Art From The Sidewalk: Max Lofano's 'Ray'
North Park's Art Produce Gallery has transformed their exhibition model throughout the pandemic, making more room for residencies for artists and even dance companies who need a place to develop, create and share art. Art Produce's storefront sits directly on University Avenue in North Park, with a large front window and glass doors to showcase works to passersby on the sidewalk.
Right now, the gallery window is home to current artist-in-residence Max Lofano's new, ephemeral work, "Ray." It's a series of sculptural lines that seem endless, spanning from their suction-cup attachments on the front window back to a vanishing point on the gallery's distant back wall.
Lofano worked with the gallery spotlights and intentionally created the work to be viewed from the sidewalk, at night.
"Art Produce gallery is so unique in its ability to engage with the everyday pedestrian," said Max Lofano, the latest visual artist to take the space. "You're completely on display as you work. And you start seeing people who aren't expecting to see art, who are just walking by, and those people have experiences with whatever you're doing, whether you're working in there or whether it's a finished product or anywhere in between."
Making artwork visible through a window can engage people who might not otherwise seek out art. But in a pandemic, with museums and galleries shuttered or severely limited, that model is one of our only options to see art at all.
Lofano's body of work is heavily focused on — and influenced by — materials and found objects. He approaches work as experimentation and embraces the challenge. For example, he'll work with non-art materials, and build a concept or piece from there. He often doesn't even depend on paints to bring pieces to colorful life. "I like to find my color," Lofano said.
His recent work has primarily been temporary, site-specific installations, which means letting go of a sense of permanence but allowing for cheaper or more approachable, accessible materials.
"I am not necessarily looking to build a work that’s going to be archival or exist forever, but more interested in going about an experiment," said Lofano. "I've found that accepting the idea that the piece might not exist forever, and actually being happy that it won't exist forever — because that opens up so much more possibilities."
On the first day in his residency, Lofano visited the hardware store across the street and bought the dozens of small suction cups he'd use for the piece (more than 100). He also knew he wanted to use a bright green crochet thread he already owned.
But building the final installation required a slower approach. While the shape of an ellipse, planes, perspectives and a vanishing point can be calculated using mathematical models, Lofano didn't know from the beginning what shape — literally — this piece would take. And regardless, he prefers to work by sight.
"Only once I started to put some lines up in the studio to experiment with gallery light did I realize the direction of the piece and how the thread could dissolve with light," Lofano said.
After some trial and error, Lofano completed the work, primarily focusing on engaging the front window and people who may be viewing it from outside. And with the everyday materials (the piece is just suction cups, thread and nails), the piece is accessible in its straightforwardness.
The practical elements of the work are, however, at odds with its magic. It's a stunning, reality-bending piece that touches on a cosmic spaciness. The work draws the eye and the imagination in close.
Being an artist during a pandemic is challenging, but this piece was born from the restrictions and the task of sharing art without indoor viewings or appointments available during the new regional stay-at-home order.
And Lofano said that he found rare moments of connection as he worked alone inside the gallery. He'd be inches from the glass, without needing to wear a mask, and passersby would come right up to the window to see the work in progress. Both artist and viewer were protected by the pane of glass.
"I get to watch people who don't even know it's art walk up to it and have an experience with it," said Lofano.
The work will be on view at Art Produce (3139 University Ave in North Park) through Sunday, Jan. 3, and is best viewed at night. Also on view from the sidewalk is a series of SDSU Visual Arts MFA videos, "Intervals of Process."