In our dimly lighted, crowded gallery one night in late December, we ate chunks of pink strawberry cake glazed with white icing with our fingers as “Art-Bike-Porn” blasted in the background. The cake had just been eviscerated by Frances Minten using a phallus protruding from a bicycle-powered sex machine. At that moment Glenn and I looked at one another with the giddiness that a child has after watching a circus performance. For a couple of art lovers it is hard to believe that life can be this great. Looking back over our first year as gallery operators there have been a lot of ups and downs – it is not all sweetness and dildos.
When Gem and I met it was our mutual love of art that brought us together. For our first date we attended Second Saturday to The Flop House and Pedicab. When we got married we talked about our future and what we wanted to do with our shared life together. This conversation included the possibility of moving to another city. We were both working jobs that were making us miserable and tearing us apart. We decided that we needed to build something that we could be proud of. We mulled over several different ideas before arriving at the decision to crack into the art world. As artists and San Antonio natives, we decided to build here and make a lasting commitment to our hometown.
K23 is named after the perfume from Tom Robbins’ 1984 novel Jitterbug Perfume. This is our favorite book and it has colored the lens through which we see the world. The themes that he plays with in his novels inspire us in choosing the art that we display. We primarily like to focus on art that is vivid in color, bold, and visually enticing. Humor is most often required. We feature art that is over the top and outrageous most of the time – yet sometimes we feature art that is serious. There have been more than a couple of exhibits that have brought about reactions from people that we didn’t expect. Even though some of the subject matter visits topics that can be difficult, we feel that it would be a mistake not to share all of those things. We want to represent the full spectrum of human emotion and experience, especially the tough and messy subjects. We like to bring up conversations that don’t happen often enough.
We opened our doors June 19, 2014 after much scheming and dreaming with the help of our dear friend and K23’s original curator, Jason Gonzales. With his help, along with many others, we had art to hang on the walls, assistance installing it, and sound equipment and support for our shows. It took many hands to get everything done that had to be done before we hosted our first guests. In the following months we were received by San Antonio’s art and nightlife scene in a way that we never would have expected. We have a strong commitment to support music in San Antonio and for us it is an absolutely non-negotiable part of K23’s program. It became apparent that our original location was not going to work for this end, so we took up local artist Rolando Briseno’s offer to rent a slightly smaller space in his building just up the street. He has strived to keep artists renting the spaces in this building and K23 wouldn’t still be here without him.
Shortly after we moved into our current space we lost Jason. We will never meet another guy like him. We miss him every day and we know he left long before his time was up. We felt emotionally vulnerable without his friendship and professionally stranded without his guidance. We knew very little about running an art gallery and our calendar was pretty bare. We relied on friends who are artists to guest curate to help us get on our feet. Since then we have used our gallery’s mission as our guiding light and have hosted some of my favorite local artists like Linda Arredondo, Kevin Rayhons, Carly Garza, and Bexar Bellamy.
Now that we’re working with the sort of artists that we truly desire for our program we’re looking at sustainability. Keeping the rent paid is usually the roughest part since this is our full-time job and we don’t have investors or big corporate sponsors. This gallery truly is DIY in that we have done all of this ourselves. That being said, we do have plans for some fundraising efforts throughout the summer. These efforts will help us to complete some projects inside the space that are necessary to our functionality. We hope that they will help elevate the quality of experience for anyone coming to our space.
This year has brought us plenty of lessons, failures, and smacks of reality – but, I know we wouldn’t be where we are now if this hadn’t been the case. We’ve had a few difficult situations arise over the year, but we have had many small victories along the way. Moving to a new location six months after opening wasn’t fun, but hosting bands like Troller, Holy Wave, Zig Zags, and Pure X sure was. Who knew that parking would be one of our biggest issues? We don’t drive, so certainly not us. Learning how to deal with people who aren’t the easiest to get along with has been an experience that forced us to grow and learn to better work together as business partners and as a couple. We’ve tried to learn something from our experiences, both positive and negative.
Going into the future we hope to continue giving weird people with even weirder ideas a place to feel at home. We want to further refine our mission as a gallery and do our best to fulfill it. We want to keep pushing people to think about things that they might not otherwise find time to think about. We work to make our spot a comfortable, down to earth, and safe place to experience these things. We want to keep presenting all kinds of art, music included, in a different kind of setting. Our calendar is full until this time next year with some amazing visual art and we have a summer full of music planned for our patrons. We’re excited to see what the next year holds. We know there is a lot of work ahead of us but we’re hopeful as hell.
*Featured/top image: Philip Avila's pOpHOles was our first show in July 2014. Photo by Eric Gustafson.