Walking up to a stranger’s porch, peering into their front window and grabbing a beer from their cooler may not sound like a typical art gallery opening.
But at The Porch Gallery, this is the exact atmosphere that owner Mark Schoening, a lecturer in the University of Minnesota’s art department, creates. Opened in 2016, The Porch Gallery presents work throughout the warmer months of the year.
“We were fortunate enough to buy this big, funneled Victorian house after we moved here, and I’d always had this empty double living room on the front of the house,” Schoening said. “There’s a giant window here that I always felt had tremendous potential.”
The current Porch Gallery exhibit opened Friday. Entitled “Now Playing,” the exhibit streams computer-generated animation and videos on a mounted flat-screen TV inside Schoening’s front window. The videos were collected from a group of artists that curator Ryan Wurst both admired and already knew.
“It’s very non-centrally located. It’s very much an online friend group that in the end, I think, makes interesting work,” Wurst said, a graduate of the University’s MFA program. “It’s been really great contacting and talking to a lot of artists that I’ve admired for a long time.”
Most of the composition work for “Now Playing” existed online before the exhibit. Artists forwarded content to Wurst, who streams it on the flat-screen. Nine featured artists will have longer segments, while more artists will be added throughout the month. The clips are then looped together, with Wurst’s animation functioning as a title card between artists.
“I have a 3-D sloth character, Steve the Sloth. He’s introducing each person, so before their videos play, he’s got this little introduction, and he’ll do a dance … to tie the show together,” Wurst said.
Previous Porch Gallery shows have included more traditional forms art, from painting to a 14-foot tall sculpture of bananas. Schoening and Wurst hope that “Now Playing” engages visitors beyond a simple viewing.
“I wanted to find a way for people to engage with it in … a different kind of way, because sculptures and paintings — those are static objects. You can come and pretend to be interested for five minutes,” Schoening said.
By streaming content for 12 hours a day and adding more clips throughout the month, “Now Playing” will be a continually interactive experience.
While there is an existing online community for computer animation, Schoening and Wurst hope watching this content in a communal atmosphere enhances the viewing experience.
“For these artists, their main output is on the Internet, so this is an opportunity to get people seeing their work in a different context,” Wurst said. “There’s something great about being able to do that in a physical space, versus sitting by yourself. You can have a shared experience with these really strange videos.”
Schoening even has plans to encourage this shared experience with visitors.
“Part of this is … we put a couch out there, so you’ll be able to come … and maybe on a Thursday night, we’ll drink beer and eat tacos,” Schoening said.
Ultimately, Schoening and Wurst have created an atmosphere for artists to display their work for an extended period of time and for The Porch Gallery fans and pedestrians alike to enjoy weird works of art.
“Part of me gets a little critical of a space where, let’s say an artist has put a tremendous amount of time into something, and then their work is shown for maybe three hours,” Schoening said. “For us, a dude walking his dog can stop by, or someone with their kids, and watch face-melting videos. I think it’s going to be really silly.”