Approaching a seemingly random door on E Street across from the Downtown police station, there's no way of knowing what's on the other side. But just as Alice stepped through the looking glass and discovered a unique and fascinating world, those who cross that threshold will enter a spectacle indicative of San Diego's artistic talent.
Inside the 6,000-foot space is where Warehouse 1425, a one-night-only art show featuring 35 local artists, will occur. The warehouse, located at 1425 E St. (hence the show's title), is among a row of dreary warehouses.
The building was dilapidated in some sections—a result of an interior demolition a month ago—but colorful streetstyle murals from Dave Persue and Exist 1981 gave a taste of what's to come. Walking through the space in its infancy and seeing those pieces felt like discovering an emerald among a pile of plastic dollar-store jewels.
"This show is going to kind of activate this area and bring the kind of people that never even come through here, and they're going to be blown away," says artist Christopher Konecki, who's curating and showcasing work at Warehouse 1425. "There's just random stuff everywhere in this neighborhood, and people are going to walk into a warehouse and just be blown away. It's going to be bright. It's going to be colorful. It's going to be rad."
Along with murals, Warehouse 1425—happening from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, May 17—will include large-scale installations, paintings on traditional canvas and an interactive art wall where attendees can make their own art. Participating artists include NEKO, Alli Bautista, Brian Hebets, Carly Ealey, Bradford Lynn, Paul Drohan, Tocayo and James Norton. There will also be live music by Family Wagon, Spirit Vine and Dirty Sirens; DJ sounds from Persue and Sake; and a cash bar to get the party lubricated. A children's hour will be held from 5 to 6 p.m.
If the event sounds familiar, there's a reason. Unsolicited emails from people in the local art community have been sent to CityBeat blasting the show as a rip-off of Parachute Factory, a pop-up art exhibition put on in February by arts nonprofit Sezio and the arts collective Yeller Studio.
Parachute Factory featured many of the same artists who are participating in Warehouse 1425, including Konecki, each creating installation pieces in a Downtown building that was set to be completely renovated. The similarity between the two projects has left a bitter taste in some mouths.
In an email sent from an artist who wishes to remain anonymous, the project is called "tasteless" for its resemblance to Parachute Factory. The artist writes: "We have a unique opportunity to develop San Diego as an arts community and explicitly using someone else's idea does less to strengthen that community bond as much as it perpetuates petty competition (which develops easily in such a small arts scene)."
And this from another artist: "Further than that, from what I understand this is being put on at the behest of a company called Digital Operative and a client in order to sell this building. Digital Operative is a competitor of Mindgruve, who provided the space for the Parachute Factory show. Chris Konecki was an artist at Parachute Factory and works for Digital Operative. He's now organizing this new show, Warehouse 1425. It doesn't take a genius to connect the dots. I've also been told the artists are getting paid far less for this show, even though there's ostensibly a budget provided by said client. On top of that, they are charging at the door. Yeller/Sezio had no budget and distributed the vast majority of the Parachute Factory door funds to the participating artists."
Konecki does work at Digital Operative. The marketing agency was hired by LPP, a company owned by Lankford & Associates, Portman Holdings, Phelps Development and the Navarra Family, owners of Jerome's Furniture, to transform the warehouse and, ultimately, turn the immediate area—Broadway to F Street, 14th to 16th streets—into an arts district. LPP owns several nearby buildings.
Konecki disclosed all of that information to CityBeat before the critical emails arrived, and he says he was approached by Digital Operative's marketing strategist, Eric Hanser, to curate the show after Hanser had gone to a few other arts organizations, including Sezio and Yeller Studio, and was turned down. Konecki took on the job with the stipulation that participating artists must split 100 percent of the door and take home every cent from the art they sell. Parachute Factory didn't do the latter. Konecki will profit only as a participating artist.
Konecki also insisted that part of the budget for Warehouse 1425 be given to artists for materials. Each artist received $50, which he acknowledges isn't much but is a gesture he felt was important. Parachute artists were not given money up front for materials.
"I'm not really shocked. It's par for the course," says Konecki about the criticism. "But are we"—Digital Operative and he as the curator—"profiting from this show? Absolutely not. Whoever said that is a fucktard. If anyone wants to talk their shit, they can come down here and ask me about it. I'm not hiding behind anything. I've poured my heart into this."
As for being called a copycat of Parachute Factory, Konecki laughs it off, saying that Parachute wasn't the first warehouse art show the world's ever seen. He applauds the organizers of Parachute Factory and believes the local art community will only benefit from more shows like it.
Sezio's Zack Nielsen agrees.
"I, for one, am in complete support of it," he says. "Overall, how could you argue with more creativity and unique art in San Diego? If not for something like that, I don't think you're in for the whole art scene."
Yeller Studios wrote a post on its Facebook page distancing itself from Warehouse 1425: "Let it be known that Yeller has no connection to this exhibition and it's in no way connected to Parachute Factory," the post read, in part. "Instead, it's being put together by local marketing firm Digital Operative."
When asked about it via email, Yeller's Michael Tussey said the post was the best way to clarify things.
"Frankly, we're excited the artists involved in the Parachute Factory have been given another opportunity to show their work so soon after our show," Tussey says. "They're all incredible talents and deserve as much attention as possible. We have yet to see seen any outrage, but we live sheltered lives and prefer good vibes."