by Kara Q. Smith
Friday night at ArtPadSF, one of the raft of fairs floated out these years to swell art commerce here in San Francisco. Trafficked, but sparser then remembered, the fair hosted a heavy load of California galleries, especially from the Bay Area, far outnumbering those from less local climes. Some switches and changes, neighborhood gossip and shifting allegiances: Eleanor Harwood Gallery previous exhibitor at fair rival ArtMRKT now at ArtPad, a change of scene…
Weaving through the rooms I caught a faceful of standard smile-and-nod greetings, perhaps a wispy “welcome,” or nothing at all if the gallerist was indisposed. I arrived at a humble gallery from a farflung place not known for its artistic gravitas, a place I call home. I arrived at the best little gallery in Birmingham, Alabama, beta pictoris gallery. Inside proprietor Guido Maus, while crouched on one knee, was tilting a Willie Cole sculpture and explaining the piece to a coterie of would-be clients. Except animatedly kneeling for demonstrative effect, Guido hoofed back and forth across his patch of booth the whole time, walking up to visitors to tell them about each artist with a gregarious grin on his face. When I entered, I got a hug. I don’t know if it is the Southern or the Belgian, but Guido is really fucking likable.
Guido had been in the business of fine art collecting for years when he opened beta pictoris in Birmingham, the muggy Southern township from whence I came. I knew at the very first exhibition reception that it broke unique ground in the city. Small (barely any standing room!), minimal (no jewelry counter!) and with an already formal exhibition schedule and list of regional and national represented artists, Guido easily stood out. His affable demeanor and dedication to the local community made beta pictoris a puzzle piece that seamlessly slipped into Birmingham’s already vibrant, even if struggling, local art scene. What was different? Guido, with grace and panache, might possibly make Birmingham an actual, artistically relevant place in the yawning Southern gap between the coasts.
I came back to ArtPadSF on Saturday. Everyone was sitting. Couples lounged in the courtyard, kids in the pool, gallerists in their rooms, it seemed everyone was there at that time to just hang out. Guido was still standing, but we had a chance to sit down and talk about the fair and his gallery. The night before Guido attended an Avengers concert after making quick friends with Richard Peterson, who was there with Carmen Wiedenhoeft Gallery from Denver. Guido didn’t think twice when I asked him how Penelope Houston sounded. The guy was pretty much a local by his second night.
Kara Q. Smith: What’s one of the best experiences you have had so far at Artpad?
Guido Maus: There are lots of them. I think people are extremely responsive. There are funny moments of course where they are completely smitten with the quality work and then the eye rolling when they realize we are located in Birmingham, AL. Other moments, which have transpired every day now, people thank me for coming from so far, which is kind of funny. People are extremely thankful to be part of something that San Francisco tries to become through these art fairs. So it’s really interesting and quite rewarding. I think people really get the work.
KQS: I want to talk a little bit about Willie Cole’s work because people are immediately drawn into your space by his sculptures. I just overheard someone ask, “Why bronze?” Can you talk about his decision to use bronze for these pieces? I feel like the immediate response to the work is very lighthearted but that choice of material seems to carry some conceptual weight.
GM: It was a profound decision. You know how some people have their baby shoes cast in bronze. The idea is about memory. When you condense down to the everyday object of shoes, where some people may spend $20 or $3,000 on a pair of shoes yet we walk on dirt and when they are used we throw them away. So he created these sculptures out of these everyday objects creating this kind of new language with very African-statuesque-like figures mixed with the fetishized object, which is the shoe and the foot... It is almost obscenely absurd that we pushed it to the quintessential museum material, which is bronze. Why would you want to that? Well, for that reason.
Instragram photo of Willie Cole gallery installation; Photo by Kara Q. Smith
KQS: I think you do a really good job representing artists based on your location in Birmingham and I imagine regionality influences some of your decisions in that regard.
GM: Yes. I think it would be obscenely absurd to not have Birmingham artists, or from Alabama or from the South in general in the program. I think they have a very specific language of expression…I owe it to the community, too. And that sounds very very cheesy. You know, I am a commercial gallery; I am no missionary. I think it is very important to be very open to your community, or art scene—or however you want to describe it—and to be a platform for the ones who are creators. You have artists that are continuously working very hard making a new bodies of work.
KQS: I think what you're doing is really important for the scene there. It’s important for the artists. I think some people can have an aversion to commercial galleries, and you mentioned some of the concessions that spaces often have to make in order to run a commercial enterprise but in my time there, artists really wanted that representation and it was hard to offer them what they needed.
GM: It’s very important to mention that when we have structured modus operandi as a commercial gallery, we also empower artists to be proactive to create their own shows, be it for a month long or be it for only one night.
KQS: Any hopes for a Birmingham Biennial in the future?
GM: [laughter] I don’t think I can know that.
KQS: What is the next show you have coming up at beta pictoris?
GM: On June 1, we will show New York photographer Bayete Ross Smith. He has been working on shooting portraits of gun owners with their favorite gun. It will be very interesting. We shot thirty-seven portraits in three days in Birmingham and these people of course are from or around Birmingham and will be in the show on June 1.
A lot of my excitement in approaching this piece is profiling a piece of the Birmingham art scene, which has always been very close to my heart. Now, go to Birmingham, Alabama. Tell Guido I sent you.
—Kara Q. Smith
(Image on top right: Willie Cole, Downtown Goddess, 2012, bronze. no. 1 ["ivory-white" patina] of a limited edition of 7 [each of the 7 in a different color/color combination], ca. 36 x 9 x 9 in.; Courtesy the Artist and beta pictoris gallery, Birmingham)