Leon Gallery Goes Nonprofit, Gives Performance Art a Chance | Westword

Nonprofit Leon Gallery Gives Performance Art a Chance

Leon was never a selling gallery.
Esther Hernandez launches Leon's Of the Moment performance art series on April 21 with Tooth or Dare.
Esther Hernandez launches Leon's Of the Moment performance art series on April 21 with Tooth or Dare. Photo by Jake Holschuh
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The last time we spoke with Eric Dallimore, artist and co-director of Leon Gallery, he was leaving town and returning to school and family in his native state of Louisiana, aiming for a new career in global humanitarianism. As for the gallery, he says, “Leon was never a selling gallery.” As gallerists, Dallimore and business partner Eric Nord were too committed to giving artists freer rein in building exhibits than most commercial galleries would allow. They ended up having to finance their own experiments.

“We’ve seen a lot of that focus on sales and how it forces artists to have to listen to trends and the sway of market,” Dallimore explains. “So their work becomes more decorative. They end up responding to taste and style and trends and not to their heart and gut.” Feeling discouraged with things as they were, he chose to leave it behind.

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See Lin Wen-Ben's performance Please Punch at Leon on April 28.
Courtesy of Lin Wen-Ben
But Dallimore has now had second thoughts. Realizing that being an artist was still his destiny after landing in Louisiana, he came back to Denver, and eventually rejoined Leon at Nord’s suggestion — with the unconventional goal of going nonprofit.

That clicked for him: “What if we asked the community to invest in more challenging work? It frees us from the constraints of sales to focus on artists who might not necessarily sell well, but whose work people still want to see.” As a result, Dallimore and Nord are now able to ask for a smaller commission on art sales and still run the gallery, benefiting artists financially while giving them an opportunity to stretch creatively.

Jeff Page presents The Blushing Bow at Leon on May 5.
Courtesy of Jeff Page
The model is already bringing changes to Leon (which has always offered multi-arts programming such as literary readings, yoga sessions and intimate concerts alongside shows) by giving space not only to formal exhibits, but also to ongoing artist-generated events like the Art Church, a hands-on creative community playground with changing monthly themes, and other pop-ups. But Leon’s greatest experiment so far as a nonprofit might be Of the Moment, a bold five-week performance-art series that begins on April 21 with Esther Hernandez’s Tooth or Dare, a play on blind dates during which pairs of complete strangers meet up for a metaphoric, socially charged card game.

Can Leon sustain a five-week series of what is unconditionally an unsalable art form? Dallimore and Nord are banking on it — for purely philanthropic reasons. “The biggest challenge we face is finding an audience,” Dallimore says. “How will they know that for five weeks, they can find a performance at Leon every Saturday night?” But performance art seems to be going through a resurgence in Denver, and at the very least, he hopes the arts community will come out to support the series, which showcases some of Denver’s best and freshest practitioners.

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Jordan Knecht performs Signal Noise at Leon on May 12.
Courtesy of Jordan Knecht
“The whole Dada movement was 100 years ago,” Dallimore notes. “Back then, things were kind of strange. Now we’ll be like Cabaret Voltaire for five weeks — we’re gonna get strange in here.” And after that? Dallimore says it’s up in the air. It could involve new collaborations, pop-ups, artist takeovers, guest curators, immersive installations in the back alley, a group retrospective of Leon artists from over the years — or things that Nord and Dallimore haven’t even dreamed up yet. And they’d like to have a more international scope: “We could bring the world to our city, and bring our city to the world, as well,” Dallimore muses.

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Leon's Of the Moment performance-art series closes on May 26 with Pop, by Tobias Fike and Matthew Harris.
Photo by Jake Holschuh
However it plays out, the real winners will be the artists Leon champions. “We like to roll the dice on young artists,” he adds. “Let’s see what happens.”

The Of the Moment performance-art series debuts with Esther Hernandez’s Tooth or Dare on Saturday, April 21, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Leon Gallery, 1112 East 17th Avenue, and continues through May 26 at the same time, with Lin Wen-Ben (Please Punch) on Saturday, April 28; Jeff Page (The Blushing Bow) on Saturday, May 5; Jordan Knecht (Signal Noise) on Saturday, May 12; and Tobias Fike and Matthew Harris (Pop) on Saturday, May 26. Admission is free. For art-goers who can’t make the live events, every performance will be video- and photo-documented, with the results on view afterward in the gallery, along with leftover relics. Learn more at Leon Gallery’s home page or on the Of the Moment event page on Facebook.
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