Featured Exhibition (VR)

Air Mattress Gallery's
Summer Lovin'

Patrick Rolandelli | August 31, 2018

Last May Eazel attended the opening party for 2D or Not 2D, the inaugural exhibition for Air Mattress Gallery—artist/dealer Mark Demuro’s studio turned exhibition space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. One of those rarefied vestiges of the art world’s golden age—when house parties and salon shows were commonplace—the event was a confluence of artists and aesthetes spanning generations, ranging in occupation, and hailing from around the world. It would seem we had discovered something special. So upon being invited to the opening for Summer Lovin—the subsequent iteration of this novel value proposition for the art world—we knew we had to cover the event.

It was at the opening for Bloom Wilt Bloom at Elga Wimmer PCC that we first met Mark DeMuro—one of those chance art world run-ins that would beget an unforeseeable string of fruitful conversations and events. Not having done our homework before the show, Mark would introduce himself and his name wouldn’t register as one of the exhibition’s featured artists. In fact, we would leave him that evening without making the connection to his mixed media work in the other room.

That night we engaged Mark in a lively conversation about the art world that would culminate with an invitation to the opening party for 2D or Not to 2D, the inaugural exhibition for Air Mattress Gallery—his Upper West Side art studio just recently remodeled as a gallery. Once upon a time—he would explain—it doubled as a crash pad for art world friends passing through New York, hence the name. We would also learn Mark has been in New York and the art world at large since the late seventies—as an artist, curator, private dealer, art advisor—and having grown tired of the politicking entailed in making things happen for his curatorial projects he had resolved to try something new.

Brooke Holloway, It's All Easy (Flowers), Single channel HD video, color, sound, 25:11
Courtesy of the artist and Air Mattress Gallery, New York

Two weeks later we're proceeding on faith to the Upper West Side address captioned in the farcical invitation Mark passed along the day after we met. As we had been entertaining the possibility we might become the butt of some esoteric art world joke we were relieved to hear the sounds of a cocktail party fading in as we stepped off the elevator onto the second floor hallway of the pre-war hotel turned apartment building.

Entering into the party we catch sight of Mark standing in the middle of the room entertaining guests, shifting his attention back and forth between conversations and fixing people drinks, laughing uproariously at the vibrant scene around him with the same intensity he had the night we met him. All the windows of the apartment were open to a pleasant summer evening outside—the guests smoking freely and the smell of ashtrays harkening back to the bygone era when smoke-filled rooms were an inevitable part of Manhattan nightlife.

At the party we’d meet Mark’s collaborator and the co-founder of Air Mattress Gallery, Ben Peterson—a sculptor and performance artist who splits his time between Philadelphia and New York. Ben would unpack the gallery's overarching project for us, explaining how he and Mark had wanted to create a platform to show emerging talent next to established artists while developing the experience of the primary market for would-be collectors. The concept had evolved organically, he would explain—he and Mark effectively bootstrapping the operation after Mark suggested they work with the space he already had.

Looking around the room it was clear that a refined sensibility had curated the show—the presented artworks ranging from the formalist to the risky. Remarkable was how the diversity of art seemed to cooperate with the economy of space. Lauren Seiden’s Raw Wrap 22 (2015) would commandeer our attention over the course of the evening—this hulking mass of thick draft paper besmirched by graphite residue, flaunting its dirtiness at the viewer. And Paul Pagk’s Untitled (2013), an understated geometric abstraction offering a subtle invocation of the imperfect, the incomplete. There was also a balanced selection of sculptural works ranging from Peter Coffin’s rope and metal works, to Ben’s miniature porcelain sculptures with 18K gold luster. All in all, the show was a success in it’s aim to bring together youthful talent in conversation with works by more established artists.

VR Exhibition

Summer Lovin'

Air Mattress Gallery
New York

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A month later Summer Lovin’, the gallery’s second exhibition follows up true to form with another lively opening party. We return to see the program Mark and Ben have put together and we're glad to find the summer has inspired them to double down on the youthful spirit of the previous show—this time Ben stepping up as co-curator and looping into the program a few of his fellow RISD alums.

Nearly all the presented works date within the last five years—the show appearing to be making some kind of ironic statement about the world's current state of affairs. There are conceptual motifs tying together various sections of the exhibition—allusions to throwing, pushing, pulling—and it’s hard not to catch political narratives popping up here and there. The viewer empathizes with Tamara Johnson’s bright yellow Water hose, Live strong (2015) as it hangs from a perch on the back wall in a melancholic pose. Vying to be the exhibition’s centerpiece Brooke Holloway’s eerie conceptual video installation, It’s All Easy (Flowers) (2017) palms off on the viewer something of a postmodern moment. Part of a four channel series exploring the space between our society’s media culture and its politics the work features the artist playing a hyperbolic female character in a WikiHow video that candidly explains how to incite a revolution. The blank expression over Brooke’s face is offset by Sean Gerstley’s lighthearted Tripod Planters (2018) framing the sides of the LCD display. Fixed onto the opposite wall, Duhirwe Rushemeza’s concrete sculpture, Untitled (2018) explores a transcultural narrative—the work seeming to be lost in time, tatters of this alien pattern printed in metallic brass peeling away to reveal layers of red and dayglo yellow oil paint.

Michael Stablein Jr., White Ally presented in Summer Lovin', 2017, HD digital video, 8min
Courtesy of the artist and Air Mattress Gallery, New York

Reflecting on the excitement in the room—the crowd larger and more diverse this time around—it's clear to us that Mark and Ben are on to something. While at times it would seem the economics of showing emerging artists in a metropolitan hub like New York are impossible, it would seem resourcefulness coupled with good intentions have a way of begetting novel solutions.

Air Mattress Gallery is part of a new trend that's bringing the house party back to the art world. Established as an artist's space for artists on Manhattan's Upper West Side, you can visit by appointment, but the invitation only parties and events eschew the corporate feel of Chelsea in favor of a free wheeling good time 2018 Salon vibe. The gallery mixes established and emerging artists in theme curated exhibitions, with intelligence and humor as determining factors .

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