A few weeks back, it was a 70-something man in a U.S. Navy cap who knocked on what used to be Mel’s Towing, then opened the door.
“I just wanted to know what you had here?” he asked co-directors and curators Rick Sinnett and Justin Harms. “It’s a beautiful building.”
As Harms explained it was a new, public art space owned by Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, Sinnett said, “Every day that happens, all walks of life. It’s everyone.”
At 25 N.W. Ninth, Womb recently opened its doors wide, so the public can see for themselves. The art space’s first featured artist, the San Francisco-based Bigfoot, installed his exhibit live throughout the first week of August, culminating in an opening reception that Friday.
Arguably, the gallery’s unofficial debut took place in late May when New York muralist Maya Hayuk adorned the outside walls with her decidedly colorful, abstract fingerprints, making a gallery outside of the gallery in the process.
Click below to watch Hayuk give Womb a touch of color.
“As much as I love to go look at art on the walls, it’s not that exciting,” Sinnett said. “We’re going to strive not to be just another gallery. We want to create an atmosphere that is engaging and invigorating. We want you to leave this place knowing you experienced something cool, being wowed.”
“That in itself was an art opening,” Sinnett said. “It was like, ‘Here we are! This is not your normal place. This is not your normal gallery. This is what we are going to do.’” The bold concept shies away from traditional framed art and sculptures. Those things are still welcome, but massive murals covering entire walls, strange installations comprised of household objects (think balloons and fans) and pretty much anything you (or Coyne) can imagine becomes possible.
The venue’s name fits that motif well. “The idea that you can come into a place, experience something and leave feeling as though you’ve been reborn,” Sinnett said. “That’s the idea of the Womb.”
Added Harms with a laugh, “We also have a lot of creative stuff coming out. There will be a lot of birth.”
The less-than-traditional approach is unlike anything the art-scape of Oklahoma has ever seen, and its existence in Oklahoma seems all the stranger because of that. But if the Lips’ success and association here begged any question, it was, “Why isn’t Oklahoma allowed to have something this cool?” “You see this sort of stuff in New York, L.A., Chicago, Austin,” Harms said. “Why not here? Why can’t we have that as well? Why not go for it?” Added Sinnett, “It’s a land of opportunity, ripe for something new. There’s no reason we can’t be cooler than Brooklyn.”
The Flaming Lips connection affords them not only the means to open the space, but also the chance to bring in nationally acclaimed artists, many of whom are Lips fans. Their style likely will lean toward street art without falling exclusively into that camp, certainly with a Lips-worthy freakiness to them.
Bigfoot’s animated, signature works of — who else? — Bigfoot struck a chord with skating and clothing companies, and have since been reproduced as everything from posters to vinyl figurines.
“The idea of bringing in nationally renowned artists here is kind of experimental,” Sinnett said. “We can do something that is new and different and good. We like all the galleries and supporting local art, but at the same time, it’s kind of boring. Some entities are afraid to take that risk, whereas we are more than willing to take those risks and open those doors.”
There’s no reason we can’t be cooler than Brooklyn.
—Rick SinnettAdmirably, the pair hopes this equates to more than just one special location, and that others in the art community will follow Womb’s lead. They already see — and have seen — it happening; all in all, the rolling plains of Oklahoma are starting to feel like the hippest place to be.
“Oklahoma is in a renaissance stage,” Sinnett said. “There’s a lot going on.”
“And a lot going to happen,” Harms said.
“The timing of this is perfect,” Sinnett said. “People are ready for this.”
Click below to watch Womb-featured artist Bigfoot at work.
Photos by Mark Hancock