Axle Contemporary, Art for the Masses

Santa Fe’s Axle Contemporary is only a year and a half old and already it seems like it’s been always been here.  Part whimsical innovation, part taco truck, part middle finger to the establishment, Axle is a literal truckload of art with an angle. Founded in 2010 by artists Matthew Chase-Daniel and Jerry Wellman, Axle’s mission is to “empower and promote art by breaking down traditional notions of art, distribution, and community.”

What might have started as a novelty act has branched-out from mobile gallery space into book publishing, web-exhibitions, performance hub, roadside haiku HQ and inspiration for like-minded artists and curators.  Changeable and fleet, Axle has become a mobile salon, a tourist attraction, and a much needed tonic to brick-and-mortar galleries.

Axle has worked hard to achieve their growing reputation.  They’ve labored to host over twenty exhibitions in a year and a half and reached beyond the usual art demographic by setting up in art-bereft locations.  You can find them at the Chavez center, Zeferano drive, and movieplexes—locations without galleries or public art.   “We go where there’s a lot of foot traffic, and we get a lot of support downtown, but [the southside] locations have been the most rewarding,” says Matthew, “We get families, children.  People are surprised and joyous to see us.  We’re not expected.”

Axle prides itself on its unpredictability (it is on wheels, after all).   Jerry points out that, “We’re called contemporary, but we also… incorporate folk arts, performance, and anything that speaks to us as artists.“  Matthew joins in, saying, “Our exhibitions vary greatly, but, obviously, they have to work in the space.”  They point out that they’ve given several artists their first shows, and also given a venue to established artists, such as Patrick Nagatani. Nagatani will show with Axle later this year.  “Galleries sometimes limit what an artist can exhibit, but we like people playing outside their comfort zone; it makes the work interesting,” Jerry says.  This year they plan on hosting performances, dance, and all manner of interactive art.

The Axle men believe in “inclusive” art, or art for the 99%.  “Art is something we all participate in,” says Jerry.  Axle shares this participatory ideal with the burgeoning art vanguard (including groups like Caldera and Meow Wolf, also in Santa Fe).  These young artists and curators take the declarations of old Franz Kugler one step further: Art made for, and enjoyed, only by the elite is “derivative and degenerate.”  Art is only pure when it’s a popular expression and a popular enjoyment.

Riffing-off the food truck revolution, Axle’s mobile universality is zeitgeist in motion.  Both Jerry and Matthew note that they’re frequently asked about design and franchising.  “We might put the plans [for the truck] up on the internet,” says Matthew, “people are hungry for this all over the country,” he continues.

Axle’s upcoming collaboration includes: Luv 4 ever (March 21st) with a step-van, which houses an olde-time printing press.  In a showcase of old and new forms of communication, the press will print text message poems by students of NM School for the Arts teacher Edie Tsong.

When I interviewed the duo, on a freezing and windy March morning, their space was standing room only.  Folks were lined up to have their picture taken for the current show ‘E Plurbus Unum‘ (March 2-11), and every patron I saw left elated and excited.  This, apparently, is the norm.  Both men expressed to me how much public support they’ve received, and how popular their shows are.  At that moment, as if on cue, a young woman leapt on board smiling, “You guys rock!” she said, “Thank you so much for what you do.”  Point taken.

Photographs taken by Lucy Madeline.

More photos available on AdobeAirstream’s Facebook page, link here.

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