Piqued Interest

New open-ended experimental space in Covington offers the opportunity to view, collaborate and live with art

Jan 13, 2016 at 10:58 am
click to enlarge Annie Brown (left) and Lindsey Whittle hope to elicit unique experiences with art at Pique.
Annie Brown (left) and Lindsey Whittle hope to elicit unique experiences with art at Pique.

A new gallery and “open-ended art experiment” known simply as Pique, where guests can view and even temporarily lodge with artwork, opened this past fall out of a two-unit storefront space in Covington, Ky., a little sooner than the two co-organizers and “instigators” Lindsey Whittle and Annie Brown initially planned. The two artists, however, seem to work best when finding themselves in ad hoc situations that require creative problem-solving and a healthy dose of self-determination.

Brown and Whittle met in 2007 when the latter was fresh out of the Art Academy of Cincinnati with a painting degree and teaching art classes with sculptor Christian Schmit at the Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center. Brown — who says she’s always been drawn to artistic endeavors and has a degree in graphic design — would bring her kids into those classes, and instead of dropping them off like most of the other parents, Brown would stay and work with them.

Before long, Brown was teaching art classes at Baker Hunt, too. “If you hear us say ‘artist,’ we also mean anybody who’s creative,” she says. And from the workshops Brown’s designed and written grants for in the intervening years, it’s clear that she’s found a meaningful calling and can identify with the struggle of helping creative types (re)discover their artistic voice.

Along with her AAC degree, Whittle spent a year in Japan teaching at a fashion high school, served as master crafter for local Kiki Magazine, studied fashion design at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning for three years and, in 2012, left Cincinnati to study fashion at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with the world-renowned soundsuit artist Nick Cave. She graduated from SAIC with an MFA in Fashion Garment and the Body, and her colorful, interchangeable art — like Cave’s — decidedly walks the line between fashion, sculpture and performance.

In 2014, Whittle and her comic-book-artist husband Clint Basinger bought the building in which Pique is now housed and initially occupied the first-floor apartment with a prior residing tenant on the second floor. When the tenant moved out — and with a few substantial renovations to the space — Whittle and Basinger moved into the vacated second-floor space, and turned the downstairs storefront unit into an art gallery, “gallery one,” which actually includes all of the previous first-floor living areas.

They also converted the hall and stairwell leading up to the second-floor apartment into “gallery two” and, between the two spaces, have featured the work of no less than five artists since they opened this past September.

Events happen on weekdays, and on weekends the whole apartment — art and all — is a rentable flat on Airbnb. Besides helping offset the costs of running a gallery, Whittle and Brown say they want to give people experiences with art and hope that renting the space and living with it for even a day will allow a different kind of interaction with, and thus understanding of, the work on display.   

“We try and give artists many opportunities for people to see their work,” Whittle says. And what could be more intimate than viewing something from your bed, while you’re eating breakfast or maybe even next to you while you’re taking a shower?

It’s based on the same idea that has made 21c Museum Hotels such a force in the art world today: Introduce art by living artists to new viewers in unexpectedly intimate venues, and you’ll be surprised how much more audiences want to see.

And so far, they’ve provided renters with some memorable experiences. For example, last month Pique had a late Airbnb rental request by two football fans who were coming into town for a weekday Bengals game on the same night as artist/Cincinnati Public Librarian extraordinaire Steve Kemple’s already-planned Everything exhibition opening. In many regards, football fans aren’t the first group that comes to mind as art lovers.

“I was a little concerned because Steve’s work is kind of conceptual and not really as approachable to the mainstream,” Whittle says. “But they loved it.”

Before they vacated the apartment, the two asked a lot of thoughtful questions about the work, and on the guestbook/canvas set out for visitors to share their experiences, they drew their own picture of a man reading to a plant (Kemple’s show involves, among other things, reading aloud to houseplants) and a big “Go Bengals!” message.

“That was an ideal moment for this whole space,” Whittle says, with genuine excitement. “We’re exposing people who aren’t artists to a different kind of art than they’re used to, and they really got into it.”

But Brown and Whittle are just as interested in engaging with artists as they are with unique art audiences at Pique. To that aim, they hold five to six monthly events that range from performances to a drawing night and a monthly grant/residency research event, wherein they print out current listings for grants and residencies to help artists search for funding opportunities — not to mention helping to edit and proofread grant applications when necessary.

“We host these weekly events so that it’s not just an opening and closing while the rest of the time the work just sits,” Whittle says. “Every week we’re bringing people in to do crazy stuff. That’s kind of the common denominator for the space: We just want it to happen with art.”

They also host a monthly creative support group (a kind of group therapy for artists to vent, brainstorm and drink wine) and are working on an artist database so that potential creative collaborators can find each other.

Both Brown and Whittle can identify with the struggle. “Artists have so much opportunity and connection in academia, and then they graduate and it’s like you’re just dropped on your head,” Whittle says.

“Essentially the artist has to be a marketer, they have to be a website designer, they have to find their own grants and contests, they have to be a grant writer,” she laments. “And then they have to find time to make art in the studio — and then find a gallery to show it!”

Both Brown and Whittle seem deeply committed to cultivating a community in Covington that supports artists. With the Center for Great Neighborhoods and Renaissance Covington spearheading the revitalization of their city and sponsoring projects by various fine artists, Pique seems poised to make even a short-term difference in the local arts scene.

Experiments can fail, of course. But that’s also how you learn.

PIQUE will exhibit works by Nico Gardner and Chase Melendez in two shows opening Jan. 22. More info: piquewebsite.com.