“We asked each artist to dream up their ideal show,” David Dempewolf says. “Each artist determines the footprint of the space.” He is speaking quite literally. David and his partner, Yuka Yokoyama, who run the non-profit exhibition space Marginal Utility, have organized a gallery-within-the-gallery as their contribution to ICA’s exhibition, First Among Equals, a group show exploring different ways artists work together. Sixteen 4’ x 8’ panels are rearranged every few weeks as Yuka and David present serial exhibitions in a portion of ICA’s spacious first floor.
For the first Marginal Utility presentation here, The I Lesson, Part I, 2012 by Alexi Kukuljevic, the panels were provocatively arranged in the shape of a coffin.
Next, some of the panels were used to form a tight box in which Mike Vass’s video essay,Vancouver #1-13 (Notes for a report…) was screened, while the unneeded panels leaned against the gallery wall.
For Jayson Scott Musson’s Early Imperial Luxury Arts, a V shape was arranged.
Over the last couple of days, David and Yuka, some of ICA’s crew, and several Marginal Utility interns have reconfigured the panels into a shallow U—a wide embrace for Daniel Lefcourt’s exhibition, Active Surplus. “Daniel locked into this shape four days ago,” David says. I imagine this is the only time in his artistic career that Lefcourt will be able to determine the literal shape of the gallery five days before a show opens.
It’s easy to see how much David and Yuka enjoy being able to give their artists this luxury. Marginal Utility has its own gallery on North 11th Street, but of course that L-shaped space is, well, always the same L-shaped space. “Every time people deal with us, they have to conform their work to our space,” David says. Here, though, they are able to offer flexibility, choice, a suspension of the usual boundaries.
It’s important for Yuka and David to give their artists this kind of freedom. Other kinds, too. Though they live in New York these days (David and Yuka are married as well as gallery partners), they opened Marginal Utility in Philadelphia to put some distance between artists and the commercial imperatives of New York galleries—to offer space to experiment, to take new risks, perhaps to fail. Yuka (who interned at ICA years ago), puts it this way: “People say ‘site-specific.’ Instead, we’re saying we’re artist specific.”
I look at Daniel Lefcourt’s painting on the far wall and ask what the old-fashioned overhead projector in the middle of the space is for. Only then do I see that the painting isn’t a painting at all. It’s a projection of dust from the bed of the projector onto panels on the wall: MDF dust onto MDF panels.
“It looks like an abstract painting, but it’s all shadow,” Yuka says.
“We filmed him putting the dust on,” David says, taking out his phone to show me. “He’s teasing painting.”
Yuka picks up a tape measure. It’s getting late, and there are still three pieces to hang. The show opens tomorrow (May 16) and will remain on view through June 3. Marginal Utility’s next show, with work by John Hawke, will open June 6. I’m tempted to call it speed-curating, except that the thoughtful care Yuka and David exude makes it seem more like curating as moving meditation.
While Yuka is measuring the wall, Gracie, ICA’s Spiegel Fellow, comes downstairs, looks around, then sums things up: “It’s totally different again!” she says.
First Among Equals is on view at ICA through August 12.
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