In a time when physical gallery spaces are becoming more and more scarce, Jacob Rhodes runs a dynamic space in the heart of New York’s art district dedicated to giving emerging and mid-career artists a platform to exhibit their work. This artist-run gallery, Field Projects, hosts a diverse range of monthly and pop-up exhibitions that are curated by a number of guest curators, all of which prove to be as thought-provoking and captivating as the last. Having an academic background studying studio art, and also being an accomplished artist, Rhodes seems to possess a keen eye for new talent and an understanding of the important role collaboration has in the arts.
As an artist himself, Rhodes’ personal work investigates the place of masculinity in today’s culture as well as the dangers that exist in the interactions within the homo-social sphere.
Join us as we discuss with the artist his eclectic background in the US Army and Yale School of Art, as well as finding a balance between creating his own work and running such an ambitious and eventful space like Field Projects.
AMM: Hi Jacob! You’ve got quite a history behind you being into music, US Army, art college and Yale School of Art. Could you highlight relevant experiences throughout your life, which have impacted your today’s work at Field Projects and your own art?
JR: I grew up in a small Hispanic town in Southern California called Oxnard. There was a great Punk/DIY scene there and through teenage trial and catastrophe I learned about my own personal ethics, agency, and responsibility in a community as a producer and consumer of subculture. Playing drums, producing records, and making zines in various Punk, Riot Grrrl, and Hardcore bands brought me to places and ideas that were absent in my public school education. I learned not only how to create opportunities for myself to travel and connect with other like minded communities but to facilitate opportunities for others. This was pre-internet and we would cold call other bands, whose numbers we found in Maximum Rock N Roll zine and see if we could jump on their shows and offer them slots in our shows. One of the many ideas I found in the DIY scene that I kept with me is that there is no hierarchy between the audience and the band.
Being from a family who did not go to college I figured I would play music as long as I could while working random shitty jobs to support myself. By chance I met an art school recruiter through my day job at a video store. She suggested that all of the stuff I was making (music, zines, flyers, sketches, etc.) had a place in the art world. So I went to Otis College of Art and Design. Under a brigade of amazing conceptually driven artist-philosopher-teachers I greedily consumed ideas and expanded into territory I had only glimpsed in the Punk Scene or happened upon in an experimental video found in the back of a record store. I still draw upon those years of intense study, experimentation, risk, and debates. It was a heady time for me and I curated my first shows there, which consisted of switching the local bar’s sad-clowns on velvet art with a student group show in the school gallery. I also did my first Suitcase shows there; more on that later.
After Otis I was in deep debt for the first time in my life. So I joined the Army. They paid off my Art School, taught me the limits of my own will power and how to navigate the largest bureaucracy on the planet.
After three years in the Army I went to the Skowhegan residency and then Yale School of Art for an MFA. Skowhegan was an amazing experience of diverse cultural practices and multi economic backgrounds. Yale was my first experience with the culture of the upper class and it taught me that there is a social aspect to the art world that I wanted to dismiss; it’s not just intelligence, hard work, luck and originality, you still need access. A couple of years after I graduated I opened Field Projects in New York’s Chelsea Gallery District to create that access for those who do not have it.
For me it’s a return to my life in the Punk/DIY scene: producing subculture, showing subculture, creating opportunities for me to curate and for others to show their work.
AMM: How was Field Projects started and what were the main difficulties of setting up an artistic space in Chelsea, NYC?
JR: In my second year at Yale I built a gallery in the front of my studio. The gallery showed artists who applied to Yale but did not get in or secret alter egos of artists who make art work that the dominant ego is ashamed of. It was named Wolf Suit gallery, and it offered a Trojan horse to an Ivory Tower. A couple of years later I was working at a Lower Eastside Gallery in New York and I asked my co-worker, the artist Keri Oldham (http://kerioldham.com/) if she would like to open a projects space with me. She had us looking at places within the week. As everything in a large city like New York affordable rent is the first hurdle, after that it’s just a lot of hard work and very little recognition, but you can always find satisfaction where you set it.
As an Artist Run Space we are more hands on and expect the artists we show to have the same agency. We balance our own lives and art practices with promoting others’ practice and searching for collectors and opportunities for them.
AMM: We really love the fact that you offer opportunities to other guest curators to arrange shows in your gallery. Tell us more about how you decide to collaborate with them and what you think other curators bring to Field Projects?
JR: It’s always hard to give over your space to another but I think it’s really easy to go blind while navel gazing. So, inviting other curators in to Field Projects helps us broaden our vision of what we are and what we can be. We have an ongoing curatorial open call, where curators and artists can submit ideas for shows. Sometimes we tweak the show with the permission of the curators submitting and sometimes we don’t. Either way it’s a collaboration and community builder. We also invite guest curators for our Open Call. This is usually someone we respect and really want to work closely with, as well as broadening the opportunities for the submitters. All of the guest curators have gone on to curate exhibitions with artists they found in our Open Call, and that feels pretty great.
AMM: You’ve mentioned that you’d like to arrange travelling exhibitions in collaborations with other artist-run galleries and expand Field Projects across the US and the globe in future. What drives you to be so proactive in providing so many great opportunities to others? Could also tell us more about your vision for the travelling exhibitions?
JR: When I was at Otis I would do these Suitcase Shows, which were group shows that could fit into a suitcase.
I would organize with another curator from another place (Mumbai, Berlin, San Francisco, Hong Kong, etc.) and you would each buy an airline ticket and travel to the other curator’s location. The host curator would provide the venue and you would provide the group show. I thought of it as a snapshot of an art scene from another place, but also parameters or rules (everything has to fit in the suitcase) in which to challenge your and your artists’ creativity and invention. I was and am still thinking about putting on exhibitions like putting on punk shows: what’s the cheapest way to get exposure. And through exposure how can we meet more like minded individuals who are willing to share knowledge and build something together.
I think of Field Projects and Art as a platform where you get to share things that you are really invested in with others who are excited to think through the idea with you. It’s a place where you don’t have to be an expert but you can still get at a complexed idea. It’s also a place where failure can be the center of the idea. But what really draws me to this platform is that it’s a place where people can be honest about how weird they truly are.
AMM: We enjoy the fact that you are providing regular opportunities with the call for art, which you announce twice a year. Not many galleries provide such opportunities, and most tend to work with those artists they have links with. What’s it like, finding and choosing artists for group shows in Field Projects?
JR: The Open Call is a way we can do a lot of studio visits without having to travel the world. It’s really exciting for us because it allows us to see what’s happening beyond our immediate art scene. Sometimes we will find an artist who literally lives in my neighborhood but we have never crossed paths and other times we discover an artist from South Africa or India. About 85% of artists we show are discovered through the open call process. This year there was only one out of twelve exhibitions which was not curated out of the artist open call. And that exhibition was part of the curatorial open call. Of the eleven exhibitions we curated from the open call we did three solo exhibitions, one solo art fair, two 2-person pop-up exhibitions, three group exhibitions and two off-site group exhibitions. So I guess 85% is a conservative estimate. There is just so much good work out there and I want to show it all.
AMM: How does your own art practice influence your work in Field Projects and vice versa? How do you balance time between the two?
JR: I think my practice is rooted in the language of my youth and my experience out growing it. Because of that I look for work that uniques to the artist. Work that is operating on a high scale but that could only be created by this individual. As far as balance ….I think I operate under pressure best.
AMM: The art scene in NYC seems to be really flourishing with all the new popping art fairs and events. With the new technological progressive age, which boosts the artistic community worldwide, would you say this is a great time to be a young artist?
JR: Yeah! I think there is more agency worldwide and therefore more opportunity to find your tribe and community and get to talking about the things you want to talk about.
AMM: You’ve exhibited your own work at the Bronx Museum, Alona Kagan Gallery, New York, Federal Art Project, Los Angeles, Galerie Im Regierungsviertel, Berlin, and Bart Wells Institute, London. That’s an impressive list of international locations – how did you manage to get involved in so many opportunities?
JR: DIY beliefs, hard work, searching and recognizing opportunities, and always trying to give more than you take. Galleries and museums want to show interesting and innovative work as well as work with someone who brings their own audience, collectors and community. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
AMM: To all the emerging and mid-career artists wanting to establish their work and career as extensively as you did, what would you recommend?
JR: I’m a true believer in creating your own space to show your work. Most of us don’t fit into a mainstream aesthetic or whatever is trending in the art world. But that does not make your or my voice less significant.
AMM: What’s next for Field Projects in the coming year? Are there any exciting plans you might be able to share with us?
JR: Field Projects Berlin is in the works for 2018. This will be a collaboration between us and a couple of other Berlin Based artists. I’m excited to see what kind of exchange we can have and how the two spaces will affect each other.
Interview by Charles Ashworth for ArtMaze Mag.