GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — There is a lot to be said for implementing your vision, but when you’re talking about the art world, the supporting infrastructure to show work can be difficult and costly to build. That was the challenge facing art historian and museum educator Zachary Johnson, when he conceived of a project to bring art into the public sphere — not just in a gallery context, but anywhere he might encounter people — especially during Michigan’s famously deep winter doldrums.
“In studying art history, my interest has always been in bringing art to new audiences,” said Johnson, during an interview conducted amid a bustling breakfast crowd at Marie Catribs, and continued via email. “I’m also constantly fascinated by artists and their thoughts and practices, so I wanted a way to interact with artists and bring their work out into the public. I’ve worked with city governments in the past on public projects, but it can take a long time to gain approval and there can be a lot of red tape, so I wanted to do something where I had more independence and flexibility.”
Flexibility is literally the watchword of Flex Gallery, a rotating exhibition space located on Johnson’s upper left arm, where a series of six custom armbands created by artists are exhibited in runs of two weeks each. “I was inspired by the work of Clutch Gallery, originally Meg Duguid’s project out of Chicago, where she had art exhibitions in her wooden purse,” said Johnson. “From that I came up with the idea of showing art on my arm via canvas armbands. The idea of artwork traveling with me to all sorts of places that art is usually not shown, bathrooms, basements, dance parties, etc., was very exciting. What would it be like for someone to see artwork while out dancing at one in the morning?”