Last night I met with Justin Iverson, Anthony Zappa and Stephen Read, three of the five principals of the new PRØVE Gallery in Downtown Duluth. When I arrived I found the young men immersed in preparations for Friday evenings opening of PRØVE Gallery Second. The reception will run from 7 pm to 11 pm. I encourage Twin Ports arts followers to stop in at 21 North Lake Ave to catch some of the most progressive art action in the upper Midwest. Despite the looming deadline Iverson, Zappa and Read allowed me to interrupt, offering up chairs so we could chat in more depth about the vision and story behind PRØVE.
Several of the artists involved with the collective had been UMD art students involved with the two shows last year at the former European Bakery on First Street. Nearly all of them had other plans after graduation, but for some those plans fell through. As they discussed the year ahead the notion emerged of creating an art space independent of the commercial aims other galleries must grapple with in order to remain solvent. Their focus would be on extending the boundaries that restrict other galleries in the region.
While some of their peers moved away, this group was not about to sit idly by waiting for the next bus to somewhere. They set about to bloom where they were already planted. “We saw this as an opportunity to get experience and to build our portfolios,” said Iverson.
“We’re learning how to run a gallery,” said Read. Features of the gallery include having a space that is large and offering a gallery without some of the rules that restrict artists in other spaces. Zappa noted, for example, that the Duluth Art Institute doesn’t allow students to have shows. "We also want to create opportunities for emerging artists.”
As for positioning, the men indicated that they were inspired by the Ochre Ghost, which has limited space but has established itself as a venue for new creative work. The size of their space at the PRØVE allows them to take this to another level, but with a different ambiance than the Tweed. It’s neither a salon gallery or a commercial gallery, but it is definitely a serious endeavor.
“We’re all trying to get into grad school,” Zappa said. “This gives us something that we can build on. We’re not just looking for ‘anything.’”
Rick Hansen of Sound Unseen and Nickolas Monson are the fourth and fifth members of gallery team. The former student artists were introduced to Hansen through UMD grad Leon Nyarecha, a film maker now in Santa Monica. One of the men here said, “Rick made this all possible.”
I was impressed at the respect the students had for what was happening in the arts here in the Twin Ports, even if they were defining a somewhat different path for themselves. Read stated that most of the galleries were focused on tourism instead of being art galleries per se. They were selling art products as a business venture, hence the prevalence of paintings of the aerial lift bridge and the lake. “We’re all influenced by the lake but we’re not trying to make art just to sell,” he explained.
I asked what each was trying to achieve with his work. Iverson indicated that he was intrigued by kinetics, striving to incorporate that interest into his process. One of the others affirmed that he was indeed very process oriented. Iverson liked working with mixed materials.
Zappa’s interests led him to deal with issues surrounding perceptions of space. “I like to force people to acknowledge their presence” and to cause them to have more awareness of space and movement.
The best part of the collective, Read said, was the sharing of ideas. This second show would include more works by friends, volunteers and supporters. "Without them we wouldn’t be here. The first show was an introduction to the gallery with this show intended to be the beginning of a conversation after the introduction." Ten more shows will follow.
When I got home afterwards I realized I’d neglected to ask where the name of the gallery came from and contacted Hansen who replied that PRØVE was “a Norwegian word that means about the same as the word prove in English. It seemed to match what we were trying to accomplish with the gallery. Plus we really liked the O with the / as a symbol.”
Friday night’s event will feature art by Alexander Hanson, Nikki Burger, Michael Beachy, Brittany Sanford, Zach Gorr, Anthony Zappa, Justin Iverson, Nickolas Monson and Steven J. Read. It is free and open to the public.
Local sponsors of PRØVE Gallery Second include Sons of Norway, Carmody Irish Pub, Clyde Iron Works, Sherwin Williams, The Crunchy Bunch and Sound Unseen.