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Baño Gallery: Turning the Bathroom Into an Art Space

Bano initiation

Oram BleicherBano initiation

Commercial enterprises devoted to the sale of visual art generally adhere to a common formula, with elaborate lighting racks, delicately framed work and pristine white walls the common attributes of the average space. Yet a new West Hollywood gallery, namely Bleicher Gallery's Bano annexe, is brazenly dismissive of these concepts.

Embracing work that he describes as "high-concept that defies contentious art ideologies," artist and gallerist Oram Bleicher, who runs two galleries in Los Angeles (Bleicher Golightly in Santa Monica and Caporale-Bleicher on La Brea) is using the toilet of his space as a gallery.

Adopting the apt name Baño Gallery, Bleicher says the space's realization was a happy accident. "When we first were renovating the La Brea gallery, one of our team commented that the bathroom was so large you could have another gallery in there.

"I joked around with a curator about it and it started to make sense that interesting projects could be created to adapt to a unique environment. There's fertile ground for experimentation, contemplation, controversy and humor."

Bleicher adds that the space doubles as one for gallery interns to get more responsibility and explore some of their creative ideas. Every two months a new intern is appointed Baño director and chooses their own curators and other Baño staff to find projects that fit the space. ""It was a risky move, but I bit the bullet," he says. "I give them advice but they are free to do whatever they are inspired to do in the space."

Asked about people's reaction to the novel idea, Bleicher says most people are surprised and amused. "Often they think I'm joking, and then when they take a peek they say, 'There really is a gallery in there' and show their friends. Response to the art is varied, as it would be to art in any gallery. Only a few people are dismissive of the location of the work."

An exhibit examining the UC Davis pepper spray incident

Oram BleicherAn exhibit examining the UC Davis pepper spray incident

Currently in the space, guest curator Kathryn Gjerde has a two-person exhibit by Iana Gaidarski and Joe Post. The exhibit comprises a set-up of bathroom air fresheners on motion sensors under video stills of last year's heavily publicized UC Davis pepper spray incident. The air fresheners spray in the same direction as the pepper spray in the photo and are activated when a viewer comes close to them.

When Occupy protestors were doused with military-grade pepper spray at UC Davis last November, Post documented the incident with a video camera and then used stills from the video as the centerpiece of his installation. Each image captures the precise moment before spray ejects from the canister.

The works' seemingly inane positioning in a gallery restroom actually serves to bolster their power. Removed from a familiar and comfortable setting, the images are raw and engaging, without any glossy or sanitized veneer.

Previously at Baño, Sophia Hogan curated a show of photographs that were strategically placed to create the illusion that the subjects were peeping at the viewer. Mounted at strategic points inside the Bano space, the images were cropped and sized to scale to reinforce the illusion.

Baño Gallery is located inside Bleicher Gallery La Brea, 355 N. La Brea, labrea.bgartdealings.com

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