The car full of strangers barreled downhill with the lights of Downtown suspended in the glass windows. I was new here and lost. That night nearly five years ago, those strangers who became friends took me to the triangle of DIY galleries on Fourth Street that the Small Engine Gallery calls home. We leaned on trucks in the parking lot while a band inside played Wire and Misfits covers and I began to see Albuquerque as a place that I could call home. In the years that have passed since then, Small Engine Gallery hosted innumerable art, music and literary events, but was closed in recent years. As of Oct. 2, the gallery is open and people and music again spill from the doors into the parking lot.
With an exhibition titled How to Have a Good Time, Small Engine Gallery reopened under the direction of local artists Bradford Erickson and Jackie Riccio. This preliminary group exhibition explored “traditional American entertainment” via art that depicted alcohol, tobacco, firearms and marijuana. The tongue-in-cheek exhibition came right on the heels of Riccio and Erickson acquiring the gallery, yet “we were amazed by the turn out of local artists and their interest in the space, which we credit to all of the past owners for creating a name and face for the Small Engine Gallery,” said Riccio.
“I've seen, and missed, too many good shows throughout the years at the Small Engine to list,” said Erickson. “This space has a legacy of hosting experimental artists and musicians. We feared we'd lose the space to someone who would use the place differently.” Riccio and Erickson jumped at the chance to become caretakers of the gallery. The latest incarnation of Small Engine aims to showcase experimental local art and provide a platform for other sorts of performance, from music to poetry. “We want to set a precedent of 'anything goes,'” Riccio said, “to say: 'the stranger it is, the better.'” The conviction of Riccio and Erickson is reflected in their commitment to exposure and experimentation over profit. “We're not concerned with the sale of art,” Erickson said. Instead, they intend to curate shows that explore the work that comes out of this unique time and place, the “new channels of thinking that mass media has cultivated,” Riccio suggested, and the work of “young artists who are working in the digital age.” Not least of all, Erickson said, they want to create a space where “all parties involved enjoy themselves—both contributing artists as well as gallery visitors,” an aspiration very much aligned with the history of the space in all its incarnations. Approaching curation with open-mindedness and an attitude of “anything goes” will likely provide visitors with a unique experience at each event.
A new exhibit opens this Friday, one which will give visitors the opportunity to not just enjoy themselves, but delve deeper into the contexts and ideas that are taking root at the latest manifestation of the gallery. Titled Tomfoolery, the exhibition showcases the work of three artists working in collaboration with one another on art that “highlights the foolishness and mischief of our processes” said Riccio, while moving beyond the confines of traditional painting. While still utilizing canvases and oil paints, the artists also incorporate wood, spray foam, neon colors and plastics to achieve their lively effect. Each artist has also independently created a sculpture piece for the show that further emphasizes their unique approach to creation, particularly when they are viewed side by side. In Tomfoolery, artists Sam McBride, Russell Arthur Bauer and Jackie Riccio have created works that illustrate the power of synergistic effort as well as individual perspective. In the mission statement composed for the reinvented Small Engine Gallery space, Riccio and Erickson express the desire to explore the “millennial era” of experimental art in Albuquerque, an era, Riccio says, that plants artists on the cusp of societal changes, largely due to the expansive role of technology in our lives.
As more spaces like the Small Engine Gallery are created or re-established, where axioms like “the stranger the better” are embraced, community members gain the opportunity to access new ideas and aesthetics in a physical space. The DIY art dialogue continues at Small Engine this Friday, Oct. 16, between 6 and 10pm for the opening of Tomfoolery.