Outside The Box

A gallery defies the conventions of a typical art space.

Though Plywood, the new art gallery/event space in Belvedere Square, is right in our collective backyard, the idea for it was actually hatched overseas.

The gallery is the brainchild of Chris Attenborough and Sean Naftel, American artists who met in 2008 while in graduate school in Ireland. Though they came from different backgrounds, they quickly discovered a shared passion for examining the nature of space.

“We wanted to create spaces for spon-taneous events to take place,” says Naftel.

As they began to collaborate, often with others, under the name PEACOCK, they experimented with creating temporary spaces, like mobile art studios, country fairs, and even a pop-up tavern. They would fabricate these venues using found and donated materials—whatever they could scrounge up and cobble together.

“It’s the gathering of materials that constitutes the art,” says Attenborough, 29, a MICA graduate. “Those things in the work become like the brushstrokes in a painting.”

Attenborough, of Baltimore, and Naftel, from New York City, conceived Roving Project (with fellow artist Erin Treacy) as a way to fill empty storefronts and other “slack” spaces with art, and to make art more accessible, says Naftel, 33. They have since set up other temporary galleries in Italy, Ireland, and Scotland.

Which brings us back to Baltimore’s Plywood, the gallery space Attenborough and Naftel created last September in Belvedere Square. Originally intended to last a matter of weeks, until a new tenant took over, Plywood evolved into a more permanent art space. The pair is using the opportunity to mentor young curators in the art of mounting exhibitions.

Plywood’s opening exhibit featured Polaroid “outtakes” by photographer Jim Lucio. Attenborough said while he and Naftel were looking through Lucio’s photo collection to select images for the show, they were intrigued by test shots he took to check the lighting before the actual shoot. These “shots before the shot” appealed to Attenborough and Naftel because of their imperfection and immediacy.

That unconventional vision is a common thread through all of their collaborations. Their daring stems from a drive to produce art now, rather than later, and that means using whatever space and materials are available. And they encourage artists to take the risk of showing work that might not be, in their own minds, ready for prime time.

“There’s this thing artists have with failure, and, for us, it’s not a bad thing,” Naftel says. “Sometimes the failure is its greatest success.”

Issue date: March, 2012