MacArthur B Arthur, an art gallery and a home, launches its final show
on January 7, 2013
Through the windows of 4030 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Kevin Clarke can be seen lounging in a chair, typing away at his laptop with his full-sized bed in full view. Clarke’s bed and lounge chairs sit near the front window of a 2,000 square foot warehouse space, where everything from the vintage stove in his kitchen to his niece’s scribbled drawing tacked on his work space wall are all part of the gallery experience.
“I like that it’s a little bit confusing whether it’s a home or a gallery,” says the 38-year-old Clarke, who not only lives in the space he calls MacArthur B Arthur, but co-curates the artwork on display. “Folks walk by and oftentimes, I’ll be sitting there drinking coffee or something—they won’t know whether to look inside because they don’t want to be rude or to not look inside. And I’ll usually wave them in, ‘Come inside, come look!’ and they’ll get an idea that it’s meant to be seen, it’s meant to be looked in. Just because I’m sitting down drinking coffee, don’t pay attention to that part. Or, I guess, do.”
For 3 years, Clarke has turned his home into an art gallery, inviting strangers into his North Oakland abode so that they can view the art on his walls, listen to readings, participate in musical performances, view screenings or just hang out. Lining the white walls of his space are oil paintings, sepia-colored photographs and a massive installation that’s built into the wall; the place is sparsely populated with antique furniture. His MacArthur B Arthur project, named in part after his favorite “Golden Girl” actress, the late Bea Arthur, is an exercise in breaking down the boundaries between art and life. After 36 show openings, Clarke estimates a few thousand people have come to see art in the space, and that a couple of hundred of those people were passersby who were waved in.
But starting on *January 13, his experiment will come to an end, and he plans on closing his front door to the public indefinitely. To mark the end of MacArthur B Arthur’s run, Clarke—with* Aaron Harbour and Jackie Im—has curated a finale show entitled “The Home Show,” a grouping of installations, photographs and paintings that address the issues of domesticity and exhibitionism wrestled with in Clarke’s space since its inception.
For the show, Clarke and four other artists took pieces from his home life and turned them into public art. In the piece “Portrait Clarke,” for instance, Mills College graduate Camilla Newhagen gathered all of Clarke’s clothing—minus two pairs of shoes, two pants, a couple of t-shirts, and underwear—and densely arranged them inside a carved niche in his wall. Embedded in this display are Clarke’s iron, his duffle bag, a toilet paper roll that happened to be in his clothing drawer when Newhagen was gathering materials for the piece, and wooden tables that Clarke created himself.
“I didn’t know Kevin at all until about now,” Newhagen says, referring to what she learned from rearranging Clarke’s things.
Clarke points to his ski boots wedged at the bottom of the well-organized pile. “There was a time that I missed those boots,” he says. “I was going to go up to the snow.” Everything else, he says, he hasn’t missed at all. “It sort of makes me realize I could live a much less cluttered life and be just fine,” he says. “For the most part, I’ve been okay without almost all of that stuff. It’s kind of a relief too.”
Artist Carey Lin had Clarke send her pictures of his sink over the course of two months and used those images to create “Sink Expo 2012,” a series of three oil paintings that fuses the disparate images Clarke sent her: abstract gray, brown and greenish-hued views of food-stained dishes and other detritus. “There was a lot to glean from seeing certain dishes come up often and seeing what he chose to leave in the sink to soak, or whatever,” Lin says about her piece. As for what she hopes gallery-goers experience when looking at her pieces in the show, she says, “I hope that people will think about the layering of information in their everyday lives and domestic environments differently.”
Perhaps the most interactive piece in the show comes from artist Alex Clausen, who used a multicolored assortment of string to tie together all of the contents in Clarke’s work space, incorporating the objects into a labyrinthine mass that gallery-goers can walk under using their hands and knees. “My hope with the piece at MacArthur was to create a space that you can hopefully live in or sleep in, sort of an impromptu shelter,” Clausen says. “It’s not just an art object that you can look at. It can be experienced.”
That statement encompasses much of the motivation behind MacArthur B Arthur itself. Before Clarke turned it into a gallery, the space was just an ordinary home, a North Oakland storefront that he rented in 2009. His intention had always been to turn the space into a dual public/private art house, a task that took six months to accomplish. He got the idea to do it after founding, living and working with Million Fishes Arts Collective, a now-defunct San Francisco art gallery that was a home inhabited by 16 artists in the Mission District.
“I just really loved living there,” he says about Million Fishes, “and the experience of waking up, having breakfast, going down into the gallery and sitting in this space where you see folks walking around all day, going to work, doing what they’re doing and having the line of public and private be broken down—I just liked that a lot.”
Clarke sees this type of domestic vulnerability—where a person invites strangers into their home life—as something necessary to experience the best things in life, he says. “Trust, love, friendship and community is what the space is about,” Clarke says.
Clarke isn’t ending MacArthur for financial reasons—the rent is partially covered by a grant from the San Francisco nonprofit organization Southern Exposure. The space also costs about the price of a normal studio apartment to maintain, he says. “I just lived very cramped, so the only sort of tax on me is that I live in really a tiny little bedroom with a lot of stuff in it and the gallery is out front,” he says.
Instead, he says, “I like the idea of ending it while it is good, and the experience of it is fresh and exciting and there’s been nothing—hopefully—nothing predictable about coming to a show here. And by ending it while it’s going great, I hope its impact will be somehow more poignant. I don’t know. It’s sort of an instinct thing.”
After the gallery closes, Clarke intends on spending his free time focusing on his personal projects, including art making, writing and woodworking. He says he plans on spearheading another community project at some point. Until then, he hopes the space he’s invested so much time and love in has a ripple affect on the community.
“I hope people come in the next two weeks and see this and then go out and start their own space,” he says, “where they do the same thing, where they open up their home and have art displays and have people who are novice curators or very experienced curators come in and create compositions of creativity for the public in their private environments, and open themselves up that way and experience both the vulnerability and the reward of being able to show an artists work. Because there is nothing better than seeing a happy artist after they’ve gotten to put up their stuff. It’s the best.”
“The Home Show” runs Sundays from 1 pm to 5 pm. For more information, visit www.macarthurbarthur.com
* CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated Aaron Harbour and Jackie Im were from Royal Nonesuch Gallery. They are not. The article also stated the gallery was closing January 23. It is closing January 13. Both errors have been corrected.
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