New digs and a new outlook for CRUXspace gallery
More than a year after closing its doors, CRUXspace, Philadelphia’s first art gallery dedicated to new media, is back on the map. Now operating out of the Piazza’s bustling WeWork Northern Liberties coworking hub, founder Andrew Cameron Zahn and lead curator Kim Brickley have creatively sidestepped many of the pitfalls inherent to operating a DIY art space in this city. Contributor Chip Schwartz reports on where CRUxspace has been and where they’re going, with a brief nod to their current exhibition, “One Minute Auras” — the first of several multi-month shows planned for this year.

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Back in 2014, Andrew Cameron Zahn acquired a building at 7th and Master Streets, just north of Girard, in order to fill an important gap in Philly’s artistic landscape. While a number of places around town sometimes engaged with the types of digital and web-based media that Zahn hoped to cultivate, no single location specialized in these art forms, so he founded CRUXspace to provide Philadelphia with its first dedicated space for new media art.

After refurbishing the first floor into a gallery, now-director Zahn and lead curator Kim Brickley began to assemble an array of projects, including video art, 3D printing, visualizations of internet data, generative art, and more. CRUXspace provided an atmosphere in which new and experimental ideas could be tested and exhibited, but logistical problems abounded. In September 2016, after hosting Digital Fringe, as part of the annual Fringe Arts Festival, Zahn and Brickley decided it was time to shut down.

CRUXspace on Master Street.
CRUXspace on Master Street.

“We closed the original gallery because it really wasn’t working for us,” Zahn explains, “The intention was never to close permanently, but we needed a change, so we set out to find another site and rethink what we had been doing.”

Gallery hours were rarely if ever available due to a lack of staff, and as with many artist-run spaces, while people might show up to openings to engage with the artwork or merely to drink wine and mingle, the gallery would sit more or less vacant for the remainder of the time. And operating out of a speakeasy-like, nondescript building in an otherwise residential neighborhood did not help to get visitors through the doors. That’s not to mention the fundamental complications of selling New Media art.

Moving into the future

Zahn, who had already been renting space for his web design business from WeWork, a co-working facility on Walnut Street, began talking to management about the possibility of a one-off show at WeWork’s Northern Liberties location. As negotiations progressed, that individual exhibit morphed into something larger, and by the time CRUXspace reopened in mid-February of this year, they had secured a year’s worth of multi-month-long displays in their spacious new home.

CRUXspace’s current show, “One Minute Auras,” includes work by Sadaf Rassoul Cameron, Enrica Ferraro, Julia Staples, Evi Numen, Angela McQuillan, Heather Ujiie, and Mina Zarfsaz. The idea for this show came out of the social upheaval that erupted after the mess that was the 2016 election. Although the show itself is not overtly political, it is consciously all-female, and stems directly from discussions between Zahn and Brickley about how to respond to hostile attitudes towards women in an increasingly complicated political climate.

Much has changed for CRUXspace, its artists and its staff since the move, including bringing WeWork community manager Eliza Serocki on as an additional collaborator. The shared space presents a litany of new challenges and opportunities. There are restrictions on photography, for instance, that an independent gallery wouldn’t have to cope with, and rules for hanging and displaying artwork too. These make things like large-scale installations or overly invasive work entirely out of the question. While parameters like these might initially appear troublesome, as any creative individual knows, boundaries can also help encourage inventive solutions and workarounds.

“The work on display right now still relies on digital technologies, but we decided to take a different approach and include lots of static, two-dimensional pieces as an experiment in our new setting,” says Zahn.

CRUXspace opening at WeWork Northern Liberties.
CRUXspace opening at WeWork Northern Liberties.

One advantage of relocating to WeWork is undeniable: foot traffic. Anybody who has even the slightest grasp of real estate knows the value of location, and operating out of a heavily-used, centrally located, multipurpose facility will certainly boost CRUXspace’s audience. Additionally, the fully-staffed operation makes visiting the art on display much easier than before.

As for where CRUXspace might be headed in the future? “Kim and I plan to continue facilitating and sharing New Media and tech-based work in Philly, regardless of where and how it happens,” Zahn muses. “It’s really become a habit.” There are plans for a virtual, online gallery, and a desire to tackle some larger-scale or outdoor projects as well. In the short term, people should expect talks and performances now that we can better manage hosting them.”

CRUXspace may have taken a brief hiatus, but it is clear from their return that this small but progressive team is just finding its footing.

CRUXspace's Kim Brickley, lead curator and Andrew Cameron Zahn, founder and director
CRUXspace’s Kim Brickley, lead curator and Andrew Cameron Zahn, founder and director
Tags

andrew cameron zahn, angela mcquillan, cruxspace, digital fringe, Eliza Serocki, Enrica Ferraro, Evi Numen, Heather Ujiie, Julia Staples, Kim Brickley, Mina Zarfsaz, Sadaf Rassoul Cameron, WeWork Northern Liberties

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