For the past four or so years, the artist Cory Arcangel has run a merchandise and software company called Arcangel Surfware, a sort of lifestyle brand with the internet enthusiast in mind—the surfing in question refers to web browsing, not wave shredding. Among the items in the extended Arcangel Surfware catalog are sweatpants, bedsheets, and fidget spinners, alongside collaborations with musicians ranging from the late composer Tony Conrad to the pop band Wet.
Arcangel is known for multimedia work that often trades in the addition, subtraction, isolation, and modification of popular cultural tropes, with technology a particular running concern. In 2011, he staged a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York. In 2015, the artist made the move to the coastal town of Stavanger, Norway, the hometown of his wife Hanne Mugaas, who is currently the director of the Kunsthall Stavanger. This summer, Arcangel “soft launched” a combination store and gallery in a formally industrial part of town. The two components are called Arcangel Surfware Flagship and Flagship A.S., respectively.
“[The store] looks a little bit like a cellphone repair shop, and a little bit like a clothing store,” Arcangel told me during a recent video chat. “It’s kind of unclear what it is, which is what I was kind of going for. We’ve had a couple people come in looking to get their cellphones repaired.” (Arcangel remarked that a few actual water-based surfers have also checked out the space; the extended Stavanger area happens to be a top Northern European surf destination, especially for windsurfing.)
At around 350 square feet, Arcangel Surfware Flagship is compact, not unlike a Boost Mobile store. It is filled with new pieces Arcangel made in collaboration with local fabricators, alongside items from the brand’s first four years of output. Though the store has been open since May—it keeps modest hours, noon to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, and by appointment—September 29 will mark a second, more internationally focused launch for the space. “It’s not really a real store and not really a real gallery so I can of course have two launches, it doesn’t matter,” Arcangel said. “I can have as many launches as I want.”
The second launch will bring new items in the store: the debut of the brand’s 2018 collection, which features a suite of locally produced multi-function scarves–Arcangel called them “scarves that you can also wear as hats, you kind of pull them over your head.” It’s part of a larger brand pivot that sees Arcangel Surfware moving from mass-produced items (the company recently ended its partnership with the Universal Music Group’s merchandise company Bravado) to a more artisanal aesthetic that the artist describes as “New Nordic” (this style of scarf is currently popular in Norway). There will also be a small collection of emojis created especially for the digital collaboration tool Slack and a new catalog for “Asymmetrical Response,” Arcangel’s recent traveling exhibition in collaboration with the artist Olia Lialina.
Then there is Flagship A.S., the gallery component of the storefront, which focuses on single-work shows—three a year. The first is a 2005 video by the late artist Burt Barr titled Watching The Paint Dry: Red, which Arcangel referred to as a “legendary minimal video” and whose title can be taken literally. It is 7 and a half minutes. The second launch also marks the opening of a new show at the gallery, another video by a legacy media artist: Let It Be by the storied Steina Vasulka. In the video, Vasulka—who, along with her husband Woody, founded the New York experimental theater the Kitchen—lip syncs the lyrics to that Beatles standard in extreme close-up style: only her mouth is visible.
Keeping with the theme of canonical video art, Arcangel remarked that for the remainder of the year, the gallery is going to focus on what he calls “masterpieces” before starting with a program of younger artists in 2019. First up is the New York–based Nick DeMarco.
Arcangel told me that when he is in town, he tries to be present during the operating hours for the store and gallery. “When people come in I kind of chew their ear off about the artwork,” he said. And that isn’t the only thing the artist is chewing. Arcangel Surfware Flagship is in a former sardine-canning district, and though those factories are long closed, remnants of that rich tradition can still be found. “There is an actual still-functioning smoked-fish factory three minutes from the shop,” Arcangel told me. “I go and get smoked fish for lunch all the time, and you can also bring your own fish to smoke.”
There is no doubt that the temperament of life in Stavanger is a major departure from the often-hellish pace of New York City. Arcangel seems to be taking it all in stride. After a minor adjustment period, “I’ve become a local enthusiast,” he told me. “There are all these empty storefronts, and the real estate is reasonable. There’s lots of possibilities here that maybe weren’t so easy in New York. I wouldn’t have opened up a store in New York, but definitely here, it seemed like the most obvious thing in the world.”