’t handle with some sense of competency and minimal panic, and nothing that was going to leave a lasting negative effect. Those feelings came at the opening.

My expectations for attendance at the opening were modest to decent. To people who live in Philadelphia, my house is really far away (though the actual distance is less than three and a half miles from the furthest point anyone would be coming from within the city limits). Also, it was February, and as I recall, really cold outside. My thoughts on numbers (even though there were 54 artists in the show) were what one could call grossly underestimated. Emphasis on grossly. The best way to describe the situation at its peak would be that at some point around 8 PM, no one in the house could move in any direction. Everyone was shoulder to shoulder. This included out the front door, down the stoop, and past the three homes next to mine. I was standing on the stairs, with my sleeves rolled up, by the open front door, in February, sweating — a lot. I knew that any responsibility would fall entirely on my shoulders.  This was the point when I realized what 350 people look and feel like in a confined space. Being that we had only lived there for six months I began to panic that the neighbors were going to summon the police. This would have been a major blow due to the work that had gone into the execution of the show. For it to end while anyone was still there was the last thing I wanted, let alone our becoming the problematic residence on the street.

As luck would have it, this did not happen. Everyone stayed as late as they wanted, and we did not become “those kids” or “that house” to our fellow 8th Streeters. Actually, some of the kids who live in the house across the street came to investigate the pile of people spilling out of the house. They came in and experienced the show. They were genuinely fascinated by the art that was in the house and stayed to ask an endless stream of questions. This remains the most satisfying part of My House Gallery’s first show. The neighbors, who caused me the most worry, became cherished memories of the experience.
Published 5/2006

Alex Gartelmann
Previous Artjaw story

In the early spring of my sophomore year at The University of the Arts, I took a trip to Boston to visit several of my high school friends who attend college there; my friends all go to school for something related to science or mathematics. On the Saturday of my trip, my friends and I decided to go the Museum of Fine Arts. Towards the end of our visit we ended up in the modern gallery. I noticed my friend Matt, who is a double major in engineering and chemistry at Northeastern University, in the rear of the gallery sitting on a bench closely studying a small Franz Kline painting. For a brief moment I was excited and surprised thinking that he was taking something away from the painting.

That excitement was quickly snuffed out when he turned to me and said, “I just don’t understand why this is in a museum, or how it is even considered art…” and continued with the clichéd conservative argument against abstract modern painting.

In an attempt to answer his question, I tried to give him a brief synopsis of art history to give the painting some context, which in the end did nothing to change his mind about it. Shortly after this we left the museum to go our separate ways for the rest of the afternoon, but decided we would meet later for dinner.

About four hours later, while we were eating, Matt turned to me out of nowhere and said, “That painting is still bothering me.”

I turned to him and said, “That’s why it’s in a museum.”

After a brief moment a look of understanding came over his face, and he said, “Ok, I can accept that.”

In this moment, the idea that an artist can affect that way that people think about and understand the world around them really hit home. It is not that I had never talked about art with my friends before, but when we did it was always in the context of what I was making. Of course they were always supportive, whether they understood it or not.

I always reflect on this as a point for me to make my work the best that it can be. Maybe one day, someone who would not give art any of their time could end up thinking about it for even a brief moment.
Published 2/2009

Alex Gartlemann
Little Berlin
University of the Arts