Four Creative Spaces that Redefine the Concept of an Art Gallery
Explore and interact with structures, light, sound and décor at these local galleries
By Tolly Moseley
Lead photo by Dalton Sessumes
Here in Austin, innovative artwork abounds. Throw a rock and hit a gorgeous mural; throw another, and hit a casually amazing band poster. But don’t get it twisted: we’ve got galleries! And museums! It’s just that our idea of “art” is expansive, and doesn’t always fit on a white wall. So in that spirit, here are four spaces that expand the concept of a gallery: these places are designed for immersion, and perfect for exploration.
What do you get when you take veterans of Austin’s live music scene, pedigreed by the laser light show concerts of the 2010s, and give them an art-friendly space like Native Hostel? You get a reality-bending, maze-slash-art-game, where futuristic rooms coalesce into an overarching narrative about an amateur tinkerer named Mesmer who’s accidentally stumbled into one or several parallel universes. Was that not obvious?
Jokes aside, artist duo Clayton Lillard and Mateo Gutierrez, along with Antonio Madrid, creative collaborator and founder of Native Hostel, have a bold vision for Mesmerize. All three love art parties; all three have a background in artistic event production. Together, Clayton and Mateo run Independent Event Creatives, a creative production company with clients like Netflix and Fender Guitars; Antonio is a partner in HOPE Outdoor Gallery and has helped facilitate several immersive art shows, spanning SXSW to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But with Mesmerize, they’ve taken all of their art event chops, and turned them into something special: a mystery story.
“Our whole mission with Mesmerize is to innovate with storytelling to create multi-sensory experiences that inspire joy and community,” says Clayton. And they were successful: Mesmerize opened pre-pandemic at Native Hostel, and stayed open (safely) to provide some desperately needed wonder. Now, they’re looking to the future: Clayton, Mateo and Antonio are sourcing a permanent home for Mesmerize, where they can take their immersive art-meets-storytelling vision to the next level. Announcement coming soon, and in the meantime, savor their social media, where neon lights, outer space and hidden clues transport you to, dare I say? An alternate universe.
There’s an art to putting together a beautiful home, as Royal Turkey founders Courtney Blanton and Claudia Geoly are well aware. That’s why their home goods store, Royal Turkey, feels decidedly “gallery” in presentation, with furniture and collectibles made for ogling. Love wood-heavy, French antiques? Got ‘em. How about art deco Miami? Yup! The ultra-democratic approach to curation makes Royal Turkey a fresh face in Austin, where — let’s face it — mid-century modern has had a stranglehold over our home décor for a while now. Not that it’s bad!
It’s just that, with all due respect to Danish-style simplicity, there are lots of ways to be stylish. Royal Turkey gets it. “It’s just a fun, funky space, with ‘fun’ as the keyword,” says Courtney. “We have a hot pink bathroom with neon lights, we have a littles’ room entirely for small accessories, we love color, we love the 80s. Everything we source is a true collector’s piece, but in addition to Italian, French and Spanish influences, we love working with local artists. We’re trying to keep Austin weird.”
In that vein, be on the lookout for work by decorative artist Caroline Lizarraga, a west coast painter who’s graced the pages of Architectural Digest and ELLE Décor, and will be designing the entrance to Royal Turkey. On November 12 from 4-8 p.m., you can catch an exhibition of her piece and a spotlight on local Austin artist Robert Wymer, accompanied by bubbles and brew.
What started in San Diego as a pop-up concept in 2016, Wonderspaces is now a national arts organization with spots all over country … including one right here in Austin, just over a year old.
Wonderspaces seeks to fill a gap in the art world: their artists play with light, sound and ideas, creating multi-sensory experiences that on-site staff are trained (hard) to install. But if you’re anything like me, meaning Wonderspaces has already targeted you via Instagram ads, let me disabuse you of my former notion: it’s more than a light show! (Though the light shows are fantastic.) They’ve got new pieces every four to six weeks, and some that are not only interactive, but straight-up crowdsourced.
“Our Top 100” by Jody Servon, on display now, is a community-built playlist that asks visitors to share their favorite songs — and more importantly, the memories they attach to them. The result? A displayed set of stories about music and its meaning, accompanied by a real-life Spotify playlist.
New this month, you can check out “Arc” by Ian Brill: an audiovisual piece that invites visitors under an archway of twinkling digital creations, constantly in a state of disruption. It’s pieces like these that epitomize the success of Wonderspaces: to host art that’s playful enough for kids, contemplative enough for grownups. Speaking of grownups: there’s a bar! Enjoy a signature cocktail while traipsing around Wonderspaces, giggling and selfie-ing to your heart’s delight.
Big Medium enjoys something of a bridge status here in Austin, elevating the contemporary art community with shows and gallery space, while carving out funky, feel-good events that allow you to walk right into an artist’s backyard (they produce the annual Austin Studio Tour). But at their gallery proper, housed in Canopy Austin, an art and business collective on Springdale Road, they source evocative pieces from the world over.
“We strive to help artists play,” says Coka Treviño, Big Medium’s Curator and Director of Programming, who tells me about EPCOT: Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a multi-media work by artist Jerónimo Reyes-Retana. One of her favorite recent pieces at Big Medium’s gallery, EPCOT shone a light on Playa Bagdad, a fishing community near the U.S.-Mexico border, situated perilously close to the launch site of SpaceX. EPCOT is an “ongoing field research process throughout the community of Playa Bagdad,” where environmental protections are scarce, SpaceX rages on, and in the quest to colonize Mars, a piece of Earth is treated as more or less disposable. The artist made recordings of a launch from Playa Bagdad, so that visitors can experience what locals experience: shaking glass, caused by eardrum-pounding engine noise.
This month, you can check out work by Ariel René Jackson and Michael J. Love, winners of the fourth annual Tito’s Prize. For their work (running through January 8, 2022), they both interviewed their grandmothers, and use their words to inform a unique piece set with animation and lighting. It’s a reflection of Big Medium’s vision: to make space for art that utilizes every available human sense, and invites us into artists’ process of discovery.