If it weren’t for art galleries, Shon Taylor might never have met his wife. It was Kayo Gallery, 13 years ago. “Wouldn’t have happened if that gallery didn’t exist,” he says. “Wouldn’t have happened if we all just sat at home and clicked ‘like’ on Instagram.” The social aspect of openings — celebrating art with “people and libations” — is key to Taylor’s experience with art. “People should gather and enjoy the experience of meeting artists while taking in the work,” he says. For the past four years, that’s been the impetus to Taylor’s own experiment with an art gallery, God Hates Robots.
Up a nondescript set of stairs in a building across the street from Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park, the gallery is generally filled with south light during the day. It’s an intimate space, ideal for exhibitions of small works where one gets up close to enjoy the details of mark making, the texture of paper, the glow of paint. But Taylor has always wanted the gallery to be more than just four walls and halogen bulbs. He wanted “a place for experimental work to be shown and provide an avenue for casual observers to begin purchasing and collecting art.” It has helped that the gallery was always been subsidized by Taylor’s other business: Bottlerocket Mfg and 24tix.com. “The gallery paid no rent and had no payroll. Those factors go a long way toward our longevity,” he says of their four-year run. It also allowed the gallery to let artists keep 80% of their sales. “Having the option to make decisions about how we juror shows separated from financial ramifications and obligations gave the gallery flexibility to pursue some truly unique shows.”
During the gallery’s four-plus years, a submission process that happened every fall and was open only to locals (Salt Lake City and the surrounding area) resulted in 11 shows for the following year. The result was an eclectic mix, from established artists showing smaller or more experimental work, to emerging artists getting their foot in the door. Pricing has been a key aspect of the gallery: all works are under $400, providing an entry point for collectors. This meant that for Mary Toscano’s 2018 exhibit of a 15-foot-long drawing, she sold the work by the linear foot, allowing patrons to cut a portion of it for as little as $10.
“We sold work at most shows,” Taylor says. “Sometimes we sold a lot of work and sometimes artists made reasonable money.” Selling work was never the point, however. For Taylor, the gallery was an opportunity to meet very talented people in Salt Lake City, and the chance to spend time with artists he already knew, but from a different perspective. “For four and a half years, my office was an art gallery and I spent many many mornings drinking coffee and taking in what was on the walls quietly by myself.”
With the lease for the space coming to an end and expenses going up, Taylor and business partner Ray Childs have decided to close. It’s a decision they feel good about. “The gallery was always the side project of a side project. Some cool shit happened. We had a lot of great shows. It felt like the timing was right to end the experiment while we were still happy, having the ability to reflect back on things with nothing but good memories. Some things benefit from being temporal.
When he started the gallery, Taylor heard from many artists about their negative experiences with other galleries, so he was spurred to treat the artists better. “I’m so happy to have had so many artists trust us with their shows and I’m reasonably confident that none of the artists who showed at the gallery would say that they had a bad experience,” Taylor says. He’s not sure how many new collectors he created, but says the gallery did provide a “bargain” shopping experience for some gallery regulars. “At the end of the day we hosted shows that might not have otherwise been seen and sold some art. Nothing to complain about there.”
Looking back, he says the shows that stand out the most are the ones that didn’t go so well, ones where, because of weather or a lack of parking due to a Jazz game, the openings weren’t well attended — “shows where the work was amazing, but wasn’t seen. Shows where nothing sold,” he says. “It takes a lot of courage to want to show your work. To invite your friends and your family to come see your creative output. To invite scrutiny from strangers. And if it’s your first show and it doesn’t go well, that might be the end of your artistic endeavor.” If you want to know which shows were his “favorite,” you’ll have to stop by his house to see his personal collection. “They’re all artifacts of some of my favorite shows.”
As Taylor comes to the end of his experiment, he is looking at the bright side of closing the gallery. “I’m excited to find out how things look outside of our place,” he says. In person. While Taylor recognizes the ability of people to license their work, sell originals on their own sites or enter online marketplaces like Etsy are great opportunities, they can’t replace the gallery “The gallery is where you see work in person. See its scale. See its texture. See how it looks in the light. None of that can be replaced by online retailing.”
Tonight, join Taylor for the opportunity to see his own work in person and close up (along, of course, with people and libations). He calls the exhibition “an experiment in building light with transparent inks.” Using the image of a Pabst Blue Ribbon can as his subject, he has used a variety of “mechanisms for separating areas of ‘lightness,'” then screen printed these separations — four to six per image — on black stock, using the same transparent white ink. “The result is something I’m happy with as an experiment,” he says. “It’s something I needed to let my brain (and then hands) work through just to see how it turned out. Kind of like the gallery.”
The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.