You don't expect your foot to sink through the floor when you walk into an art gallery. Yet this is exactly what happened when Maria Britton surveyed the space where she and April Childers would mount their fledgling gallery's first exhibit in 2015. The old shack, tucked away in the woods of Chapel Hill, was dubbed the Sugar Shack, but it soon became clear that having a roomful of people looking at art there might result in collapsed floors, injuries, lawsuits, and other unsweet stuff.
The solution was making the Sugar Shack a "low-occupancy gallery," or L.O.G. The experience went something like this: You sat around a campfire at night, surrounded by trees and a handful of people, cheerily eating and drinking. Someone would emerge from a nearby shack, meaning it was your turn.
Alone, you ascended some steps and went inside, where a chunky, supersize foam hat dangled from the ceiling, a green light inside it glowing on the wooden floorboards. Next to the hat were three floral bedsheets, sewn together and hung like curtains, the folds and pleats delicately mirroring those of flowers. You would linger until you felt satisfied, or perhaps transformed, and then leave to make room for the next solitary viewer.
The practical advantage of this almost surreal setup—namely, the avoidance of grievous bodily harm—happened to fit perfectly with Childers and Britton's curatorial ethos, which is marked by a playful, experimental spirit and shaped by their experiences in the New York art world.
After four shows, the Sugar Shack closed last summer when Britton and Childers moved off the property where it resided. But, under the flag of L.O.G, they continue to bring their unique curatorial sensibilities elsewhere. Deadpan, L.O.G.'s second in a series of curated shows at Lump gallery, where it is undergoing a long-term residency, closes this weekend. A third is planned for May. Meanwhile, Britton and Childers are keeping an eye out for a space to replace the Sugar Shack—ideally outdoors.
Despite being in a more traditional urban gallery, and without the low-occupancy restrictions imposed by the Sugar Shack's dilapidated floorboards, Deadpan reflects Childers and Britton's distinct style of displaying works. It features only three pieces—Kerry Law's painting, Alex O'Neal's mixed-media piece, and Kirsten Stoltmann's sculpture—in a dimly lit, black-walled room. One's gaze is forcibly directed by three beams of light cutting through the darkness, which fall directly upon the three artworks. In fact, they're pretty much the only things you can see.
In this way, Childers and Britton replicate the Sugar Shack's particular intimacy at Lump while also subverting the traditional gallery mode of brightly lit white walls—the kinds of conventions Britton and Childers wearied of in New York, where their art story, like so many, began.
When Britton and Childers each moved to New York around 2010, they were doing what any sensible, career-minded artist should do. It wasn't until they returned to the South in 2015 that they embarked on their more oblique but arguably more interesting current path.
In the art world, all roads lead to New York—at least, that's what many artists are compelled to feel, encouraged by the New York cognoscenti. Being in NYC brings inherent benefits and disadvantages, closely entwined. Every night there is an opening to attend, a retrospective to see. You are surrounded not only by thousands of other artists, but also by people who follow art without making it, much rarer in other parts of the country.
These advantages compelled Britton and Childers—each having finished an MFA (Britton from UNC-Chapel Hill, Childers from the University of Southern Florida) and worked a string of odd jobs—to move to New York, where they met in 2013, when each rented a studio space in the same building. They soon began collaborating and curating together in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, and their efforts culminated in the curation of a show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
A BAM booking is certainly a mark of achievement, but Britton and Childers were left unsatisfied. "It was a great opportunity, it was a good show, but I think it made us want to have more control over every aspect of having shows," Britton says.
"Working with a bigger institution ... there were a lot of differences of opinion," Childers adds.
When the show ended, they decided that their time in New York had likewise ended. They were frustrated by the lack of autonomy and the frenzied pace. So, in 2015, the two parted ways and headed back south—Britton to Chapel Hill and Childers to her idyllic-sounding hometown of Strawberry Fields, Tennessee.
In Chapel Hill, Britton, who was renting a room in a house, began eyeing an old shack on the wooded property. "I thought, there's something we have to do there," she says. She reached out to Childers to ask if she wanted to help realize the vision of the Sugar Shack. "I was like, 'We have a room available, what the hell are you doing at your mom's house?''' she recalls.
Childers took Britton up on the offer, and the two rapidly began formulating ideas for not just a show at the shack but also the ongoing dynamic art gallery that would become known as L.O.G. Its continuing goal is to provide an inviting, holistic art-viewing experience—to create spaces and events that, Britton says, "cater more to the viewer's experience of engaging with the world."
This notion was embodied in L.O.G's initial shows in the evocative, palpable space of the forest-enclosed Sugar Shack, a setting that blended the experience of art with the experience of nature, which the pair hopes to get back to in their next space.
"People are turned off by galleries, and feel a little isolated," Britton says. She and Childers believe that an outdoor gallery can be more welcoming. Still, they're not moving ahead frantically to start their Next Big Thing—they learned that lesson in New York.
"This feeds our own studio practice, our own art, and we have to keep that going and not exhaust ourselves," Britton says.
This article appeared in print with the headline "How Green Was My Gallery."