Opening night for the Wurstminster Dog Show at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Ore.
I posted last week about the opening event for The Wurst Gallery’s “Wurstminster Dog Show” (seen above), a gathering of over 100 dogs created by as many artists. Each artist chose a different breed, so there are a terriers, spaniels, a schipperke, a saluki, a papillon, and dog breeds I’ve never even heard of. The Wurst has just released the artworks on their website, so you can see each dog up close and personal. There are painted dogs, drawn dogs, felt dogs, crocheted dogs, porcelain dogs, collaged dogs, psychedelic dogs, dogs in hats, dogs in love, and even a dog in a boat. The show is a wonderful homage both to dogs in all their glorious shapes and sizes, but also to the range of representation in any artist’s arsenal.
I first found out about the Wurst when we were doing research on Gocco for Jill Bliss’ impassioned article about saving Gocco in CRAFT volume 01 (she was part of the Wurst’s “We Heart Gocco” show). As I searched around on the site, I was completely surprised and delighted by the previous shows, and by its open attitide towards art. It’s a truly innovative gallery: Jason Sturgill, the curator, doesn’t just pick and choose artworks, he picks and chooses topics, allowing for a true collaboration with his artists. It’s wonderful to see what can come out of limitations as eccentric as making art out of Russian dolls, or plastic plates, or thrift store art. Or dogs.
Arwen: Tell me about the Wurst Gallery. How did you come up with the idea? What itch were you trying to scratch?
Jason: The idea for The Wurst came about because at the time, 2003, there wasn’t really much in the way of art to view or buy online. I also wanted to approach the idea of a gallery in a different way. I grew up in a pretty small town and I wasn’t exposed to a lot in the culture department. It often seemed that art was presented in an unapproachable or pretentious way. Growing up on the lower end of the income scale, the art community always seemed like something meant for the upper class. So the idea behind The Wurst was to create a very approachable and fun way to present art and with a tongue-in-cheek-self-effacing name to boot. Since 2003, the landscape of accessible art online has changed quite a bit and there’s a lot more available with great sites like tinyshowcase.com and poketo.com offering art in their own unique way making for a much more vibrant online art community.
Arwen: What’s your day job? (Or is the Wurst your day job?)
Jason: The Wurst is definitely not my day job. It’s mainly a hobby that I started that I now run with my wife, Sarah. In the last few weeks I’ve been working full time on the Wurst mainly due to the sheer size of The Wurstminster Show. After the opening, I’ll be looking for a steady source of income again. Any leads out there? :)
Arwen: What’s your background?
Jason: I’ve spent most of my professional career working in advertising, most recently doing trend research at Wieden+Kennedy. For the last couple years I’ve been freelancing as a graphic designer and art consultant for various clients. For example, Vinton Studios hired me as a consultant to help them with the rebranding of their studio to Laika and also with the production of their new site and DVD. If you go to their site, laika.com, you’ll notice most of the illustrators in their “house” section are also Wurst artists.
Arwen: The Wurst Gallery is primarily an online gallery, correct? What freedoms does that give you, and what about it drives you nuts?
Jason: Yes, The Wurst is primarily online. For the first couple shows we had one-night only exhibits of the work at the Portland Design Within Reach studio. The Gocco show was exhibited at Half and Half, a great local cafe. I’ve been asked to curate shows for a few different galleries in town as well. Having an online gallery allows me to reach a much wider audience than if I were to only have a physical presence. Some offline galleries are starting to have more of an online presence but the presentation of the work is often limited. One of the drawbacks of an online gallery is that it’s impossible to replace seeing the work in person, which is why we try to make an effort to have a live exhibit of the work in Portland. In the future this might include touring shows.
Arwen: Your online exhibits have been wonderfully eclectic, and often inspired by a medium (custom plates, Gocco prints). What made you choose dogs as the theme for this show?
Jason: I’d like to think the thing that sets The Wurst apart is that it’s more of a conceptual gallery. All of the shows are group shows that I view as collaborations with the artists. I develop an idea that gives all artists invited the same constraint. It’s always interesting to see how each artist works with the concept differently. I’d had the idea for a dog show since 2005; I think it came after watching a dog show on TV. It wasn’t until one day last summer that I thought of the title for the show, The Wurstminster Dog Show, that made it fate.
Arwen: How do you find your artists? What do you look for?
Jason: The Wurst artists come from various sources. I’ve always been the person at work that is known for unearthing the most obscure website/magazine/band/artist/etc. to help solve a business problem. I also solicit submissions on the website and we get new work sent to us every day. The Wurstminster Show will be showing some of these people that have sent us their work and haven’t shown anywhere else. We will also find artists from art openings, referrals from friends and even on the street. HuskMitNavn is an example of an artist we found through his work on the streets of Copenhagen. There’s an endless amount of talent, we try to find artists that are a good match for the concept of each particular show.
Arwen: When do you know that the idea for your next show has found you? Or do you come up with an idea after seeing a trend in work you like?
Jason: The ideas for my shows seem to come very organically and they definitely don’t come from anything in the art world. I have this weird brain that seems to collect all these random puzzle pieces that I come across in everyday life, and it’s not until it picks up an adjoining piece that it actually proves useful. In the end, I try to think of an idea that will be fun to work on and will be intriguing for both the artists and the audience, and hopefully the shows bring a smile to everyone’s face.
Arwen: What (or who, or where) inspires you most?
Jason: The Internets are literally an endless source of inspiration, it’s like an amazing book that never ends.
Arwen: What’s next?
Jason: Only time will tell! :)
Arwen: I have to ask: do you have a dog?
Jason: We do, and a cat too! We rescued a greyhound from our, now closed, local racetrack. (See below.) I used the dog show for satire and thematic purposes; The Wurst strongly encourages future dog owners to explore animal shelters and rescue options before going to a breeder.