Building a Form for Space: Dirk Park Discusses Prole Drift Gallery

Prole Drift stands within an older mixed-use building, angled between the top and bottom of a steep hill in Seattle’s International District.  Much in the same way its name references a connection between the upper and the working classes, Dirk Park’s new venue inhabits a space of intersection somewhere between a traditional gallery, a studio and an open place for artistic experimentation.

Residing among the affordable studios, Park and artist Jaq Chartier rent and use for their own practices. Prole Drift’s positioning within this modest art center of sorts prompts reconsideration of how commercial galleries can manifest. Anyone familiar with Aqua Art Miami, Park and Chartier’s annual west coast intervention at Art Basel Miami Beach, would expect no less from Park, whose ventures manifest unhindered by the confines of the established.

I caught up with Dirk to find out more about his approach to creating the new gallery. - Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor

Installation view from An Empty Vase. Conceived by Matthew Offenbacher and Jenny Heishman. 2011. Image courtesy of Prole Drift.

Erin Langner: Given the your artistic practice, your previous experience starting Seattle’s Platform gallery, and the continued success of Aqua Art Miami, what was the impetus behind opening a new commercial space?

Dirk Park: The reasons I wanted to start the gallery are not that clear, even to me. Initially Jaq and I were just building studios in the building that houses Prole Drift. In the end, there was one left over that I didn’t necessarily have to rent.

Similar to when I saw the first venue for Platform, I connected with the storefront.  I didn’t specifically think “art space” or “gallery;” I just thought it was a really great space. I also realized this space is cheap enough that I can sustain it as a gallery without actually selling anything. I can be a little less anxious about that aspect, which is helpful in this economy.  The last thing you want to be is neurotic about selling things when someone enters the gallery; sales create a different relationship between people, and I can eliminate that issue right away by having a sustainable capacity outside of sales. If I needed to make money, it wouldn’t be a gallery.

Installation view from An Empty Vase. Conceived by Matthew Offenbacher and Jenny Heishman. 2011. Image courtesy of Prole Drift.

An Empty Vase (detail). Nicholas Nyland. 2011. Image courtesy of Prole Drift.

EL: How do you determine the artists that fit best within for your vision for Prole Drift? 

DP: Since I set this up as a non-representational gallery, there are no constraints, and I can choose anyone. It also helps that so many artists want to show their work and yet have no possible place to do so: everything is closing or everything is full.

An Empty Vase (detail). Chauney Peck. 2011. Image courtesy of Prole Drift.

Within the physical gallery, space is a limitation; there are things I will not do. I’m not going to dig out the floor. I’m not going to knock out a wall. But, there are also things that make sense to take on. Since I have a background in construction and woodworking, I am in a position do a lot of things that other galleries would have to outsource, such as building frames or pedestals. If an artist needs something that normally wouldn’t be part of the of dealer’s purveyor, we can work it out.

An Empty Vase
(detail). Matthew Offenbacher. 2011. Image courtesy of Prole Drift.

EL: Is the gallery limited to Seattle artists?

DP: No, and I actually really would like to get more artists from outside of Seattle to show. I’m hoping to organize a show of artists from Boston that would be a backroom show sometime in January, which is really exciting to me. I think Boston and Seattle share a lot of aesthetic ideas that are outside the framework of what’s going on in New York.  New York tends to be distilled down into an essence, whereas artists in Boston and Seattle, and in some ways L.A., still work in a passionate realm; the work is often biographical, narrative, revealing, interactive, compulsive.

Installation view from An Empty Vase. Conceived by Matthew Offenbacher and Jenny Heishman. 2011. Image courtesy of Prole Drift.

An Empty Vase (detail). Buddy Bunting. 2011. Image courtesy of Prole Drift.

EL: Are there specific ways you are applying the art fair sensibility to the way you run Prole Drift?

DP: It feels like you can do things that are more atmospheric, as opposed to serious. The October show—Jenny Heishman’s show—I think is going to be much more of a booth display. I can conceptually think of doing something like Jenny’s show just as easily in a 300 square foot booth as a storefront space.  So I think that the limitations are positive things here.  If I’m in an art fair and I have a small, open space, I can construct a show the same way there that I can construct a show in Prole Drift.  Concrete floor or plywood floor, fluorescent lights or weird lighting, it all is something that has moved into the realm of the way I would do anything.

An Empty Vase
(detail). Jenny Heishman. 2011. Image courtesy of Prole Drift.


An Empty Vase, Prole Drift's inagural show, is comprised of a group installation conceived by Matthew Offenbacher and Jenny Heishman.  The installation also features work by Buddy Bunting, Tim Cross, Gretchen Bennett, Nicholas Nyland and Chauney Peck.  An Empty Vase was on view until October 9.

Erin Langner is a writer based in Seattle and is Adult Public Programs Coordinator at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).

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