Oxymoronic as it may sound, pop-ups are now a fixture in our local landscape. Naturally for New Orleans, our chefs and restaurateurs first blazed the pop-up trail by finding new and creative ways to promote their creations, the vanguard formed by such establishments as MV Burger popping up at Slim Goodies Diner in Uptown, BooKoo Barbecue popping up at Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in Mid-City, and down on Frenchmen Street, the taco truck formerly on Washington Square Park now popping up in the kitchen of Cafe Negril. Economically, pop-ups are brilliant: little to no overhead, the buzz surrounding their appearance a burst of free advertising, and an opportunity to cater to a hungry public with a minimum of staff or long-term maintenance costs.
But chefs take note. There’s a new game in town: the art gallery pop-up.
The Uptown PopUP Art Gallery, located at 7835 Maple Street in the former office of Latter & Blum Realtors, has been up and running since the late summer. Operated by Ro Mayer, a realtor with Latter & Blum, and Patty Barnett, an art dealer with Barnett Fine Art, the idea for the pop-up came about, Mayer says with a laugh, as a result of a conversation the two were having on Facebook. The building, which Latter & Blum continued to own, had been recently vacated, and as an artist herself, Mayer had long dreamed of putting together an impromptu show.
“I said [to Patty], I wish I had a place to just do this,” Mayer said. “And she just said to me, Ro.”
Having gained custodianship of the building, the pair immediately set to work collaring friends and other artists in the area, and now, five months later, the building is a fully-functioning gallery space. The mansion dates to 1844, first built by John B Warren, a local minister, and enjoys a serious pedigree. According to Mayer’s research, the building was “often the scene of gala parties during the Civil War. The park-like grounds were known as the most beautiful in the South. The line of treetops, still running towards the Mississippi River, is just discernible from the second floor gallery today.”
But enough about the building. The collection inside ranges over the three floors of the building and includes works by a host of local artists and artisans, including Art Silverman, Chester Allen, Joan Zaslow, Todd Rojas, Mike Kilgore, Olivier Thelin, and Mayer herself. Because the pleasure of visiting the Uptown PopUP Art Gallery is taking in the art itself (as much as its context), I’ll not spoil the experience by going into details about any of the work. With one exception: Thelin’s revised ikons of New Orleans Saints as, well, saints are well worth seeking out; here Pope Tom Benson presides over three of the canonized faithful, Saints Brees, Payton, and Bush.
Mayer and Barnett’s vision for the space includes installations, events, art classes, programming, and even a potential market for its upstairs gallery, gamely called Le Grande Salon. Individual studio spaces – aka former realty offices – are currently available to rent, for any artist who might be interested. “This is my fantasy of what the building should have been all the time that I worked here,” Mayer says. “This is something that shouldn’t be able to be done.” But she also knows full well that such is the nature of the pop-up: that conditions are fluid, and one foot has to be kept on the brakes at all times, just in case. While the gallery is now into its fourth exhibition – with an opening reception planned for next Saturday, December 10 – given that the building is up for sale, for a cool $1 million, there are no guarantees that a fifth must follow. At any moment a buyer could whisk the property right up, and then the gallery would be right back out on the street.
Asked what would happen to the gallery in that case, Mayer laughs again. “We’ll just do it all over again. Hence the name.”
More information about the Uptown PopUP Art Gallery, including details of their current exhibition, is available on their Facebook page. Mayer assures visitors to the gallery they’ll have a good time when they come; one of their sponsors for next weekend’s reception is the Lazy Magnolia brewery. If you’re in the area, why not pop over and have a look around?
Coming up: I had planned, as noted last week, to visit the Invisible Man exhibition at the McKenna Museum of African-American Art. But that’s the only problem with pop-ups – they pop up, but they also pop down. When I went to see the show, I was informed that it had actually popped over to Gris Gris Lab, which I’ll hope to visit this coming week. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, the 1718 Reading Series continues at the Columns Hotel on Tuesday, featuring novelist and professor Mark Yakich; the du Mois gallery hosts an artist’s talk by Laura d’Alessandro on Wednesday
Thursday; and the Freretstivus celebration returns next Saturday as well. Until then.
Benjamin Morris is a writer and researcher whose work – poetry, fiction, plays, and essays – appears in a range of publications in the United States and Europe. Around town, he can be found catching music on Frenchmen, crawling the galleries on St Claude, playing soccer in City Park, or occasionally tending bar at the Sovereign Pub Uptown. More information about his work is available at benjaminalanmorris.com. His column appears on Sundays.