The Black Cube Nomadic Museum is keeping Cortney Lane Stell more than busy in 2017. As director and chief curator of the Denver-based museum without walls, finding new avenues to explore as a curator comes easily to Stell. Case in point: the latest Black Cube project, Drive-In: Personal Space, an exhibit/performance she co-curated with Ruth Bruno of Colorado Creative Industries that will pop up for one night only in a vacant lot in RiNo on August 19.
Stell conceived of the idea for Drive-In in a convergence of multiple impetuses, beginning with her desire to better provide a more unstructured niche for local artists. “Since Black Cube’s inception, I’ve been thinking that Denver needs more experimental opportunities for artists,” she explains. “We have lots of big organizations like museums and commercial art spaces doing things, but almost no spaces for real experimental opportunities.”
But Black Cube’s lack of deep roots makes anything possible, she implies: “It’s such a wild thing, this Black Cube. It’s limited only by my abilities, vision and the people I work with. What an amazing and super-frightening thing it is.”
Pairing that aim with thoughts about how congested street traffic has become a major concern for Denverites, and the changes brought on by the advent of driverless cars and a national surplus of oil — and lastly, inspiration from an installation of a red sports car “loaded with flowers” spotted in a Los Angeles gallery, Stell began to pull an idea together in response to a long “history of artists engaging with cars in work.
“This being a dynamic moment for the arts now, where artists are feeling the pinch in their city and art spaces are not affordable, these three different strings of thought connected. So I put together a list of artists who have enough of an established practice and who’ve benefited from experimentation — artists who would be game — and I sent them a vague email, asked them to meet me in a parking lot at sundown,” she continues. “As the artists all arrived at the lot, I had them all park nose-in, facing each other in a circle.” Not unlike a preamble to a Mission Impossible episode, the setup for Drive-In was discussed in a neutral place among orange parking flags; when they reconverge this weekend for the pop-up, thirteen artists of that original group will invite the public to view their cars, all transformed into art in divergent ways.
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“The artists were pretty much free to do what they wanted,” Stell notes. “It’s experimental, but still very rigorous — and there’s still some curatorial oversight. I’ve been writing text and making studio visits, but my curatorial approach has mainly been one of caretaking, of supporting the artists’ visions.” She admits “it’s a bit of a gamble,” but thinks viewers will be rewarded with a “diversity of style. The poignancy of the different visions coming out in different works is quite striking. Drive-In is a super-diverse exhibition in terms of content approach — some takes are comical, some are disturbing, and there’s really a gamut in a lot of different ways. One artist is doing an earth work; a couple are doing performances; there’s sculpture. For some works, you look at the car; for some, you get into the car; and for one work, you actually ride in the car.”
And, of course, you as a viewer will become a part of the exhibit — just by being there. “I hope people will get an expanded sense of what art can be — and where it can be,” Stell says of the concept. “I want to see contemporary art mixed into daily life, and this seems like a more approachable way for people to access art ideas expressed through an experimental lens. This allows the art to be more accessible, yet simultaneously a little more wild. We’ll see. The jury’s still out.”
Drive-In: Personal Space begins at 7 and runs through 10 p.m. Saturday, August 19, in a construction staging lot located on 26th Street between Lawrence and Arapahoe streets in RiNo. Admission is free, and the event will also include live music by Killed By and Kim Shively. Visit Black Cube online for a map of the site. Stay tuned to Black Cube’s website for additional Drive-In pop-ups and other projects planned for this fall.