The motto of Shelter In Place Gallery is “Giving Boston artists an opportunity to make ‘large scale’ work from their shelter in place locations.”
It epitomizes one of the ways the Boston art scene is responding to coronavirus restrictions. Since artist Eben Haines began offering exhibitions there last month, it has presented work by about a dozen artists.
“It’s kind of pulling people out of their claustrophobic crisis brain for a minute to think about something else and change the way you work,” Haines says. “It forces you to change your perspective and focus your efforts on something you’d not usually make.”
The gallery, as seen in impeccable photos on Instagram, appears to be an industrial loft space, with big windows along one wall and skylights at the top of the peaked roof that let in gauzy sunlight that flatters the paintings and sculptures. A table sits to the side with a laptop open on top. Photos document artworks in the process of being unpacked from shipping crates.
In fact, Shelter In Place Gallery is an illusion, an exquisite tiny model 20 inches wide by 30 inches long and 17 ½ inches to the peak of the roof. One inch equals one foot—including in the artworks. Haines says he “painted everything to look old and crappy and water-damaged from the leaky skylight.”
“I try to make it as realistic as possible in a ridiculous way,” Haines says. “… In my opinion, it’s an extremely silly project. It’s the kind of idea that nobody would really care about except for now when we have no choice.”
Despite Haines’s humility, Shelter In Place Gallery feels important right now. It represents a form of ingenuity and magical thinking about the problem of galleries being shuttered and gatherings prohibited to stem the spread of coronavirus. It’s a sort of mental oasis, a dream place, in which we stumble toward ways to keep going.
Haines usually works at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts designing graphics like exhibition labels for paintings. But coronavirus has left the institution shut down since the evening of March 12. “When the museum closed everything became very real,” the Boston native says.
In a corner of his apartment in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood, Haines found a model he’d begun in spring 2019. “About a year ago, I started making a tiny gallery when the weather was weird and I had trouble getting to the studio,” Haines says. He originally imagined it as his “ideal studio space,” a place to try out “big installation ideas.” But he’d set it aside unfinished.
Staying home because of coronavirus, Haines says, “I found how difficult it is going from an actual studio to a table in my apartment.” Many artists are going through the same thing. So he got working again on the model.
About two weeks after the MFA closed, Haines began presenting exhibitions in the tiny Shelter In Place Gallery via Instagram. Artists mail or drop off their work. The exhibitions “usually last, like, four days. I do an install shot with all the crates and things packed up still. Then three days of far away and close-up shots and a video tour.”
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Into the modern marvel of the moving image! Perhaps the best way to experience this immersive work by @petezoid . . . “All about electricity, sun spots, static, glass shards and disco rhythms, bossa nova to taste.” -Peter Kazantsev . . . #miniature #sunspots #brokenglass #tinyart #shiny #modernmarvels
His parents, who are both artists, were featured first. Then he exhibited friends. “Right now it’s pretty much open submission,” he says. “Our calendar is booked up for the next couple weeks.”
“I want to show Boston area art because that’s the community I’m part of,” Haines says. “It’s also easier than having people go to the post office and have them expose themselves and all that business.”
“It’s not a commercial gallery,” Haines says. Though he hopes the artists are able to sell their work directly. “It’s a place to show art, which feels really hard to come by in this city.”
Haines sees Shelter In Place Gallery as a place for artists to experiment—and have a visual record they can show to galleries and curators later to manifest the ideas full-sized. “It seems like it’s been an impetus for people to start making work instead of watching Netflix or whatever else we do in our quarantine lives,” Haines says.
“I’m gearing up for my own solo show in there,” Haines says. Planned for mid May, it would combine larger paintings than he usually makes with furniture—a chair, a cabinet filled with bricks and dirt and plants. “It’s about the uselessness of empire building,” he says. “We create these empires that do little but hurt people and make people famous. What’s the point of that?”
Haines says, “That’s been one of the best things about this. I can actually try out these weird ideas I have and see what they look like.”
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