The trio of artists over at Caldera Gallery consistently opens my mind—by way of my prejudices—to the possibilities in art.
Both with the Hide and Seek show in December and now with PS I Love You, I initially thought, “Great, more San Francisco (oh, I’m sorry, you call it ‘the City’) hipster dilettantism, more liberal arts majors who spent their 20s traveling on their parents’ dimes, now sitting around watching Uncle Buck and The Goonies, asking us to view their homemade crafts as art worth buying.”
Yes, this rant seems to contradict my previous columns about expanding the notion of art, but I've experienced too many exalted sorority theme parties and whimsical creative endeavors too focused on being art to be genuine.
Fortunately, Cris Brodsky, Sandra Wang and Crockett Bodelson are not dilettantes, and Caldera's mission as well as its practice is totally genuine. I discovered these things by actually hanging out over there, which on most occasions has been an hour or two-hour venture. I also discovered the word "gallery" to be a misnomer in the context of Caldera.
By today's standards, a gallery sells art; the works have names attached to them; and visitors grab a free glass of wine before looking around, if they don't run into someone with whom they want to talk first.
Yet Caldera’s Hide and Seek gave away artworks. “Art can’t be bought,” Bodelson tells me on a recent visit to the space. “You have to go out and find it.” He also expresses his displeasure that alcohol factors predominantly in social gatherings.
For PS I Love You, 18 local artists painted envelopes that people can have hand-delivered to friends in Santa Fe for $20. They created more than 600 original pieces of art to be distributed in a sort of performance piece by artists in pink jumpsuits. Most works do not display the artist’s name—the artists and Caldera share the proceeds by percentage—and local businesses paid for a number of envelopes so that even folks without the 20 bucks can participate.
"The inspiration was trying to utilize artists, not only to decorate these envelopes, but also to create this telegraph service," Bodelson says. "It's also this thing for art buyers; they have to ask, 'Do I buy this for myself, or do I buy it for someone else?'"
Mail art has precedence, Bodelson says, referencing one project involving hundreds of carrier pigeons bearing messages to random people. And Wang mentions an initiative to hand-write letters to everyone in the world.
Trying to open the gallery to new artists though this show, Caldera found itself in a bit of a quandary with friends whose works it had never seen before, but those contributions also forced the three collaborators to open their minds.
"I think, 'How can you be satisfied with this?'" Bodleson says. "It's weird, but that's what makes art interesting."
Though the show covers the period from Valentine's Day to St. Patrick's Day, Wang says the intent isn't for this to be a holiday show, nor for the envelopes, now papering the gallery walls, to be covered in hearts.
"We want to treat it as an art show," Wang says. "We're not trying to make stationery."
Bodelson then remembers those horrible pink Valentine's Day cards, distributed in grade school and immortalized by Ralph in The Simpsons: "You choo-choo-choose me." Some people received them and others didn't, and that interaction created mixed emotions in the classroom, possibly explaining the widespread disdain for the holiday today.
Watching Bodelson and Wang talk and laugh—occasionally throwing out new ideas like a letter box for envelopes to be randomly delivered—I begin to see that this is how ideas start at Caldera. I leave feeling excited and a little jealous. Caldera turns hip, little ideas into active, community-engaging arts initiatives.
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