Those Berkeley students and faculty, as well as any of the local residents, who find themselves appreciative of that often hard-to-define, well-nigh categorically subversive genre of 'experimental' or 'conceptual' art generally have had few-when any at all-available outlets to see and/or "experience" such works here in Berkeley apart from the University's own Berkeley Art Museum and on-campus galleries like the Worth Ryder in Kroeber Hall. Personally, I'm not sure why that is. Judging by the amount of people that show up when the University's venues do display such works, the audience at hand doesn't seem altogether negligible. But I could be wrong. Or, since there is a fairly regular supply of experimentally and conceptually oriented works to be enjoyed at the University's own exhibition spaces, and since we are just across the bay from San Francisco, one of the West Coast's-if not the country's-premiere cultural centers for the production and showcasing of artwork on, and even past, the cutting edge, maybe this all is a fairly moot point. Still, it seems a case could be made for the value of having at least one independent, University-unaffiliated gallery, within walking distance for students, with a committed interest in representing more of the conceptually intrepid, deconstructive front of artistic activity going on today.
With this in
mind, last month's grand opening of the East Bay's newest artist-run space,
Lucky Tackle, was a veritably salutary gesture. Though still technically
outside of Berkeley's city limits-it's situated right at Oakland's northern
border along San Pablo Avenue-the Lucky Tackle is a gallery owned and
operated by former UC Berkeley art student Adam Driggs Rompel. And the
art at Lucky Tackle, judging by the title and appearance of its inaugural
exhibit, a group show provocatively titled "Shit Hot," will hardly resemble
the standard 'bourgie,' retro-Bohemian artistic offerings.
completed his B.A. in Art Practice in 1998, and has, since then, spent
most of his time shuttling between the Bay Are and Los Angeles, curating
shows, making connections, and showing his own work-found the greatest
inspiration for his latest endeavor from the Refusalon, a San Francisco
gallery run by one of "Shit Hot's" featured artists, Charles Linder and
his brother. Rompel found at the Refusalon a refreshing "punk-ass gesture"-a
refusal to play things nice and safe-that he now hopes to replicate at
Lucky Tackle. But he knows the art world well enough to recognize that
pushing boundaries always carries inherent dangers too. "The risk that
one takes is that it's going to be the worst thing ever. That's the risk
anybody running a gallery has to take in order to push new ground," says
Rompel. "But," he adds, "you have to take that chance, because when it
is good, no commercial gallery would ever be able to produce it." Obviously,
there's vision behind what Rompel is now doing, but what's more impressive
is how effectively that vision imbues "Shit Hot" as a whole, so it's not
just the individual works, but the gallery space itself that takes on
a novel, 'though-provoking' mien. This is partly a result of the personal
relationship Rompel has with all of the included artists-unlike many group
shows, these artists were chosen not because they submitted to a blind
call for entries, but because Rompel knew and respected their work in
advance and invited them to take part in his opening ceremony.
In addition to Kevin Radley, the UC Berkeley professor who served as something of a mentor for Rompel's undergraduate adventures, nine of the artists are Cal alumni who shared with Rompel both class time and an interest in extreme, anti-aesthetic provocations. "I like the education I got from Berkeley and the heavy conceptual bend I found myself investigating," Rompel confesses. "And I liked the energy that was created with people that were like-minded."
In a way, this
organic concept then also doubles in an organizing metaphor-together,
these artists seem to function as something like an organism, its cells
contiguously linked by pulsing flows, merging through a generative symbiosis.
The show radiates a convivial, energetic warmth that dispels any notion
of these guys as a chilly social clique. The other factor that distinguishes
"Shit Hot" is the age of the participants. The average age of the 21 artists-even
with a seasoned practitioner like Radley figured in-is less than 30. These
guys are fresh, young, 'emerging' (to invoke the preferred trade terminology)
artists, and their perspective is just as spry. "My idea," Rompel jokes,
"is to pool the smartest kids in the schools," after noting the auspicious
proximity of his gallery to not only the UC, but the California College
of Arts and Crafts, and the somewhat farther, but equally vital San Francisco
But it's not just the presence of talented kids that Rompel finds appealing about the East Bay location of his gallery: "There's something very romantic about Oakland in its roughness. In that way, I like the feeling of being an underdog. It gives me the freedom to do what I do." Even the obvious downside to this-his neighborhood's lack of any large, active, faithfully art-going community-doesn't bother Rompel. "I'm hoping anyone could just walk off the street and find [the gallery] interesting and then create a dialogue, because I'm really mostly interested in the dialogue that's created by art."
This Saturday, Lucky Tackle will host a closing party, featuring a slide-presentation by Mariah Robertson at 8:45pm. Lucky Tackle is located at 6608 San Pablo Avenue 510-484-4373.