If you let your eyes linger for a moment, you’ll notice that there is something a little off about the images on the homepage of loveytown.org. The visitors to this online gallery seem somewhat flat, their gestures over-exaggerated. The space feels compressed. Lovey Town, an exhibition space conceived and operated by Madison, Wisconsin–based artist Michael Velliquette, is a physical space turned virtual—and miniature. Velliquette photographs physical art works (confined to 4” by 6” or 6” cubed) and cutouts of visitors within a small, foamcore “gallery.” He then posts these photos online. Although the idea seems simple and perhaps vaguely amusing on the surface, Velliquette ultimately uses Lovey Town to expose the permeability that exists between the digital world and the material world, expanding our perceptions of what it means to be an exhibition space.
In its first iteration (developed in 2010), Lovey Town sought to be a space in which Velliquette challenged artists with a strong studio-based practice to create projects in new media to be exhibited online. This model did not endure. “I missed the tactility,” Velliquette tells the Independent over the phone. As a result, the space began to morph into its current form. Nonetheless, this first model emphasizes the immense importance that the interaction between the physical and the material has held for Velliquette, who has always had an interest in a curatorial practice alongside his own studio work. Explaining his longing for a more hands-on relationship with artworks and their creators, Velliquette said that the current form of Lovey Town seemed like a “cool compromise” between materiality and virtuality.
“It was a matter of practicality,” Velliquette says when describing the development of Lovey Town’s miniature physical form. Through the reduced scale of the space, Velliquette is able to save immense amounts of time and money as compared to a full-sized gallery. Yet if miniaturization was a pragmatic choice, it is also the source of Lovey Town’s powerful effect. “Working with objects at this scale started as a way to seek more authentic relationships with other artists” and to “reconnect with the joy of creating,” Velliquette says. Making a work on such a small scale “permits a play that is not as much possible when working on large-scale pieces.” The miniature transcends coherence and cost, the two most ubiquitous anxieties of physical gallery spaces, and replaces them with a freedom without tangible stakes. As such, Velliquette moves well beyond the “cute” image of the miniature and instead asserts it as a powerful intellectual tool.
Users can visit Lovey Town by sending in a full-body image of themselves to the gallery via email. Velliquette then cuts out the images and places them within the space. He endearingly calls these cutouts “dolls,” conjuring images of the uninhibited sense of play upon which Lovey Town thrives. Visitors to the current exhibition seem to run the gamut in their behaviors; they contemplate, converse, examine, and eat. There even appears to be a litter of cats roaming around the gallery and climbing on the art.
The ability for anyone to “visit” Lovey Town gently mocks the dominant gallery culture even though Velliquette did not set out to construct a bold commentary on the state of the art world. “I don’t know if it’s critical. It’s the kind of gallery I would want,” he says. Nonetheless, the space is a definite (though perhaps unintentional) parody of gallery culture
Lovey Town fuses the social and the anti-social. An art gallery is supposed to be a place where people gather, look at images, maybe do some thinking, maybe not. Despite the image of a bustling gallery space on Lovey Town’s homepage, the lively atmosphere that we see is entirely fabricated. In a time where art galleries are becoming increasingly less about the art and more about the networking, Lovey Town denies this change in a beautiful way.
Lovey Town was conceived primarily as a way for artists to connect with one another and to ultimately construct a very specific community of people. “More than anything else, the space constantly provides an excuse to reconnect with other artists,” says Velliquette, joking that artists are his “favorite people in the art world.” Unlike other forms of social media, the interactions here have a certain degree of physicality to them, for they are materialized in the way these artists actually “visit” and interact within the space itself. This shows how Lovey Town’s capacity to bridge the physical and the digital pervades even the space’s social atmosphere.
The social dimensions of the space are especially pertinent to the current show on display (the second in Lovey Town’s history), “Friend of a Friend,” in which artists from the previous show recommended an artist-friend whom they admired. Despite claims about the importance of the art, however, this shows how Velliquette may be creating his own microcosm of the same exclusive art world that he sought to escape. Velliquette told the Indy that the gallery came from a sort of disillusionment about cultural institutions such as Artforum, which “are much more about the people and the scene than the people.” It is unclear whether Lovey Town succeeds in this regard, as the social purpose of the space often seems to eclipse the artistic one.
In Lovey Town, the interactivity between the audience and the artist seems to be as much a part of the art as the physical artworks on display. It does not assume the gallery space to be an empty vessel, but rather incorporates the social features of the space as a part of its larger artistic vision. Consequently, Lovey Town obscures the division between art display and art object, for it is the format of the gallery itself that draws in the spectator in addition to the art. “This is exhibition space as art object,” Velliquette explains in an interview with fellow artist Amanda Browder, adding, “It’s not that artists haven’t done this in the past, but it’s a different way of thinking about it.”
Despite the gallery’s attempts to spring clear of the conventions of the modern gallery, however, it ultimately conforms to many of those conventions. But even though Lovey Town has many of the same failures—of accessibility, of exclusivity—as many physical exhibition spaces, it ultimately succeeds in overcoming the failures that are traditionally associated with online exhibition spaces. Lovey Town rises above the sense of alienation that often drives people away from digital exhibition spaces and instead turns towards a more palpable model. In this sense, Lovey Town transcends the limitations placed upon it beyond its online framework and connects us to something real—art, people, or some sort of nebulous emotion. It feels like if you reach through the screen, something just might be there.
JAMIE PACKS B’17 is an assortment of pixels.