Arts June 28, 2016

Outside the Box

Aurobora Gallerist Michael Liener Rethinks the Artist Residency

Over nearly two decades, Aurobora art dealer Michael Liener dedicated a portion of his San Francisco gallery space—an historic firehouse, constructed just after the 1906 earthquake, in the city’s Yerba Buena neighborhood—to a rotating cast of artists-in-residence. By inviting painters and printmakers to work onsite, Liener bridged the gap between process and end product; collectors no longer viewed potential acquisitions within a commercial vacuum, instead engaging with pieces and their makers directly.

So integral was this guest-artist program to the Aurobora approach that when Liener relocated the gallery to Ketchum at the end of 2014, he was eager to secure a similar working studio in the valley. (Aurobora also featured an atelier at its second location, in the South Park section of SOMA in San Francisco, from 2008 to 2013.) An email from a friend not long after Liener settled in Idaho led to his lease of a Bellevue barn off Glendale Road that, over the past year, has hosted a coterie of internationally recognized names, including Monique van Genderen and Lisa Williamson.

“I’d never been to Idaho before, and I was completely blown away,” recalled Austin, Texas-based painter Dana Frankfort, who spent six days in Bellevue in late March. “Being in the Valley had a direct effect on my work because I think of my paintings as abstractions based on the landscape,” she continued, noting that unlike her past residencies in Maine and upstate New York, “I was taken off guard by the mountains. I’d never seen anything like them before.”

Israeli-born, Los Angeles-based artist Liat Yossifor, who worked for 10 days at the Aurobora barn last September, was equally inspired by its dramatic vistas. “My studio is on Hollywood Boulevard, and I arrived to this gorgeousness all around,” said Yossifor. “It threw me off completely. I respond to color, to light, to sensation, so when you switch spaces, it can create a crisis. The work that I was making in L.A. didn’t make sense to attempt in Idaho.”

It was during this adjustment period that Yossifor, equipped with a pair of hiking boots picked up on her first day here, began taking walks both in Bellevue and along the Big Wood River in Ketchum. “There’s a lot of freedom and chaos in making art, so it helps to have a structure of some kind,” she explained, noting that she would often break up the day by walking for three hours, then working for three. “It was a direct, site-specific response to any sensation I felt—like recording every experience.”

Traveling to Idaho—a destination not exactly on the art world map—asks Aurobora residents to take a leap of faith with the gallery. But beyond boarding a plane to the unknown, all of the participants must arrive, Liener emphasized, without any predetermined ideas about what they will produce during the program. Said Liener: “We have a philosophy here: without experimentation, there’s no discovery. Without discovery, there’s no regeneration. The artists that come here have to allow themselves to make dirty laundry, to throw things away, and to keep asking, ‘What if?’”

For Yossifor, that “What if?” was expressed by reconsidering the very materials with which she painted. It was a roll of Belgian linen, stocked in a corner of the barn, that served as the surface on which Yossifor’s sparsely colored water paintings came to life. “It was very hardened,” said Yossifer of the oil-treated toile, “so when I dropped it on the floor, it was almost like a carpet.” The linen’s absorbency allowed Yossifor to saturate it with water, and not unlike Jackson Pollock’s impromptu splattering, she began pouring daubs of pigment from above, likening the result “to a drawing that was swimming.”

Frankfort also found that charting new technical territory in Idaho has expanded her repertoire of processes and mediums back in Texas. Her time during the residency collaborating with a local printmaker and dabbling with etching ink on paper, said Frankfort, “tapped into a part of my brain that I don’t normally use. It opened my paintings back up.”

After the gallery selects several pieces from the residency (each artist also keeps a number of works), group shows are mounted at Aurobora’s Ketchum space. This summer, Liener hopes to team with Ketchum’s Harvey Art Projects on a dual-site exhibition that incorporates both barn-produced work and a smattering of Australian aboriginal paintings. Though Liener prefers to maintain the Bellevue barn as a working studio only, he is considering collaborating with the Sun Valley Center for the Arts on a series of artist talks at the 1,200-square-foot space. Such an exchange would enable Aurobora’s visiting residents to further enrich their time here by interacting with a part of Idaho beyond its physical environment: the Valley’s fertile community of homegrown artists.

This article appears in the Summer 2016 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.