In a contemporary art landscape littered with obscure and sometimes obtuse project spaces, one remains smaller (and more mobile) than most. My Scion Gallery (MSG)—the brainchild of Taylor Hurley and Kathryn Knowlton—resides not in an abandoned warehouse or a tiny apartment but rather, as its name suggests, on the shelf of a 2006 midnight blue-colored Toyota Scion xB. Based in Portland, Oregon, but naturally roving, it stands as an important entry in the deep canon of absurd exhibition spaces.
“I bought this car maybe six or seven years ago and I thought it was really funny that it had a tiny shelf in it, because you can’t really stick anything in the shelf without it moving around and falling out,” Knowlton told me over the phone from Portland. The Scion acquisition was around the same time that a lot of her friends were starting alternative spaces. “If they can do a project space in their garage,” Knowlton said, “wouldn’t it make more sense to do a project space in this completely useless shelf above the glove compartment?”
The contemporary art world has a long history of small, novel spaces. The Wrong Gallery, run by artist Maurizio Cattelan and curators Ali Subotnick and Massimiliano Gioni, existed in a doorway in New York before moving temporarily to Tate Modern in London. While attending college in St. Louis, the painter Michael Williams had a gallery in his closet called, fittingly, Gallery Michael Williamses Closet. Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise can be seen as its own single-artist micro-museum. And who can forget Hans Ulrich Obrist’s 300-square-inch “nanomuseum” show with Chris Marker at the miniature Walter McBeer Gallery?
My Scion Gallery adds new quirks to this lineage. At openings, the car parks in a predetermined location where gallery-goers assemble. Knowlton then drives individual patrons in a planned out loop for 10 to 15 minutes each, allowing them ample time with the art. (Hurley hangs back in the lot—she doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift.) “It’s really insane because I actually hate driving,” Knowlton said. “I chose the worst possible thing to be my gallery and that’s driving. So, I spend a lot of time driving for it.”
Adding an additional layer of irony to this project, Toyota’s youth-marketed Scion line of cars, which started in 2003 and will cease production at the end of the year, has a bit of an interesting history in interfacing with contemporary creative communities. Peaking in visibility in the middle-to-late oughts, its Scion AV project funded a variety of alternative music, film, and art projects, filling a corporate patronage role not unlike Red Bull Studios.
MSG’s most recent exhibition was with the artist Rebecca Peel, who currently has a show on view at the excellent Kimberly Klark gallery in Ridgewood, Queens. For her MSG show, Peel created a tissue box that dispensed tissues asking about binary choices, like leather or latex. “Rebecca was sitting in the backseat and when people made their choice it corresponded with turning left or right,” Knowlton said. “And they made a choice from a tissue at every single intersection. And then wherever we ended up we took a picture.”
Curious about a different kind of spontaneity, I asked Knowlton if the art ever got damaged during drives. “Actually, the art gets fucked up all the time,” she answered. “This is something we had to learn, to tell every artist that we worked with, like, just so you know when a sculpture is placed in a car it behaves differently,” she continued. “So, almost every single thing that we’ve done we’ve had some sort of a problem because of the way that things happen when things move.”
Knowlton told me a story about an exhibition with the artist Gabi Villasenor that included one particularly problematic fountain. “Every time we went around a corner all the water would dump out of the fountain,” she said. “We learned everything kind of the hard way.” Other notable projects include an exhibition by Abby Lloyd that featured a figurative sculpture and multiple trips to McDonald’s and another, in Los Angeles, with the artist group Institute for New Feelings that involved massages in the middle of the Los Angeles River (made possible by a grant from the Precipice Fund, which is part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program).
Knowlton is gearing up for a move to New York, and she is bringing the Scion with her on a cross-country road trip. Future plans for the gallery include a possible show in Baltimore and a project in upstate New York. Something in the Big Apple isn’t out of the question, either. “I think the challenge of having a car parked somewhere in New York will be kind of fun too,” she said. “It would be slightly miserable, but I think it would be a good experience.”