The Bronco Gallery Gets Around: An Interview with Emily Wobb and Maggie Heath
The Portland based Bronco Gallery is an ongoing curatorial project and mobile gallery founded by artists Emily Wobb and Maggie Heath. The Bronco officially launched at the Portland International Raceway in late July, where they tailgated the Thursday Night Motocross 49th Anniversary. I spotted the Bronco for the first time tailgating at the Seattle Art Fair, where they were grilling kabobs, exhibiting art from Tatyana Ostapenko, and engaging curious fair goers and loud drunken sports fans who had just gone to a Sounders game. We started chatting and I quickly realized the Bronco is something more than a faded red ′91 SUV with an air of humor around it. Maggie and Emily have a real desire to support emerging artists and engage the community around them. I sat down with the “Bronco Girls” to talk about the Bronco Gallery, hear their thoughts on alternative spaces, and learn more on the ‘art’ of tailgating events.
SH: I’d love to hear a little more about the history of the Bronco and why you think alternative spaces are important. It seems like more and more people are moving away from the traditional model of the contemporary gallery space in favor of something more unique and individualized.
BG: While moving our own sculptures with the Bronco and looking at them in the context of an SUV, we decided that it had potential to be a public viewing platform for other artists. We volunteer at Surplus Space, which sparked the conversation of alternative art spaces, creating your own institution, and de-commercializing gallery spaces.
During our very first interaction at ¿Por Qué No? we had the initial conversation of access to artwork, what our foundation is for making and who we wanted to show. Right away we started talking about the benefits of showing to a new crowd (for example, Wobb’s ideal exhibition space for her performances would be at a state fair).
Alternative spaces are important for the representation of young artists and curators. There is an opportunity to gain experience professionalizing work, developing a portfolio, and growing a support network between artists and viewers. Alt-Spaces allow for ideas to be experimented with and honed without intimidation of marketability.
SH: Besides the financial incentive of not paying to rent a space, why did you choose the Bronco as a vessel to show art? Is it because you are patriots and wanted an American made venue? (Emily prides herself in the fact that she is the embodiment of “Team America.”)
BG: The Bronco Gallery is a passport to all events. It’s an American vehicle accepted at rodeos, county fairs, as well as a white-walled gallery accepted at art institutions.
Most importantly, mobility. We sought to modify our audiences and viewers. With a mobile gallery, we are able to seek out our audience who are attending another event, planning to see something. They aren’t planning on seeing art in a bronco–especially non-saleable art. It also challenges artists to make work within a small space. It gives our artists a challenge of getting their viewers to understand their work outside a large room that people can walk around in. What does their artwork look like at a tailgate? How do 2D artists react to 18” walls?
We find it exciting that at each opening there’s no certainty of whether we’re going to have a crowd, a good parking spot, enough hot dogs (We grill grilled cheese now. You can only eat so many extra burnt hotdogs and be okay with yourself). These are challenges that not every gallery and their exhibiting artist have to deal with.
SH: What are your goals? I assume part of it is doing something different to bring attention to the artists you show, but as you mentioned, the Bronco also tailgates at other art and sport events (rodeos, motocross, etc). I think this is a smart move because you are guaranteed to have an audience of some capacity. This seems to create a type of intrigue and curiosity around the space.
BG: Ultimately, the Bronco Gallery is a social practice—which is interesting for our own practice as artists because we have had reservations about the complexity of art and social practice.
At art events, it’s almost easier to congratulate our success of large groups of people visiting us than it is at a motocross event, where we had a handful of people amongst a thousand walking by talk to us. Where does art belong in “non-art” venues and events? Drawing a crowd would be great, but we’re okay with only having 25 people visit us at a rodeo. We are more interested in having conversations and learn about circle-cropping in American agriculture in exchange for image transferring techniques.
There is always a reality that we are stepping into other communities, that we are not invited to, but we try our hardest to be welcoming by sharing with our neighbors and passers-by. We find that good grilling and Bronco jokes warm up the interactions.
We’re aware that we won’t change anyone’s opinion of art while tailgating a rodeo but we start by having conversations. We’re interested in having our opinions changed.
SH: I love the fact that the Bronco has hardwood floors and white walls. The phenomenon of the wood floors and white walls is the total embodiment of the standard contemporary gallery. The Bronco is not what it seems upon first glance…
BG: Thanks! We had conversations about leaving the Bronco as-is, it could be interesting to not take out the back seat and artists had to deal with it. But when we seriously started undertaking the Bronco Gallery, we wanted to be committed and got amped up about making a tiny formal gallery space in the back of an SUV.
We wanted to be taken seriously, we strive for humor but at our core we are a gallery: signifiers such as an oak hardwood floor, flat white walls, and track lighting, change the character of the Bronco. Beyond an attempt to avoid the question “what are you selling”—which we still get most of the time—it shows our investment in the project. Also, as sculptors, we found building the gallery to be fun!
Just like a contemporary walled gallery patches up nail holes to give their artists a clean slate we want to give our artists a documentable exhibition space and give our viewers a professional presentation.
The Bronco Gallery will be tailgating at this month’s First Thursday (September 3rd) and will be showing Artists Gabe Flores and Gary Wiseman near PNCA and the Museum of Contemporary Craft. They also have special programming for the TBA FestivalTailgating The Works. Artists include: Jea Alford, Taj Bourgeois Kelly McGovern, Chloe Alexandra, Ryan Woodring, Sarah Keeling + Anna Nelson. For more on Emily Wobb, Maggie Heath, and the Bronco, visit www.broncogallery.com.
All images courtesy of Bronco Gallery.