An Art Gallery on a Car

Jesse Malmed begins the ritualistic affixing of Laura Hart Newlon's sticker for Trunk Show's April show
Artist Laura Hart Newlon watches as Jesse Malmed begins the ritualistic affixing of her sticker for Trunk Show’s April exhibition. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

CHICAGO — Tuesday night I road middle shotgun while snuggled tightly between Jesse Malmed and Raven Munsell, prodding the couple with questions about their mobile art gallery, Trunk Show. Tears for Fears, Madonna, and Nirvana cycled quietly through local radio stations as we drove through Chicago’s West Side and judged passing cars’ bumper stickers. Malmed and Munsell both hail from Santa Fe, a city Malmed claims to have the most vibrant bumper sticker culture in the world.

The couple’s attraction to admiring strangers’ projected identities through bumper stickers and the desire for an alternative space spawned the creation of Trunk Show, which hosts a new artist’s bumper sticker each month. After a ritualistic affixing and opening ceremony (the previous one is removed when the newest one is affixed), the bumper sticker decorates and rides around on Malmed and Munsell’s beat-up 1999 Ford Taurus during its endless search for a parking spot on Chicago’s streets. The most recent resident is Laura Hart Newlon and her sticker “HAIL SATIN,” which was unveiled this past Sunday, April 27.

*   *   *

Kate Sierzputowski: How did you collaborate to develop the idea for Trunk Show?

Jesse Malmed: Raven and I had talked about wanting to have a space, and the nature of us being grad students and already having a full apartment meant that we couldn’t do an apartment gallery. We both have an appreciation for not only Chicago’s alternative gallery scene, but also Chicago’s more experimental programming like The Suburban and Temporary Allegiance. Alternative spaces are not unique to Chicago, but the city seems to have a history of really creative exhibition strategies, like Meg Duguid, who has a gallery in her clutch purse.

Raven Munsell: The car, being the biggest thing that we own and the only space that is really ours, seemed like a really great space to take advantage of.

JM: It also seemed funny because our relationship with having a car is a little ambivalent. We don’t use it that often, and wouldn’t consider ourselves car people.

KS: How do you think Trunk Show differs from these other less traditional venues?

JM: Part of what is exciting about Trunk Show is that it is very event-oriented, but is also available to see throughout the month. A lot of these spaces are really only open during the opening, so there is this weird tension. Someone might put together a really lovely, contemplative painting show in an apartment gallery, but then it just becomes a wallpaper for the party. It is an excellent body of work for people to be with alone, just not a Friday night kind of thing.

A guest at Trunk Show's April opening admires past bumper stickers.
A guest at Trunk Show’s April opening admires past bumper stickers.

KS: Would you view Trunk Show’s mobility as a completely democratic approach to producing an audience?

JM: A little bit; I like the idea that people see it and have an interaction with it like they might with any another bumper sticker — which is a mix between engaging with it, being puzzled by it, and ignoring it. They are also $5 each, and the limitedness of its edition is based solely on what seems sustainable. I wanted them to be the same price as a “Honk if your child is an honor student” sticker. I didn’t want them to be engaging in the false scarcity idea that happens with a lot of art.

RM: That’s something that we have talked about from the beginning that has been important to us — to have something that is really accessible.

KS: You also sell subscriptions to receive monthly bumper stickers. Is this a way to create a positive roll in local art patronage?

JM: That would be really nice, but I don’t want to oversell the capacity of this project. We have been pleased by people’s support and that there are people who have been to almost every single opening. I am interested and invested in these communities and ensuring that the arts ecologies are strong. I am also a big believer in showing up and making things that people want to show up for. I have been really gratified by how many of our friends and people we know only a little bit have come to each opening, even if they don’t buy a sticker.

KS: Do you only sell the stickers out of the trunk during each opening?

RM: We don’t always have them on us, but we should start!

JM: Ideally we would sell them out of the trunk more often, but so far I don’t think a single person has started following us on Twitter to learn that we are secretly at some Trader Joe’s and has come to buy one. But I would obviously encourage that.

KS: I love that you have personified the car on Twitter. Is this the only outlet in which the car has a voice?

RM: Yeah, but it was definitely important for the car to have a voice.

JM: It’s a funny thing. Not that many people talk back to the car except for me.

RM: Jesse and the car have quite a few back-and-forth conversations going.

JM: It is a cool moment of schizophrenic dislocation. There was one time when the car got towed, and I was running around looking for it because I couldn’t remember if I just parked it in the wrong spot. I tweeted at the car to ask where it was, and the car was being ornery and a bit bratty. In the end the car learned its lesson because we found it in the pound.

Deborah Stratman's Trunk Show sticker, the December 2013 show (image via Trunk Show on Tumblr)
Deborah Stratman’s Trunk Show sticker, the December 2013 show (image via Trunk Show on Tumblr)

KS: What’s your reasoning for letting the artist choose the location of their bumper sticker?

RM: It is their solo show and installation. We want to give them that option. For Lauren Anderson’s “Like New” sticker, she was thinking about the car lot and had proposed that her sticker would be better for the windshield.

JM: Part of the idea is that if they have been thinking in those terms, then they are able to incorporate that into their process. The level of curatorial work is meant to be very collaborative. However much the artists want to be involved in music and snacks and placement is the amount we want them to be involved.

KS: How do you chose most of your artists?

JM: In most cases one of us already knew the artist or had worked with them before. We have had a lot of conversations about who to invite. You have to trust that you will have people that will take it seriously, but also not take it too seriously. Most of the people we have invited have a good sense of humor and are excited about the show, rather than thinking that we are idiots.

RM: We haven’t been doing this for that long, and we do have a list of people we want to work with who we don’t know. We thought starting with people we knew was important because who else were we going to get to make a bumper sticker and hang out with us at our car for the first couple of months?

KS: In what ways have you thought about exploring the mobility of the gallery — any cross-country road trips planned?

RM: We are thinking about playing with that for a show we are having in Baltimore in July. A gallery there will be exhibiting us at an art fair, and we are going to exhibit a Baltimore artist for that month. There are going to be some other Chicago galleries going to the fair, so we have thought about caravanning or maybe doing some sort of Trunk Show road trip—related thing.

JM: The funny and sad thing about grad school is that this car hasn’t left Cook County since it became a gallery.

RM: It hasn’t left unless one of our drivers in residence took it out! When we were away for winter break last year we lent our car to some friends and called it a residency. We gave them our Twitter information, and they tweeted about the car’s location and took pictures.

Laura Hart Newlon's "HAIL SATIN" for Trunk Show
Laura Hart Newlon’s “HAIL SATIN” for Trunk Show

KS: The commercial recently made for Trunk Show has a great line, “Trunk Show: street art for the blooper reel of the American Empire.” Where did that come from?

JM: “The blooper reel for the American Empire” is something I just wrote down a couple of months ago. It is about something that is very serious and also a complete joke to me. I am excited about blooper reels and the way that they undermine and remind the viewer that what they saw was a construction. Trunk Show has a relation to this by taking place in a car, something which seems like it will be a symbol for what will be known as the American Empire.

Laura Hart Newlon’s “HAIL SATIN” runs at Trunk Show (see Twitter for locations around Chicago) until May 25.

comments (0)