Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ochre Ghost, R.I.P.

Gartman's Fever Dream set the tone.
Last weekend I attended a funeral celebration for Ochre Ghost Gallery, the edgy trailblazing Duluth art gallery that just completed a three year run. From the first that I became aware of this tiniest of spaces I recognized it as an original. One of its earliest shows – King Ghost by the Crim City Collective -- garnered national attention for its collaborative outside-the-box expression.

The Ochre Ghost did plenty to energize our local arts community, and will be missed as part of the monthly Second Friday art crawl that evolved over the past few years. The gallery’s existence owes a debt to co-founder Jessica Liszewski for whom owning a gallery had been a longtime dream.

Jessica Liszewski is also an artist.
"Before moving to Duluth in late 2008 I had the opportunity to come up and check it out (the Duluth arts scene) quite a few times. I was excited to see a city of modest size offer so many opportunities for its folk to engage in the arts,” said Liszewski. “This was ultimately one of my motivators to change location. On the surface Duluth appears to have a disproportionately large number of arts groups for its size. From performance art to music to visual art, there really is a lot going on here. After a few months of being a Duluth resident I began to notice the mainstream and somewhat tourist-centric nature of a lot of it.

“Along with this discovery, however, I was slowly being introduced to some of Duluth’s hidden gems, both artists and venues. I was excited about what was already happening but recognized the potential for more variety, more guts…. I’m thrilled I happened to be living here when I could no longer ignore my dream to open an art gallery.”

The "Big Iris" was a treat. (R.Rosvall b.g.)
Annie Dugan, curator at the Duluth Art Institute, expressed a lot of peoples’ feelings when she said, “Ochre Ghost was an amazing space for fresh voices, risk taking, and pure joy in the arts scene in Duluth. It gave an anchor space for experimentation and exaltation of contemporary arts, not to mention amazing parties. The founders, volunteers, artists, and audiences that built and sustained Ochre Ghost for its fabulous run should be incredibly proud of what they accomplished. The Ochre Ghost spirit will definitely live on!”

The founders of another new gallery in town, the PROVE, were notably influenced by what the Ochre Ghost was doing. The collective sought out and re-purposed an unused space, transforming it into a significant voice in the arts scene here. People were quickly aware of its presence. “Ochre Ghost's bravery was what impressed me the most,” says Richard Hansen, co-founder of the PRØVE who also does double-duty in managing the DuSu Film Festival. “From the initial concept through to the art and events they produced, they exhibited the highest level of courage.” FWIW, the PRØVE is celebrating its 2nd birthday this week during Friday night’s Twin Ports Gallery Hop, a good night to be out and about.

The gallery brought a wide range of new work to its doors.
Nick Monson, another co-founder of the PRØVE, expressed shock and surprise when he heard the Ochre Ghost was shutting its doors. “Ochre Ghost was an important asset to the local art community; exceptional in the freedom they provided artists and the variety of art and performance they hosted.” In addition to calling it a vital part of the Twin Ports arts, music, and cultural scene for the last three years he said they will be greatly missed.

“I have been fortunate to call them friends, allies, and compatriots in the fight to bring great art to our community and to expose up and coming artists to greater audiences,” Monson said. ‘Since PRØVE was founded two years ago, we have partnered with OG to make second Fridays a night to be remembered. Other organizations have joined in this effort, and through this we have all helped to energize the growing arts movement in Duluth.

“Ochre Ghost has provided a space where artists and performers have had unprecedented freedom to create unique experiences, one where they could truly have the power to transform a room into something original. Because of this I have attended some of the most creative installations, and seen a variety of work that we rarely have the opportunity to find in the Northland.”

The Crim City Collective found an audience and later produced a DAI Show.
What stands out most is the generosity of the gallery. Ochre Ghost gave its heart, its passion for the arts, to the city. The gallery was a passion of all who were involved. They used their own money to pay the bills, to fund the promotions, to make the experience a special one both for the artists and the public. “The amount of dedication, work, time, and their own money that went into creating this space is something that few of us can really understand,” said Monson.

Nancy Miller with her mosaic Bust of Dylan.
Liszewski, who works as a server at Tycoons, is for now is letting go of the reigns. Her current gallery collaborator Gustav is likewise in the restaurant trade at Sara’s Table. Says Liszewski, “Since opening the gallery in 2010 I have definitely become more active in the Duluth arts scene. It seems to me we’ve gained a lot of momentum this past year. We’re at a point now where we’re developing partnerships and moving forward as a city that supports more diversity in the arts. Annie Dugan at the Duluth Art Institute is doing a lot to make this happen. She’s been working really hard to use the support the DAI already gets from the community to help spread the word about lots of cool stuff that’s happening.”

Oddio Nib
The passing of Ochre Ghost may be disheartening to some, but its very existence demonstrated that there is a vibrancy in the community that is fostering a greater degree of experimentation and exploration as regards what is possible in the Twin Ports. Whether the Ghost ever re-opens or not, Nick Monson summed up many of our sentiments when he said, “I will remember them with the utmost respect and admiration. We have all lost a great friend, but we will never lose the memories.”

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Dylan Days 2011 included several pieces of my own. Thanks, Jessica!

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