Beyond the first-floor doorway of Building 4 at Waltham Mills Artists Association, artist & curator Liza Bingham works to bring wonder and surprise to the unassuming doorway_a_gallery. Though micro in size, the artists and curator make use of the framing archway and the historical context of the building to create a unique experience for the viewer. Passers-by can view work by area artists at a socially-acceptable distance or close-up during a one-day, opening event. Outside of the event, the artwork lives on through the gallery's Instagram, which showcases photographs of the installation, details of the artwork, and videos of site-specific and impromptu performances.
As part of our Artists for Artists series, we want to recognize Liza as an asset to the community, graciously offering her own resources to artists from Greater-Boston and beyond during a time when exhibition opportunities are few and far between.
Read below for more on the evolution of DOORway as a vital alternative space for artists to share their work with the rest of the world.
Musa Collective: What a surprising and resourceful use of space! Can you describe the space for us and tell us a bit about the evolution of DOORway?
Liza Bingham: Several years back, in the same hallway that DOORway is now in, Kelley Harwood and I hosted occasional pop up shows for the Waltham Mills community. Fast forward to August of 2020, and I happened to see Kelley standing in the building’s entry, looking at work through a doorway leading to first floor studios. On the wall she had painted a white rectangle of the same dimensions as the doorway, where she placed work that was going to be part of her MFA thesis project. (She had graduated from Boston University in the spring, but due to the pandemic the show was postponed until September.) The work looked so good on the bright white rectangle framed within the doorway. So, Kelley gets credit for creating the DOORway concept, I just showed up at the right time and pretty quickly asked if I could repurpose the space as a micro gallery once she was done prepping for her thesis show. It seemed like a fairly safe pandemic project. I’ve been loosely inspired by Michelle Grabner’s The Suburban, which originally was housed in a garage on her property outside of Chicago. Grabner speaks of running The Suburban within the economy of her household, and I think of using the hallway as a gallery at our studio building in that same spirit. I’ve also been inspired by what I’ve read about the 1970’s Hallwalls Collective in Buffalo, NY, founded by Cindy Sherman and others. During the pandemic so many art venues and institutions were shuttered. I felt that I could offer something small and still make an impact.
pictured: Kelly Harwood at DOORway (L-R) book-making performance; closeup; and installation in hallway (photo credit: Cathleen Daley)
MC: What do you look for when choosing artists to show at the gallery?
LB: Since we have been operating during pandemic times, I’ve tended to invite those whose work I’ve admired for a while. A couple of trusted folks have also recommended artists. Social media is very helpful, too. I’ve invited handful of people I’d never met to participate in 2-person shows, contacting them via Instagram. We’ve hosted artists from all over the Greater Boston area, including from Providence, RI. Moving forward, I’ll be able to think even more freely about shows, and the artists I invite. I heard the painter Yevgeniya Baras, who co-founded Regina Rex gallery, talk about choosing artists whose work was “ripe” to show. It’s a great visual that I use as a touchstone. I prefer things that don’t fit into a commercial model. The irony is I have fielded sales inquiries, and have even heard of subsequent sales of work we have shown, but it’s not a motivating factor. Several artists have shown timely work that in some way responds to this fraught time. I’m also fine with showing things that are still being worked out; this is a good place for experimentation. Looking ahead, I’m interested in inviting guest curators to broaden the gallery’s scope.
MC: Can you tell us about the process of curating and installing each exhibition?
LB: I have more of a hand in facilitating the two-person shows. Several of the solo artists I’ve chosen to work with come with pieces fitted for the space. Where applicable, I prefer not having things overly planned out, allowing for spontaneity and
collaboration in the moment to occur. For instance, Crystalle Lacouture’s piece with a length of grid patterned fabric unfurling into the hallway was one of my favorite impromptu moments. It’s thrilling to see a show come together in real- time. It’s why we combine the installation with the opening hours. I really do think of the events as “happenings” for this reason. The nimbleness of a micro-gallery allows this kind of spontaneity. It is just a doorway, after all! I hope people get the paradoxical humor that is kind of inherent in this project. It’s an absurdly small space, and yet the work looks seriously good.
MC: You've described the space as a 'micro-gallery', where the installation, opening, and viewing is all done at once or within the span of a couple days. What are the pros and cons of using this model?
LB: I think it’s important to remember DOORway is situated within a studio building, and is the community-oriented piece of how I (and others) divvy time there. Being directly off of the lobby facilitates conversation about art and curation with anyone who passes by, including more than a few thoughtful comments from Verizon technicians and other vendors working in the building. The brevity of the shows makes it a sustainable model. As Covid-19 recedes, I hope more people can join us for our live events, but if not, they can get a decent sense of the shows on social media. DOORway was conceived as a hybrid model, knowing that the largest audience will be online. Some years back, I heard Janelle Porter, then curator at the ICA, Boston, lament that Boston did not have as many “feeder” spaces as she had seen when she had lived in Philadelphia. That comment stuck with me, and I think DOORway is my modest offering. Hopefully what we do can feed into the larger art ecosystem.
pictured: (L-R) "Lit" with work by Cathleen Daley & Rebecca Roberts; sculptures by Damien Hoar de Galvin & paintings by Elizabeth Michelman; installation view of Kirstin Lamb's work.
MC: How do you promote a conversation between artists and viewers with social distancing and one-day viewing potential? Can visitors to the exhibitions leave comments?
LB: The original idea was for people passing through the lobby to be able to see an entire show from a safe distance. Now things are more relaxed, and folks can now come take a closer look, and hang out for a while. The artists and others who come by are generally not lacking in opinions! We often try various iterations of the shows during our open hours, which encourages conversation and debate--viewers become collaborators. Several regular visitors, to whom I am extremely grateful, have been great about asking consistently thoughtful questions of the artists.
MC: Can you talk about the difference between showing 2 and 3- dimensional works at Doorway?
LB: I am assuming the question is because our space seems to limit the ability to walk around all sides of a sculpture? We have all sorts of work-arounds to accommodate more fully 3-dimensional works than perhaps we’ve shown to date. I would like to show more sculptural work, maybe something site-responsive. We can expand as needed to use adjacent spaces that may be better fit for viewing certain art forms. We’ve even contemplated outdoor shows, and our most recent show utilized the nearby loading dock, which is another sort of portal.
MC: Does the architecture have an impact on the context of the work?
LB: The architecture of the mill building, particularly the “portals”-- the rough-hewn doorway near the loading dock, and the graceful archway, as well as the omni-present, decades old beige paint color on the brick and wood interior, and the utilitarian nature of the lobby itself— metal mailboxes and the odd Fed Ex package-- all act as counterpoints to the art. A perfect white cube it is not. Perhaps the various portals allow for a dimensional read, or context, not easily achieved on screen viewing? And of course there’s the dramatic natural light offered by 10 foot south facing windows. The building is in many ways beautiful and substantial, and has a palpable historical vibe. The setting is DOORway’s secret sauce, for sure. (And speaking of secret sauce, while this is not an observation about the mill’s architecture per se, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that mill neighbor Cathleen Daley has come up with most of our show titles. The titles really elevate our offerings...it takes a community!)
pictured: paintings by Gus Wheeler
MC: How has social media played a role in 'extending the exhibition' or providing a complete experience of the artwork for the viewer at Doorway?
LB: Instagram has been key for DOORway. We document our short-lived shows so they can live on via social media. It’s also expanded our audience many- fold.
MC: Tell us about any upcoming shows and what we can expect from Doorway in the future?
LB: One way that DOORway seems to distinguish itself is in highlighting artists’ processes. This may be a guiding thought moving forward.
For more information about doorway_a_gallery and to learn about upcoming shows, please visit: instagram.com/doorway_a_gallery