DIY Art-Space: Delicious Spectacle

by Nathan Mullins

In 2012, five friends and artists – Victoria “Tori” Greising, Megan Meuller, Dan Perkins, Camden Place, and Sam Scharf – decided to open a gallery space in their living and dining rooms. Located in an inconspicuous row house in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., this venue, called Delicious Spectacle, has drawn the attention of artists and critics.

I recently had the chance to sit down with questions for the two remaining members at their house/gallery:

What is the significance of the name: Delicious Spectacle?

Dan Perkins: Delicious Spectacle… I think it’s origin probably can’t be traced to any singular idea or myth, shall we say, other than, perhaps, a particular text that is read amongst [American University] grad sudents.
Camden Place: And the world.
DP: And the world at large… [To Camden] Do you want to talk about your reading of [“The Society of the Spectacle”]?
CP: Yeah. So when people read Guy Debord and learn about the spectacle, which is this notion that all that we interact with is the superficial and the surreal, right? There’s this implied negative connotation to the spectacle, and no one ever thinks of it in this positive way. So we were just trying to think of ridiculous words that you would attach to such an experience, and “delicious” is one of the first things we came across. And so, in an effort to sort of provoke thought and/or confusion, we paired the two and figured we’d either be a food blog or some kind of art event.
DP: And it sounds pretty good. You know, it’s catchy.

What is the purpose of Delicious Spectacle? What is its mission?

DP: I really think it’s to provide a space, and with providing that space, hopefully generate dialogue within the community. Kind of giving space to artists who, perhaps, are younger or under-recognized or people we find particularly interesting, or who happen to be engaging in interesting dialogues.
CP: In a non-commercial space, at that: a space that really is not interested in the commercial side of work. If artists sell anything here, it’s 100% to the artist. But we’re really trying more to provide an environment where artists can try something different that is not really in a commercial gallery, is not in a space that has that sort of push or drive to it, no matter how much or how little, and that lets them explore or try something totally different.

Dan Perkins (far left) and Camden Place stand in Delicious Spectacle’s gallery space. At center is a painting by Sean Boylan. At right is a photograph by Evan Hume.
Dan Perkins (far left) and Camden Place stand in Delicious Spectacle’s gallery space. At center is a painting by Sean Boylan. At right is a photograph by Evan Hume.

So the non-commercial aspect is important for you. Can you expand on that?DP: I don’t think it’s important to be “non-commercial.” I feel like it’s more of the freedom from being commercial. Because, if you’re renting a space, and you’re paying money on it, and that’s your livelihood… I don’t want to knock commercial galleries. They have to pay rent, they have deadlines, they have shit to do. There’s kind of that model. I think it makes sense in a certain way, but I think there’s a freedom offered to not having that be part of your model. By doing it in your own home, by not being so worried about that bottom line, it doesn’t matter, then, if the show sells ten pieces or zero. So I think it gives more creative space to the artist if they want to try out a project or figure out something they haven’t done before.
CP: It’s freedom from a certain kind of pressure, which hopefully allows for a broader form of expression, or, at least, a form of expression [in which] you don’t have to worry about the financial issues, you don’t have to worry about needing to sell. If you do sell, awesome. But, ideally, it lets you explore a little more.

How’d you come about the idea to open an art space in your living- and dining- rooms?

CP: Tori had graduated from AU already; Sam and I were graduating; and we were all trying to figure out that next step. We all wanted something that would preserve the community that grad school provides for you. It is one of the most amazing parts of graduate school, that instantaneous community, you know? It’s provided for you; it’s at your fingertips. You’re just totally in it for those two years. And then you leave, and unless you do something to generate it, it’s gone. So we really wanted something to further that, and living together was a great first step. And then… Having space is so empowering. There’s so much you can do with space. If you decide you don’t want a dining room and you don’t want a living room, OK: “Well what can we do now?” Once Tori got the house, it became this instant thing of “What can we do? What are the possibilities for us here?”

All the founding members are artists, but you don’t show your own work here. Why is it important for you to not use the space to exhibit your own work? What do you gain from that?

DP: In some ways, it’s just a certain amount of rigor. If you are putting on a show in your own space, asking people to come see your art and come to your house seems like a bit much. Whereas, if you frame it, or earnestly express that project as something that is just an extension of your intellectual curiosity and not of your own self-promotion, then, I think, people take it a little more seriously: “Oh, this person’s actually interested in making this come alive or making this happen,” as opposed to, “Oh, this person just wants to be seen.”
CP: Earnestness is a good word or it.
DP: And, you know, it’s always on a spectrum. It’s not like a black and white–
CP: But when someone is going to first approach you and is going to get a first experience with your space, to be able to have that as a defining part of it just sets up the experience a little.
DP: I think it changes people’s expectations. Hopefully.

The opening at Delicious Spectacle for [In]finite Gardens, featuring the work of Matthew McConville, Robert Minervini, Erin Murray, Mike Nudelman, and Kathleen Vance.
The opening at Delicious Spectacle for [In]finite Gardens, featuring the work of Matthew McConville, Robert Minervini, Erin Murray, Mike Nudelman, and Kathleen Vance.

The Delicious Spectacle openings always seem to get heavy foot-traffic. Was it hard for you guys to generate interest? And how’d you go about doing that?

CP: It took off far more [rapidly] than we thought it would. Sam and Megan had both lived in D.C. for… I think Sam had been here for six or seven years at the time we started Delicious Spectacle. Megan for not quite as long, but a similar chunk of time. And so having people who had been here for so long, who were such a part of the community already, their next project… it just became known. We piggy-backed on that. And between press releases and word of mouth and just talking to any contact we could it just kind of snowballed.

What’s the process in deciding on which artist to exhibit?

DP: I don’t think there’s a standard modus operandi. It’s shifted throughout the course of the various shows we’ve had. A lot of our shows are kind of a rotation of either one of the house-mates being a curator or inviting someone in. More recently, we’ve been working off of artists that submitted as part of our January open-call, so it’s kind of a lot of different ways. And it’s often through people being told of people, or things get started and curation happens in a kind of organic way, where it’s like: “Oh, I saw this person and this person and I never would have thought of pairing them, but now that I think of them in this context, that becomes really interesting.”

You mentioned that you bring in curators from outside of Delicious Spectacle. How do you go about dividing up the curatorial duties? When one of you from the house are curating the show, do the other members get a say in it; is it a democracy? Or is the curator more of a dictator in that sense?

DP: I think it really depends on who’s doing it and what the show’s like. I think it’s a bit of both. I definitely think whoever’s curatorial month it is, it’s their idea, or their kernel, that they get to play with for a while. Once stuff gets a little more real and logistical, then things start to happen. It’s like: “Well what if we were to do this instead?” or “This artist can’t do it, but I know this person whose work would fit in really well” or something. But I kind of think it’s almost an extension of one’s own ideas or practice. So you kind of get to play in a different spectrum or different ballpark.

Installation shot of UNFETTERED featuring work by Mei Mei Chang, Eric Lundquist, Randall Lear, and Nikki Painter.
Installation shot of UNFETTERED featuring work by Mei Mei Chang, Eric Lundquist, Randall Lear, and Nikki Painter.

What’s the most surprising thing that you’ve learned or experienced by participating in this project?

CP: The most surprising. uff…
DP: [Chuckles] I don’t know. That’s a hard question. For me, I think I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for what gallerists do when I really did not at all before. I was like, “Fifty percent [commission]? That’s bullshit.” And now I’m like, “Ohh. They buy all the booze, and they tell everybody to show up.” You know, all these things that seem kind of trivial but you start to realize that it’s more of a task than you might have first thought.
CP: It’s definitely changed me as an artist in the sense that I will never show up to one of my shows again without being completely prepared and ready with every possible iteration or thing I can do to make things just as easy as possible. There’s something that’s so fantastic when an artist shows up and is just happy and ready and prepared. And has answers to the questions instead of just saying, “I’m going to figure it out.” It just makes things so much smoother and easier for everybody.
DP: Very true.

What’s the most difficult obstacle that you’ve had to overcome?

DP: I don’t know. Maybe living with everyone.
CP: Yeah. That and coordinating. Initially there were five of us with completely different schedules, completely different jobs, completely different day-to-day whatever, and trying to come together – to meet, to schedule, to make decisions, to plan – was super difficult. As we’ve lost members, that side of things has gotten easier, though now there’s a lot more work to do. So it goes both ways. But definitely, initially, getting the five of us to be able to be in a room together at the same time–
DP: Let alone agree.
CP: -yeah, let alone agree, was definitely a challenge. Because, when we were doing our open-call and what-not, when we were doing group curation in that kind of way, we gave everybody absolute veto–
DP: I forgot about that.
CP: -so that when we were trying to put together ideas, if one person really didn’t like it, it was gone. We didn’t want anything that all of us weren’t to some level happy with but were [instead] interested in for that matter, which is how we kind of balanced out the fact that when it was your month to curate, you could kind of do what you wanted.

Has running Delicious Spectacle opened any doors for you?

DP: A little bit?
CP: Yeah. Definitely. D.C.’s a small enough community and there’s a recognizability to the name that people, I think, are more likely to have heard about the gallery than about us, which is great. If anything, it’s a conversation starter. It also… having your own space completely changes the way you interact with other artists in the scene, you know. You’re not just another artist, you’re someone who might potentially show their work, who might be able to interact in something beyond what is sort of the general attraction between two artists. So, it definitely changes the kinds of conversations you can have right away, which is kind of fantastic, to not feel restricted in that sense – to be able to just jump in and have a real conversation at an opening anywhere instead of being stuck in the usual banalities. It’s just really refreshing.
DP: Yeah. I think it’s just, like Camden was saying, that recognizability. People are just more aware of, not only your project, but what you’re doing personally, so I think the two are pretty symbiotic.

Flyer for Ghosted
Flyer for Ghosted

The current exhibition is titled Ghosted. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

DP: I think both artists, Seán Boylan and Evan Hume, Seán being the painter, Evan being the photographer, I feel like they both deal with the ideas of loss, whether that be in a digital sense – kind of breaking down recognizability and image – or in a visual sense – Sean’s paintings have some really interesting figure/ground games where recognizability becomes a huge issue. [I was] thinking about a ghost as a vestige or something that was once there but has been removed. And, just to reiterate in almost a 21st century self-reflexive way, why not turn that into a verb, which is past tense. So, throwing those various ideas around of loss, permanence, temporality, I kind of thought “ghost” is a nice metaphor for something that was once there, had a material body, but no longer does.

Final question: The beers of choice at your shows are Nati Bo and Miller High Life. Why not PBR?

DP: It depends on the specials.
CP: Yeah whatever the cheapest beer is, we tend to buy.
DP: Yep. There’s not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to that.
CP: Well that’s also the fun of D.I.Y., is that, in some ways, it turns you into a thrifty individual.
DP: I shop specials in the supermarket… $1.99 pork chops. $1.99 per pound for center-cut pork chops this week at the Giant. I recommend it.

Ghosted: Seán Boylan and Evan Hume will be on view until April 18. Delicious Spectacle is located at 1366 Quincy St NW, Washington, D.C., 20011.

All photos courtesy of Delicious Spectacle and the artists.

Nathan Mullins

Nathan Mullins was born and raised in Clarksdale, MS. He has a BFA in Drawing and Painting from The University of Southern Mississippi and is currently working on his MFA in Studio Art at American University in Washington, DC. Nathan has previously studied in New York City; Berlin, Germany; and Cortona, Italy. His paintings have been featured in both domestic and international shows. - See more at: