SAN DIEGO — Installation Gallery never really died, but it's been reborn again and again. Since its founding in 1981, the alternative, nonprofit gallery has dug shallow roots in several downtown spaces, shaped visions for the future under the leadership of several different directors and gone through long, stagnant periods with no visibility at all.
In its latest incarnation, Installation appears fresh, alive and aware of its own limitations. The gallery's current home--no one associated with the organization dares to use the word permanent anymore--is in the Mission Brewery Plaza in Middletown, and its newest project, "IN/SITE 92", sprawls ambitiously all over San Diego and Tijuana. For "IN/SITE", Installation has organized installations by emerging and better-known area artists at 21 galleries, bookstores, museums and other sites during the months of September and October. Though many of the shows were already on the books, others were rescheduled or specially arranged to be part of the "IN/SITE" program.
"We got really good feedback," said artist Ernest Silva, who, with gallery director Mark Quint, conceived of the project for Installation. The curators and gallery directors they approached "felt it was a celebration of San Diego artists, and it would give a sort of unity to what's going on here. San Diego has a terrific number of artists, and over the course of the years, you see great programming. When you put it all together, you get a sense of how much is going on here. But there are only a relative few who see the shows all across the county. So we thought, if we coordinated installations, the sum would be greater than the parts.
"In the back of my mind, I thought, all of these places--museums, galleries, community colleges--all have their own audiences. Wouldn't it be great if those audiences circulated through all of those places?"
Though Installation does have a problematic history, Silva found that a creative solution could be born of the situation. The program's "cooperative curating" grew out of a need for exhibition programming and Installation's lack of a fixed space.
Late last year, high rents forced Installation to close its downtown space, and in January, the gallery's director, Craig Freeman, left to become an instructor at UC San Diego. The Mission Brewery space became available early this year, and shortly after Freeman left, former Installation volunteer Anna Gonzalez was hired as a full-time managing director. But without funds to hire a new artistic director, Installation was like a car with its engine running but with no one driving, and no particular destination.
Installation's relatively stable board of directors came to the rescue by establishing an arts advisory board to conceive and implement a program of events and exhibitions for the gallery. Silva, Quint and roughly 10 other artists and gallery directors serve on the board.
"The 'IN/SITE' project is the first to come out of this mechanism, so we feel that it works," Gonzalez said.
Actually, the "IN/SITE" idea took off faster and further than anyone anticipated. Members of the arts advisory board began only a few months ago approaching other galleries, museums and exhibition venues to participate in the program.
"Once we started talking to people, we got so much enthusiasm that people started switching their schedules and it really grew," Silva said. "The strength of the idea is that it is a cooperative venture. Each institution is using its own resources. No one has anything to lose and they have everything to gain."
A schedule of exhibitions has been printed and is available at all participating venues, and shuttle bus tours to selected San Diego and Tijuana sites are planned for Sept. 26 and a date in October to be announced. A reception will be held on Friday, Sept. 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Mission Brewery Plaza, where several installations can be viewed. A "performance ritual" by Tijuana artist Cipriano will be performed at 9 p.m. that evening.
Installation has been frequently homeless and constantly poor. It has kept itself afloat through private contributions, funds raised through Artwalk (the downtown festival of arts that Installation organizes annually), and sporadic city and federal grants. "IN/SITE" has not been designed as a fund-raising venture, but some monies may come in from the sale of limited edition sculptures by local artist Jay Johnson. His "Micro Installations" will be installed at various venues, and all proceeds from sales will go to Installation.