Inside a long, dark, hidden hallway behind Downtown's Yoga One studio entrance at 1150 Seventh Ave., artist Bret Barrett, Wonka Gallery owner Ryan Campbell and Paranoia magazine owner and publisher Ron Patton are gazing at paintings, prints and sculptures submitted for the upcoming collaborative pop-up exhibition that the threesome is putting together.
Conspiracy theories, aliens, the occult and any other subject deemed "outsider" by mainstream culture are the focus of the show, Paranoia, Mind Control and the Art of Suggestion, which opens in the hallway from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 18 and 19, with other events scheduled for July 25 and 26 and Aug. 1 and 2 (search for "Wonka Gallery" on Facebook for details).
"The more you dig into conspiracy theories—say, the JFK assassination," Barrett says, "the more questions you have. The more you look into UFO sightings or Bigfoot or any of those topics, the more questions you end up with instead of answers. I don't know that I believe any of it. I'm just fascinated by all of the possibilities, and I think, for me, that's what art is about. It is pushing your consciousness, pushing the possibilities of what is happening. No one on the planet has an answer for why we're here, what we're doing, what our purpose is. So, I love to constantly kick around all the weird possibilities."
The show will feature more than 30 artists, including Barrett, Leticia Martinez, Tom Fox and Kelly Orange, kicking around weird possibilities and exploring themes not often included in gallery shows. Barrett unwraps a few pieces shipped to the show by New York artist Robert Preston. The work is from Preston's "Lone Nut" series, and the first painting Barrett uncovers is a portrait of James Holmes, who shot and killed 12 people at a movie theater in Colorado in 2012.
"Creepy stuff, but interesting at the same time," Barrett says. "I think it's interesting to keep these people in mind, because we need to figure out why this is happening."
Campbell, who's editing together clips of instances of paranoia and mind control from movies, for a video-art piece he'll include in the show, says some of the work in Paranoia might make people angry. But most of it, he says, is educational, eye-opening or, to those who apply a healthy dose of doubt to everything, at least an opportunity for discussion.
"That's one reason why I really like outsider art," he says. "It's not necessarily, Here's a pretty picture; buy this and hang this on your wall.' It's, Here's something that makes you think.'"