Making it All Fit: The Art Behind Salon-Style
I was six years old and with my mom, at a folk art festival in Kentucky, the first time I hung a salon of tar paper and tin cut out animals on the side of an old barn. Except she didn’t call it a salon, she would say in her syrupy Lula Georgia accent, “Make everything fit, so the people can enjoy it son.” Decades later, I’m still making groups of art fit, at booths in art fairs and at our gallery. Except we don’t call it a Salon either. We call it “Red Trucking it.” It’s improvisational, it’s gonzo, it’s pretty,it’s a little trashy, it’s not fucking boring and it might make your drink seem a little stronger. The walls of the French Quarter sweat, they breathe and then transform with age and decay. Nothing is level and nothing is straight. This is New Orleans, where unabashed debauchery, gothic darkness, southern pageantry, rich spicy food, loud art and louder music coalesce and mesmerize millions of people yearly. Salon makes perfect sense here.
A salon involves arranging multiple works of art in a pattern that can vary from symmetrical to asymmetrical. More adventurous salons can involve murals, walls with untraditional color pallets, and installations specific to the space. An abandonment of a traditional all white box for a more engaging environment. It originated in nineteenth century France, at the Paris salon, as a way for artists to engage the larger public, but it was a bit different then. It suggested hierarchy. Works hung higher we’re more important than pieces at knee level. Where as modern salons have a tendency to go beyond the idea of a ranking system. A modern salon isn’t classist. It’s usually affordable and focuses on moving volume.
I was struck by Superchief's booth at the Juxtapoz clubhouse, during Miami Art Basel. The walls were wrapped in overlapping layers of murals by UFO and tags from numerous writers, creating a brilliant static background for the multitude of talents they had hanging from floor to ceiling, in an undulating wave throughout the room. It was alive, jarring, exciting, unpretentious and engaging.
Superchief Gallery's salon hang from the Juxtapoz Clubhouse
I asked both owner/curators Bill Dunleavy and Ed Zippo why they choose to hang salon, Ed answered frankly, “If I want to see the inside of my head, it’s with walls that are covered.It has nothing to do with lack of space.If I had a gallery 50 times this size, I’d do the same thing.” He also touched on the idea of abandoning hierarchy and embracing community within the hang. “The rejection of any old rule that feels inauthentic is important for the modern gallery. The age of compartmentalization and how it disrespects the artist is over. It’s nice to be within a shared hallucination, because nothing is too precious. It keeps the ego from fucking you up. It feels genuine."
Bill added, “Hanging salon is like setting up a carnival. It’s very ephemeral and site specific. I especially love arranging multiple works with things painted on a wall behind them. Doing a graffiti background gives a context for an art community beyond the pieces. Plus it’s cool to level the playing field and show established, emerging and unknown artists together.“
Which led me into the question “Fellas, what is it like to hang a salon while micro dosing?” Bill replied, “Micro-dosing makes me give a shit more about the details and engage with the sensation and spacing of the pieces.”
Ed answered simply, “ It happens five times as fast. You can see it all in front of you as an obvious pattern and you don’t need a level while you’re on acid.”
One of Paradigm Gallery's salon hangs
I once overheard a major art fair owner speaking to a gallery, about a salon in their booth, who said “Now, I’m as mercantile as the next guy, but this isn’t a poster shop in Santa Monica.” Which suggests the classism a salon hang of affordable art can confront at fairs. Typically fairs strongly discourage “Overhanging.” Jason Chen and Sarah McCorriston from Philly based Paradigm Gallery had some insightful thoughts regarding Salon, within the setting of contemporary fairs.
“I would say surviving art fairs actually influenced how crazy we went with it. We show way more affordable art than most fair oriented spaces and there’s a reason why there’s ready to wear vs. couture. I don’t like the idea of being tethered to a limited amount of collectors. All of our collectors are important.” Sarah said.
Jason elaborated further “There’s a very classist undertone to how art is presented at fairs. However, we are creating an art market and more buyers. We are cultivating collectors and an audience for them. If we don’t create the market then no one will be buying. Relying on the 1% is unrealistic.”
When I asked about their signature style of geometric groupings and beautiful symmetrical clusters, Sarah responded first by saying “Salon encourages exploration of a collection, because the collection should be considered. Art fairs can sometimes take away from the beauty of a hang and Jason hangs like a Rorschach test.”
To which Jason replied, “If artists are breaking out of the frame to do something special, then why shouldn’t the gallery? Its about being new and modern, while moving volume. We want to be relevant and approachable. We encourage our artists to make smaller works, so that forces a salon hang. It’s second nature at this point. I like it being salon but maintaining symmetry and showing collectors potential for how they can do a good layout in their homes.”
“Aside from cultivating new collectors, there’s a another reason why the fairs want galleries like us there. It’s because we make them cool.” Sarah added.
A Red Truck Gallery salon hang
Salon is cool. Salon draws a crowd. Audiences are pulled towards the wall and forced to take time to observe the grouping. To engage with a curated modern collected consciousness. Which is perfect for the younger wave of art fans, who scroll through, comment on and post images daily, through various social network platforms. Similar to how nineteenth century audiences would fill out a pamphlet, with their thoughts and opinions. However, this is much fresher territory for the day to day experience of the contemporary artist and gallery. Art shows are not just about catering to the established exclusive buyer any more. They’re about feeding the fire for the hunger of the followers, who will yield into a new generation of young collectors, posting their selfies, sharing their favorites and being inspired by creativity. A generation of image saturated fans that require a relevant presentation and dynamic spaces to hold their interest. A presentation that makes everything fit, so the people can enjoy it.––Gabriel Shaffer