Everything Is Permitted

Where to go to make an electronic drum out of your pickup truck--and other secrets of alternative art venues

"We don't get much walk-in business," cofounder Nicholas Harper confesses. Harper, a graphic artist who also publishes the zine Butt Seriously, decided to open a gallery after looking for a space to use as a studio for his own work. The Rogue Buddha is long and spare, with a large metal desk planted firmly near the door and track lighting aimed at the walls. During the week it is quiet, with cofounder Heidi Jeub seated at the desk, working on ink drawings as a slight breeze blows in a door on one end of the gallery and out a door on the other end. The venue does not advertise its shows, except to print up posters and send out a mass e-mail; neither do passersby peek in. Nobody passes by.

Nonetheless, for the recent opening of their "Dirty Laundry" show, the gallery was able to attract as many as 400 patrons. They spilled out into the streets until the police directed them back into the building, where a punkabilly band called Mad Trucker Gone Mad played in the basement. Four hundred! On the night when Kid Rock was playing! Unlikely as it seems, the two shows might well have competed for business, as the work that makes up the gallery's current show draws its influence from tattoo artists, comics, and that same foul-tempered rock 'n' roll attitude that fuels Kid Rock's popularity. Several photographs by Mad Trucker bassist Daniel Dieterich, for example, show bare-breasted women shooting guns and heroin. "Tits, tits and more tits," Dieterich writes in his artist's statement. "They all think I'm a pervert. I say it's art."

Harper explains that each of the venue's openings "is different and unique to the showing artist," and with this show Rogue Buddha has the feel of a basement club found among abandoned warehouses and lonely railroad tracks in the early Sixties, where Benzedrine-addicted garage bands played roaring rhythm-and-blues-inspired riffs. This ambiance could not be more appropriate: After all, these are paintings of monkey superheroes and samurai with their severed heads stuck on poles. The "Dirty Laundry" show very much gives a sense of the gallery's dedication to what Harper calls "an environment which is not sterile or typical."

Typical would require that the gallery establish some kind of norm. Instead, in the seven months of the gallery's existence, it has hosted such sundry events as dance, theater (a play called The Orators that involved members of the seemingly omnipresent Praxis group), "sound collage" DJs, and free jazz. An upcoming performance will feature classically influenced art song by Jennifer Cuff. "We want people to have as many experiences in the space as possible," Harper explains--as good a reason as any for heading over to the wrong side of the tracks.

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