Published March 9th, 2023 by Russ White
In this Q&A with artists & gallerists Emma Beatrez and Lee Noble, the two explain their move to a commercial space in Lowertown and their inaugural show of paintings by Julia Garcia, opening March 18
It’s a snowy March day in downtown Saint Paul when I visit, but inside the rough, unfinished storefront space that Night Club Gallery now calls home, it’s pure Florida. Stacked along the cracked plaster walls are ten new paintings by Minneapolis-based artist Julia Garcia, almost every one depicting blonde, bikini-clad women manhandling alligators. They’re on beaches and in marshes, impassively holding the alligators’ gaping jaws open or hoisting the beasts over their shoulders like trophies.
Inspired by Garcia’s upbringing near the Everglades, the paintings are wet on wet, a mixture of crisp lines of bare canvas and dripping, gauzy details – think Tammy Faye Messner in full mascara fresh out of the pool. In the background of each are lurid landscapes that, in some cases, call to mind computer clip art and, in others, gassy swamplands at dusk. It’s a bawdy, campy, and very contemporary way for creative duo Emma Beatrez and Lee Noble to introduce their gallery to a city who implores its denizens to “Keep Saint Paul Boring.” No help on that here.
Previously hosting exhibitions in the front room of their home in South Minneapolis, the two are branching out to this commercial space thanks to the Saint Paul Downtown Alliance’s Grow Downtown initiative, which hosts businesses for free in vacant storefronts for six months at a time. Formerly the Red Sea Market, which moved one door down a few years ago, the space is rough and ready — bare concrete floors, scraped splats of construction adhesive on the walls, a bathroom door currently held closed by a 2x4. It's one really big, beautifully raw room that artists are going to love.
With their grand opening next Saturday, Night Club has plans to stay open in this location at least until October, and I stopped by the new space to see just what they have up their sleeves.
Julia Garcia, Ingenue, acrylic and ink on canvas, 60 x 52", 2022
Russ White: Night Club started as an experimental exhibition space in your home. What prompted the expansion to this commercial space? And will you keep showing work at your home as well?
Lee Noble: It was just prompted by the Downtown Alliance opportunity, pretty much. I'm not sure if this was something we were looking to do before that. We were pretty happy doing shows in our house, but we heard about this kind of crazy miracle program where they were trying to fill empty retail spaces in downtown. So we just applied as a shot in the dark and ended up after a long process, getting this space.
Emma Beatrez: We had the initial meeting, I think, last September, so it has probably taken about six months to get here.
LN: And at the moment, we don't have any other shows planned for our house space. We're trying to be planning a little bit further ahead than we have been.
EB: So we can do more massive, crazy shows like this.
LN: Obviously, it's more involved with more space. But we might do something at the house eventually. We’re not trying to end that completely.
RW: Do you have a plan for programming in this space outside of exhibitions?
LN: We’d like to, but we don't have anything set down exactly yet. But we're talking to a bunch of people about doing some performances, screenings, installations, I'd like to have some music performances in here. And some more temporary or ephemeral kind of installation work that can go up briefly.
RW: Do you see this as an extension of the curatorial practice you were engaged with at your home or sort of a different project?
EB: I think it feels like an extension, for sure.
LN: Obviously we can do way more than we could do in our house. So it feels like an expansion.
RW: Is it nice to feel like you have your house back for yourselves?
LN: Well, now it's just kind of a mess. (laughs) Keeping the front space of the house prepared for visitors was a good motivator to keep things organized.
EB: Now our own work is just kind of taking over the house, so not much has changed.
Installation view of Chiller, July 2021 at Night Club Gallery's original location: the gallerists' home. Photo by the author.
RW: It strikes me, and I don't know if this is true in other cities or places, but there is a long tradition here of at-home galleries. Yeah, Maybe and Sadie Halie come to mind. Waiting Room now. What was your experience running a gallery out of your home? Would you recommend it?
EB: Yeah. Very low stakes. If you want to do it, and you have the space to do it, why not?
LN: It works great for our space. I think we had a kind of an unusual front space, so I think it worked great. And we could be a little more flexible about things too. A lot of times, we would just extend the shows for longer than our planned date because we could just keep it going.
RW: So for the new space, were you specifically aiming for downtown St. Paul? Or was the space just what came along?
LN: This is just what we found.
EB: This is the first space they showed us.
LN: Yeah, they showed us a couple of other spaces that have been empty for a long time, but we thought this one was perfect.
RW: And you like how rough it is?
EB: I like it, I think it works really well for us. I still have some glue to scrape off the back wall, but… (laughs)
New work by Julia Garcia.
RW: What’s your vision for this new Night Club in terms of the artists and the audiences that you want to serve? And are you planning to focus on sales or grants or participating in art fairs, or growing the gallery in those sorts of ways?
LN: We're interested in doing all those things. And hopefully we'll keep kind of locking pieces in place that will let us do more.
EB: We’re planning on doing some more larger shows with local artists. Kind of what we’ve done before, but focusing a little bit more on local artists than we have in the past.
LN: The mere fact that we have a much bigger space means we can physically hold more stuff. So we're inviting a couple of artists to do much bigger versions of some of their smaller pieces that we've shown in our house space as an extension of their practice. And we'll be open more than the house was open. It's been a lot of like, contacting people in Saint Paul and just making initial connections, like meeting our city councilwoman the other day.
RW: I think it's fair to say that you all get around and check out scenes in other cities, and you're always showing lots of places, going lots of places. What can we do better in the Twin Cities visual arts scene that you might have seen happening in other cities?
LN: I mean, participation is the biggest. That's the biggest and best thing that anyone can do to make a scene happen, I think. What are the John Cage, Sister Corita Kent rules? They had 10 rules for students, and it’s basically just “participate.” Read everything you can get your hands on, go to everything.
It can be hard. Especially because it's just so hard to get around the Twin Cities when it's winter and there's no parking (laughs), et cetera. So there are some obstacles, but it’s fun once you’re there at the thing.
We also just got back from Chicago yesterday to pick up more artwork and drop off Emma’s work, and the apartment/house gallery scene is really good there. We were there for two days and we went to like three different apartment galleries and saw some incredible shows.
RW: So tell me about this show, Julia Garcia’s Sawgrass.
LN: Julia is new to the Twin Cities. She's been here for about a year, and she's lived everywhere but has landed here now. She has been working furiously — these are all brand new paintings.
EB: She’s made all of these since our group show that we had in January. She had that one painting, and all of these were made since then.
LN: Yeah. So she's a total maniac. Can you believe it?
EB: These new paintings take inspiration from outrageous "South Florida" imagery, the spectacle, the Spring Break culture, those elements are investigated here, painted using a wet on wet technique straight on raw canvas. The result is eerie, beautiful, uncanny.
RW: Why did you want to start with her?
EB: She was the first person we talked to initially, when we were almost sure that we were getting this space. Ever since we first saw her work, before we ever met, we were psyched about the work she was making. She's a super bold artist, and it's exciting to see her pushing the work further with each new piece she makes. Julia's work is the perfect thing to start off a new exhibition series in a new gallery space.
LN: Yeah, we went to her studio awhile ago and she had all these mega paintings of motorcross accidents. They were really impressive.
EB: She has been really wonderful to work with, can't wait for everyone to check it out.
RW: And I think it feels like a good introduction to what you all do in terms of curation, too. Because it is traditional media but it's also kind of bonkers. It's also very contemporary and feels representative of where painting is, I think.
LN: Yeah, they are deeply strange paintings, I love them.
RW: My last question is for both of you, but Emma, I know specifically you've been showing a lot recently and seem to be doing very well in your painting career. What advice do you have outside of the studio for building a successful career as an artist?
EB: I think that goes back to what Lee was saying about just participating. I don't know if making connections is the right word, but I think people really realize or recognize when you show up to things. Just being active is really important. I feel like that's how I've gotten all of my shows pretty much, honestly.
Come to our show so we can meet you! (laughs) We want to meet more cool artists around here and make those connections. Come through.
LN: Come through! (laughs)
I would agree with that. I’d say just try every dumb idea that you have, no hesitation. Make stuff, go to stuff. ◼︎
Image courtesy of Night Club Gallery.
Help keep independent arts journalism alive in the Twin Cities.