This column first appeared in Art New England, September/October 2016.
No Pop is…
No Pop is evolving.
And this fall, No Pop is one year old.
For the past year, this second-floor converted commercial space in downtown New Haven has been the testing ground for redefining what an art institution can be. “We’re a studio concentrating on the values of daily practice,” says Laura Marsh, founder and director along with her husband Phil Lique. No Pop is also a gallery, work space, and home for these married art professors and installation artists. With a desire to immerse their community in creativity, Lique and Marsh blur the boundaries between exhibiting, living, producing, and teaching.
To find No Pop: walk past [Lightbox], a back-lit art display that shines into the street; enter the lemon colored door next to Bubble & Squeak Laundromat; and climb the stairs strung with fabric and flags. It’s not a traditional entry; No Pop is not a traditional gallery. Even the name comes from a hope to break free of an organized movement, while alluding to the concept of “popping up” in an unexpected environment.
In a former life, this 1700 square foot interior housed banking offices. Now these walls boast cutting-edge work by emerging artists: vibrant painting, collage, photography. In the center of the main room is a studio where Lique and Marsh make their own found-object installations. There are also display shelves of publications for sale, a tiny room called The Egg—originally intended as a closet, now an enclosed pod for experimental installations by rotating artists—and, behind closed doors, the founders’ private living quarters.
The No Pop idea grew out of an earlier concept for bridging the arts communities of Yale (Marsh is a 2009 graduate of the Yale School of Art) and the locals of New Haven. It evolved to unite people from varied professions, ages, and backgrounds, from doctors to students, teachers to punk rockers, restaurant servers to folks who happen to be doing their laundry downstairs. “It brings a cross section who wouldn’t normally get together,” says Lique. “They find inspiration and each other. In this way we’ve built a new art scene.”
Instead of traditional opening receptions, No Pop holds parties every two months corresponding with new exhibitions. The art is compelling and imaginatively curated, yet the openings are relaxed. Guests bring friends, kids, beer, cameras. Costumes are not uncommon. In May, Body Doubles showcased multimedia installations from ten video artists and illuminated the gallery in black lights; July’s theme was a black and white ball to, fittingly, launch No Pop’s new Xeroxed art and literary zine Pants Destroyer, a publication “with no theme and fewer editorial constraints.” Work sells at affordable prices, making original art accessible to modest budgets—as important to Lique and Marsh as ensuring their artists receive a fair cut.
At No Pop, visitors are never simply viewers—we are fellow storytellers in what Marsh calls “the narrative we’re building.” Guests are encouraged to explore and transform the surroundings such as in her installation Lady Cave. This tent-like construction sparkles with string lights and is draped in jewel-toned cloths. It beckons participants to enter its folds, snap photos with Marsh’s cameras, and move around props to continually personalize the space, leaving it different from how they found it. This is beyond art you can touch—it’s art you help build. “When the viewer becomes the performer, we reassess how the gallery experience should be,” Marsh says.
Lique and Marsh’s studios are central, and open, for everyone to see. While conventional galleries hide the studio process, No Pop highlights it. Paints and hammers, silk flowers and sewing machines rest on wooden worktables, hives of activity only briefly interrupted. “This is how artists do what artists do,” Lique reflects. “The integrity of the studio is preserved at No Pop. Art doesn’t just happen. It needs to be made.”
No Pop’s audience extends beyond New England: submissions have arrived from as far as Germany and Greece. That reach will continue as Lique and Marsh plan workshops, public curatorial opportunities, and partnerships to launch “pop up No Pops”—potentially in cities with communities as diverse as New Haven’s. Throughout it all they will continue to teach and make their own art. “We can’t be an island,” says Lique. “Collaborating with other curators and artists is mutually advantageous. Everyone benefits from participating and being present.”
Photography: Karina Urriola