Mobile Venues Bring Artists’ Work Beyond “The White Cube”

"White Cube Backpack" by Megan Galvin.

Megan Galvin is a recent visual studies graduate from Grand Valley State University on a mission to remind us all to keep re-imagining the world.

“I am interested in how and when people feel a sense of togetherness, and I want to investigate and celebrate that in my work,” she said.

Galvin’s ArtPrize 10 exhibition reflects that desire. The “White Cube Backpack” project is a series of mobile venues, each displaying work by one of three artists. GR|MAG spoke with Galvin to find out more about her work and the impact she hopes it has.

"White Cube Backpack" is a mobile ArtPrize venue showing off the work of three artists throughout the city.
“White Cube Backpack” is a mobile ArtPrize venue showing off the work of three artists throughout the city.

GR|MAG: Megan, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us about your “White Cube Backpack” project. It’s such a unique idea. What can you tell us about the project?

MG: White cube backpacks are mobile, wearable exhibition spaces and registered ArtPrize 10 venues showing work by local and international artists, Jeremie Riggleman, Amabilia Fortis and Romina Ressia Rahhal. There are nine backpacks altogether.

GR|MAG: We know that the “White Cube Backpack” is the first ever ArtPrize venue of its kind. Let’s talk inspiration — Where did this idea come from?

MG: The backpacks were inspired by conversations around “the white cube” which is a term in art theory that critiques institutional spaces like galleries and museums. The idea is that these white-walled spaces are a very limiting means for people to experience art, and they are not really for everyone. White cube backpack is a practice of imagining new ways for art to be in public life.

GR|MAG: Tell us about the three artists involved.

MG: I am very excited to be hosting work by three incredible artists, all of which are doing really exciting things in their work.

Riggleman’s project is a sculptural series called “Half-Ass Sheep.” The sculptures are reminiscent of lawn art and are quite the crowd hit because they are very clever. They are approachable but have this curious, open-ended narrative.

Fortis, the most local artist, is from Royal Oak, Michigan, and is showing a really stunning series of paintings that celebrate the beauty of female breasts. I’m excited about the timing of showing this work because I think it really speaks to the solidarity with women that we’re seeing more and more of, especially in light of current events in the news.

Romina Ressia Rahhal is from Argentina and is very accomplished internationally. The portrait series shown in the backpacks have been shown all over the world in major cities. It is cool to bring this series to Grand Rapids in a different way than it has ever been shown before.

GR|MAG: We know part of your motivation in creating this project was to bring an alternative form of displaying art that may be socioeconomically inaccessible to others. Would you call this a movement?

MG: I think that in a lot of circles there is a call for better art culture. I wouldn’t call the backpacks a movement, but I think there are a lot of groups, with whom I feel aligned with, that are collectively moving toward imagining and forming new ways for art and artists to be and be supported in the world.

I think “White Cube Backpack” is one way to put some of those ideals into practice. “White Cube Backpack” is for the public, the people, which is so many different communities. It is especially for people who don’t feel welcome in institutions. And I think the backpacks are meant to make a statement that it doesn’t have to be this way.

GR|MAG: Have you experimented with the “White Cube Backpack” anywhere else? What were peoples’ reactions like? What kinds of reactions are you expecting for ArtPrize 10?

MG: Earlier this spring I did a series of shows called “Artlift.” The shows took place along South Division in downtown Grand Rapids, or the Avenue for the Arts, during first Fridays. Throughout the series, I got to work with and show art by local artists, JoLee Kirkikis, Jane Dandron, TJ Mathieu, and Steven Miner. Reactions to the show were kind of all over the board. Some people get what’s going on right away, and others need a moment to get past the spectacle of it. I think in general, the backpacks are unexpected and unconventional, so they are received by surprised viewers, and that’s also what I’m expecting during ArtPrize 10.

GR|MAG: Where will we catch you around town if we want to see you during ArtPrize?

MG: It’s hard to guarantee where the backpacks will be at any given time, but I can say that you can keep an eye out for them during ArtPrize open hours, which are Monday through Friday from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday noon-8 p.m., and Sunday from noon – 6 p.m.

GR|MAG: Let’s talk more about how others can get involved with the White Cube Backpack team and what that would look like.

MG: People who are interested in getting involved can join the White Cube Backpack team by signing up for a shift to wear a backpack on the sign up page, or just come on by the ArtPrize volunteer lounge (on the third floor of the MLive building, 169 Monroe NW), say hello and pick up a backpack venue.

Shifts are about an hour and a half long but can be longer or shorter than that depending on the volunteer’s preferences. Volunteers can go out and experience ArtPrize however they’d like and go wherever they’d like. It is really quite fun and has been a cool way to meet new people.

GR|MAG: In one sentence or less, what is the one thing you want everyone to take away from this project?

MG: “White Cube Backpack” is a labor of love, one that I hope reminds us to keep re-imagining the world.

*Featured photo courtesy of Steven Miner. All other photos courtesy of Megan Galvin.

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