Feb. 23 2011 10:25 AM

North Park's Garage Gallery is a place to play

Larry Caveney
Photo by Kinsee Morlan
My left nipple is stained bright red. I just ducked out of The Garage, Larry Caveney's makeshift pop-up gallery on Alabama Street in North Park, where the erotic-themed I Caught You Peeking II exhibition opened for a night. One of the works in the show, “Tainted Milk,” an interactive piece by Richard ChauDavis, invited the public to write down a personal issue on a card, paint one's nipple red, make a nipple impression on the card then stack it anonymously with others for the artist to digitally scan and then burn and stash away in an urn.

“The idea is that it's like a vaccine that can help people who hang on to some of the same problems,” ChauDavis says. “Sometimes, the only way to get rid of an issue is to put it out there—putting it out there and doing something silly like a nipple print seems to work.”

Whether it works or not, if I'd come across “Tainted Milk” in a gallery instead of a garage, I might not have been so inclined to lend an areola.

“This is a platform for artists to experiment with ideas that they usually don't have a platform for—a good place for a dry run,” Caveney says, sitting in his garage a few days before the show. “I don't see this as a gallery, per se, but more as a conduit to the community and an opportunity to play with ideas—but at the same time, without dumbing art down. You can bring some really sophisticated shit in here because it's so accessible. It's a garage, so people feel comfortable enough to ask questions about the art even if it's really conceptual or strange.”

Caveney (larrycaveney.com) is a sucker for outsider art. In one of his own ongoing performance pieces, he videotapes older white men—including himself—wearing a rubber John McCain mask, cowboy boots and a pair of boxers while dancing like a madman in his garage.

In another piece, he orchestrated and videotaped an argument that took place in the middle of the opening of last summer's big Here Not There exhibition featuring select San Diego artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. The fight escalates, then is eventually resolved with an arm-wrestling match at the response exhibition, Rejected from Here Not There, which Caveney organized and hung in his garage as a small protest.

“Here's another project I did,” he says, holding up a framed poster. “It's called ‘Cuts for Court.' I traded some artwork for haircuts and then posted this poster out around town so that people who got busted for pot could come in and get a free haircut before they go to court.”

Caveney paints and sculpts, too, but those aren't your run-of-the-mill pieces, either.

In “The Party Whites,” a series currently hanging at the Martha Pace Swift Gallery at the NTC Promenade, Caveney takes clothing and sculpts it into different shapes, then presses it onto a panel and covers it in thick layers of paint and small bits of collage. From afar, they look like beautiful, well-composed and textured abstract paintings. Up close, they look a little messy.

“The collage part of those pieces sort of made them a little kitsch, I think,” Caveney says, his slight southern drawl coming through. “It gave those art pieces kind of white-trash spin. I'm a combination of that, you know—the fine art and the white trash and the street.”

He laughs and looks up at the mishmash of IKEA lights dangling precariously above his head.

“The Garage is kind of like that, too,” he says.

Caveney has been doing a show each month in The Garage since 2008. At first, he did it to show works by artists he thought deserved some attention. Eventually, though, he started conjuring up curatorial themes and putting out calls to artists worldwide. And from big, sound-art group shows to an annual bartering exhibition, there seems to be no limit to where he'll let the gallery go.

“Larry is very, very supportive,” says ChauDavis, who's shown in The Garage several times. “I did a week-long installation here once, and, every so often, Larry would kind of look at me and say things like, ‘Well, that sounds kind of crazy, but go ahead and go with it anyway.' He's quietly doing really significant stuff here.”

When Caveney started clearing out his garage to show other people's work, though, it wasn't completely selfless. At the time, he was making paintings and sculptures and he felt like he was getting too far into his own head.

“I felt isolated when I was painting—too removed,” he explains. “Part of the thing that satisfies me about performance art is overcoming the shyness and meeting people and pushing myself out there in a very kind of audacious way with humor. One way to get myself out of my head was sharing this space with other artists.”

And even though he admits he's getting worn out by The Garage—he'll be dropping down to a show every other month after March's Women and Landscapes exhibition—he says the experience has helped him with his own work. He's been inspired by the responses he's been getting when he puts out calls to artists. He recently called on people to help him with one of his new pet projects, which he hopes to turn into a traveling exhibition and a coffee-table book.

“I put out a call for ‘Pencil Scars Memories,'” he says. “It just occurred to me: I wonder how many had that prick of pain, that tattooed memory of jabbing a pencil into their skin?” The space has encouraged Caveney to keep generating ideas and reaching out to see who responds. In turn, he hopes he's inspired a few artists to make art they couldn't get away with anywhere else in what he calls the “vanilla state” of San Diego's cultural landscape.

“Let's experiment—that's all I want,” he says. “But I've gotten a lot of flak over that. I've had people who were formally trained coming in here saying things like, ‘I wouldn't hang that in my dog's house.' And I have to tell them that's not what this is about.”


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