John Barlog and John Burtle's Open Arms: Two Dudes Who Run a Gallery Located on Their Arms

Fela Kim and Inger Koerselman 2007
Fela Kim and Inger Koerselman 2007

The idea behind Open Arms is a simple one: two L.A. guys, each with a tattooed spot on one of their forearms, provide those spots as a space for artists to create work.

But John Barlog and John Burtle don't really think of themselves as curators like someone running a conventional gallery might -- they just want to show art anytime and anywhere they can, even if that means being tied together, getting glue in their arm hair, or having little objects taped or strapped on their skin.

"It is a little complicated talking about it, since we've asked that our names not be used, but we try to remove the authorship out of the project," say "the Johnz." They've also been referred to as the space's hosts, john and john, traveling open art display (TOAD) or nothing at all, and in this interview, quotes are attributed to both of them together.

These "hosts" take their role as self-contained public gallery space seriously, whether they participate with an artist in a traditional setting, or meet one randomly walking down the street who doodles all over their skin.

In 2007 the Johnz had one rectangle (two inches by four inches) inked onto each of their left forearms, and since then that real estate has provided a non-commercial, public exhibition space for artists to show work. But the Open Arms "space" brings a very different set of logistical considerations than an artist might grapple with in a conventional exhibition environment. It combines a sense of permanence (the space of the tattoos themselves), mobility (into all aspects of one's daily routine) and temporality (the work could potentially wash off in the shower if the Johnz aren't careful).

Anonymous 2009 curated by Sea and Space Explorations
Anonymous 2009 curated by Sea and Space Explorations

 

Amy Blount 2010 curated by Sea and Space Explorations
Amy Blount 2010 curated by Sea and Space Explorations

"We've had people ask to break our arms or cut into our skin or put permanent tattoos, and that's not something we can do," say the Johnz. "We have two basic rules: the piece cannot physically harm the arms, and the artist can't damage the space."

Ben Lowrie 2008
Ben Lowrie 2008

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Initially the Johnz thought of Open Arms as a public art project that uses their own bodies as the site. But as the idea developed further, their bodies became a venue where they could feature artists in public space -- anywhere they happen to go.

"We do accept projects or submissions that are only on one of us, because that might be when the most spontaneous proposal happens, when we're not together," they say. "That's one of the things we enjoy, that it can function in different ways at different times."

Ethan Shoshan, curated by Commonwealth and Council 2011
Ethan Shoshan, curated by Commonwealth and Council 2011

Open Arms is currently accepting proposals.

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