By Allison Arnold
Walking through the doors of Nomad Gallery at The Morton, 55 Ionia Ave. NW, visitors can reimagine the space as it was in the 1920s, The Morton Hotel. What was once a grand lobby filled with wandering guests is now a vast space filled with art.
Nomad Gallery is artist and curator Richard App’s latest venture, created in cooperation with Rockford Construction. The bittersweet closing of the Richard App Gallery in 2018 did not mark the end for App, but a new beginning — with an interesting twist.
After 17 years of owning the Richard App Gallery on Cherry Street, App wanted to do something different. While the upper levels of The Morton are home to apartments, there is no permanent tenant for the basement and first two floors of the building, which have been vacant for the last five years. The goal of App’s partnership with Rockford Construction is to bring spaces to life through art in hopes of attracting a permanent tenant.
“Nomad Gallery is a traveling gallery that activates space by putting in artwork,” App said. Lending to the name, Nomad Gallery temporarily will activate vacant spaces through art, bringing visibility to the available building before moving to a new space.
“The sense of curiosity walking into this building and not knowing what it looked like or knowing what it looked like and seeing what it looks like now hopefully drives you to come in and, hopefully, the quality of the work does the same thing,” App said.
Given the grand, over 17,000-square-foot space, App has been able to host pieces by multiple artists at a time, including numerous ArtPrize winners, in addition to featuring large pieces of art that wouldn’t typically fit in a traditional gallery space.
What’s exciting to App, he said, is being able to do projects unique to the space he’s in.
“The idea is to do some radically different shows than what you’d see at most brick-and-mortar galleries,” he said. “You have to change to be relevant, and I think that’s what we’re doing here.”
Among the artists most recently featured at Nomad Gallery are Maggie Bandstra and Keemo. Visitors will find bold colors and shapes, clean lines and deep meaning in Keemo’s paintings, often depicting abstract images of faces and animals. Bandstra is a Grand Haven-based artist whose pottery and colorful paintings are reflective of nature and landscapes. Her ArtPrize 10 entry, “Converging Realities #PrettyProject,” now lines the gallery’s walls. Inspired by photographs on social media with the hashtag “#pretty,” Bandstra created a series of 48 paintings during ArtPrize depicting these images.
In the basement of Nomad Gallery, visitors will find the original bank vault from the former Kent State Bank, filled with works of art by various artists, recently including that of local painter Paul Collins.
Woodblock-printed and silkscreened draperies gracefully hang from the ceiling in the exhibit, “The Prey-Beasts and the Lawless Forest,” by artist Amelia Volwiler-Stanley; while local artist Corey Van Duinen’s 9-by-5.5-foot woodworking piece, “Narcissus in the Garden of Malcontent,” stands tall in its own cove nearby. In 2018, “Narcissus in the Garden of Malcontent” won top juried selection at the second annual Experience Art Rapids in Elk Rapids.
While the gallery often features local works, App also intends to branch out beyond the Mitten. “My idea is to really kind of branch out as much as I can and bring in artists not just from West Michigan, but from all over to introduce people to artists from outside Grand Rapids and really get them in the space by doing so,” he said.
Find Nomad Gallery by Richard App on Facebook
Photos by Johnny Quirin