Bushwick apartment gallery the Middler has been active for less than two years, but in that time it has staged an impressive program of exhibitions, video screenings, and even its own micro-art fair. The next unexpected move for the gallery is a collaboration with the lauded Swiss publishing outfit Nieves, wherein the Middler will transplant a form of the publisher’s Zurich headquarters into the space’s tight confines. Essentially, they will create a bookstore within an apartment. The show’s opening, tonight, will also function as a double book launch for two artists closely associated with the Middler—Quintessa Matranga and Rafael Delacruz. (Both volumes are being issued by Nieves, naturally.)
Atlas’s relationship with the publisher stems back to 2014, when Nieves released a book of lyrics from the cult musician Ariel Pink that Atlas conceived and edited. Since then, he has manned Nieves tables at book fairs and, last winter, worked alongside the publisher to create a limited-edition zine commemorating the artist Conor Thompson’s show of paintings and drawings at the Middler.
With that history in place, a larger-scale collaboration began to germinate. “Over the summer, maybe even fall, it kind of clicked for me,” Atlas said. “I should do a project with Ben [Sommerhalder, Nieves editor]—sort of treating the publisher as an artist and treating his output like something that could be presented in a gallery-type exhibition.” To Atlas, one of the benefits of an apartment gallery is its malleability. With a space like the Middler, “you don’t have to bend to rationalize the commercialization of art, you can exhibit anything,” he said. “I like the idea of being in my apartment with my Square reader and my phone.” And so the idea of the temporary bookstore was born.
Although Nieves has done exhibitions at Printed Matter and the Swiss Institute in New York, this is its first time showing books in a residential space. For the show, there will be around 35 books on view, all displayed using Vitsoe furniture, a company that the publisher has a longstanding relationship with. In addition to outfitting the Nieves headquarters, Vitsoe has worked with the publisher on other projects, including collaborative “Reading Rooms” at art and design fairs. “It’s really a collaboration between the Middler, Nieves, and Vitsoe,” Sommerhalder said over email.
The books will run through the publishing house’s large and varied bibliography. “The Middler Nieves bookstore features a selection of recent and rare titles, it’s a mix of books and zines from our catalog,” Sommerhalder said. Among those titles are Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely, Rita Ackermann’s Fire by Days, and Trucks by the late outsider artist Wesley Willis. Atlas said that they wanted to make sure some of the titles reflect the interests and sensibility of Matranga and Delacruz. “It’s a nice selection of new titles and then some catalog titles that I was excited about and Rafael and Quintessa were excited about,” he said, of the couple, who live together in Ridgewood, Queens, where they also work.
Matranga and Delacruz’s dual books are called Toilet Paintings and Exploding Jezebel, respectively. Matranga’s book title can be taken literally and stems from a spirited series of paintings the artist first showed last May at Freddy in Harris, New York. Exploding Jezebel explores work from Delacruz’s Tech Bum series, which imagines a colorfully dystopian Bay Area and is filled with the artist’s own internal visions (Delacruz showed at the Middler in the fall of 2016). Both titles fit comfortably within the larger Nieves catalog, which weaves between the worlds of contemporary art, comics, and counterculture.
Sommerhalder admitted to me that for a time, he had no idea the artists were connected. “Anthony introduced me to Rafael’s work and we immediately felt like doing a publication with his paintings/collages,” he said. “Then I saw Quintessa’s toilet paintings on display at Freddy Gallery through the internet and loved them right away. When I approached her I didn’t know yet that Quintessa and Rafael were a couple. Only when Rafael helped me out at our table at the New York Art Book Fair last fall did I realize.” Atlas mirrors this narrative. “Independently, Ben had pitched a book project to Quintessa, and we were confused,” Atlas said. “We were like, ‘Does Ben even know Quintessa and Rafael are a couple?’” It was a fantastic moment of synchronicity. “It all came together really nicely,” Sommerhalder said.
With the stage set for Thursday’s opening, Atlas is currently figuring out the finer points. “I’m also interested in, what’s the appropriate refreshment at this event?”Atlas said. “We’re thinking spiked coffee and chocolate. Something bookstore appropriate.” Beyond beverages, capacity is a major issue, as might be expected when throwing an event in one’s home. “The art fair was very well attended, so I don’t quite know what to expect,” Atlas said. I suggested that he might need some sort of backup at the door. “I think I need a bouncer,” he joked. “I need a bookstore bouncer.”