Have you ever wanted to exhibit your artwork? Have you ever thought about doing a pop-up show? Have you ever had the urge to dress up like a topless clown and make balloon animals without breaking eye contact? Have you ever wanted to hang a lottery ticket on the wall by itself? Or turn a gallery into a desert sea while people in animal masks walk around? Have you? Have you?
What are we doing if we are not doing these things? In May of 2020, Holly Lay and Homero Hidalgo opened Available Space Art Projects (ASAP) Gallery with the belief that artists in Las Vegas are missing a room where they can “get weird.” Since then, the 550-square-foot space has exhibited veteran and up-and-coming artists like Pasha Rafat, Heidi Rider, Mary Sabo, and Krystal Ramirez—all with the stipulation that they use the gallery for temporary, experimental projects.
It has become very popular.
After following the gallery on Instagram, two times I reached out to Holly for an interview and, to her credit, two times was redirected to exhibiting artists. It’s May though—the two year anniversary of ASAP—so Holly, Homero and I scheduled a Zoom conversation to talk about why Vegas needs experimental space, why they aren’t pushing a 501(c)(3), how short exhibitions help artists, and who is showing next (it’s Daisy Sanchez).
Josie Glassberg: How did the two of you come together before starting ASAP?
Holly Lay: In grad school [at UNLV], our studios were next door and we were the only ones ever in the studio. So we naturally started hanging out and talking. We both always wanted to have a project space and after Homero graduated, we both needed a studio. And we’re like, why don’t we do one and the same … do a studio-slash-project-space?
Homero Hidalgo: Yeah. We were just looking for a space for exhibiting and projects. And then we said, “Well, we’re paying for it!”
Holly: You can see our studio is just all in the back of this space.
Homero: And the backroom, the storage room—the area where I work normally—I want to open that up for more space, maybe a projection room or more wall space to have the gallery be a little more. Not just one room.
Josie: Is project space something that you felt was missing from the art scene in Vegas?
Holly: Yes, we both came from cities that had a lot of project spaces, and a lot of experimental places to show. And when we were here, we realized that there really wasn’t any place to do that. I mean, we were lucky. At UNLV, we had Grant Hall, which is kind of the closest thing to an experimental art space in town. But it’s only for students. … But there’s really no spaces at all, even now, there’s not really any experimental project spaces.
Homero: When I first got to Vegas, there was one space, what was it called … The Cube?
Holly: Oh, yeah, The Cube. That was in the arts district.
Homero: But then it just went away. It just closed. And then everybody kept saying the same thing, “If you find a spot, you blink and it’s going to be gone, it’s going to be closed.” There’s not really what you would call a critical mass for art here.
Holly: And nothing really sticks around in Vegas either.
Homero: But we did want to have art, to get an art scene started at least. I mean, me, because I was going to stay here for a while. And I’ve got to see some shows and I’ve got to talk to people. We’ve got to move some stuff around. And with the gallery, we wanted to be like, “Well, here’s the keys. You do your thing and we’re not involved.” Plus, we don’t want to do more than we have to.
Josie: Yeah, especially if it’s just a front for your own studio space. … What was it like to try to start a gallery during quarantine?
Holly: Well, everyone thought we were crazy and stupid.
Homero: But the price of this space was so low.
Holly: Prices were lower. We desperately needed a studio. I mean, we were locked down. So what else are you going to do? We had to get out of our houses. We wanted to keep making work, and Homero lost his studio in May at the university because he was in grad school at the time.
Homero: And then [my] baby was born, so there’s no chance of doing any work. So, it sort of worked out. They raised our rent eventually, but back then it was a bargain. It was a little challenging at first. For example, I liked Chad [Scott’s] show a lot and I felt bad that not a lot of people came because everybody was on lockdown.
Holly: Yeah, it came in waves. We were open sometimes and then it was back to quarantine.
Josie: Can you talk about your latest pop-up exhibition with Cory McMahon, “Grooming the Ocean Wave”?
Homero: We had no idea what Cory was going to do, but we know Cory and he’s always doing really experimental stuff. He was with us in the [UNLV] program. We’ve known him for awhile.
Holly: We knew he had been doing some interesting stuff with photography and also it’s kind of a performance piece because he does skydive in these pieces.
Josie: Is it all photography?
Holly: Yes, and then there’s also the single lottery ticket.
Josie: Do people in the gallery interact with the lottery ticket? Do they scratch it?
Holly: He’s never going to scratch that lottery ticket. So it could be the winning ticket. We’ll never know.
Homero: It’s potential suspended.
Josie: I was wondering because ASAP has had a lot of shows that are interactive, like the Grüüp exhibition that was up recently.
Holly: Yeah, there’s been a lot of interactivity.
Homero: You know, honestly, that’s been up to the artist. We’re always like, “Do what you gotta do, man. Get weird.”
Josie: ASAP seems to be very artist-led. How much of a hand do you have in the exhibitions, or are you just involved in the lineup?
Holly: We did a group show where we assisted the curating, along with [artist] Pasha Rafat. He picked the artists and we helped him pick the work. And then we arranged it. … I mean, we select the artists, we take proposals, and you know—if they’re not really strong, we’ll tell them maybe come back with something more solidified.
Homero: Yeah, there are some people that think the show is going to be like a regular gallery show, where they’re going to have it for three months or something. And then we’re here and we say, “No, no, no–”
Holly: “–It’s ten days,” they’re like, “Oh no, nevermind.”
Josie: So artists use your space as a proving ground?
Holly: Oh yeah, for sure. I think all of them kind of do. There’s been very few that have shown a project they’ve been working on for a long time. It’s become more of, “I have this idea I’ve always wanted to try. Here’s my 10 days to make it happen.”
Homero: I think it just sort of snowballed from the first show, and the second artist was Heidi [Rider]. Even though it was in the middle of the pandemic, her show had a lot of people here. And then everybody saw that this is a project space where things are not super normal.
Holly: [Heidi] did something different every day. And she was changing it up. Then we had Alisha [Kerlin] who treated it like a residency where she made work every day and had people coming in and out.
Homero: And then we had Chad.
Holly: Chad Scott. Chad closed down the gallery and didn’t let anyone in, actually. So that was weird but it was a really great installation.
Homero: So we encourage. In an initial [artist] meeting we’re like, “Yeah, man, go crazy.” It’s a safe space to do that here. We’re not going to say anything. … We’re going to say, “Oh my god, that’s amazing.”
Josie: How is ASAP funded?
Holly: Mostly self funded.
Homero: We’ve been lucky, we’ve gotten donations. We haven’t paid rent in, like, seven months.
Holly: We’ll apply for stuff. But if we don’t get enough then we have to pay just out of our own pocket. … This is our first month in a while we’ve had to [pay]. But we do a lot of public art projects to help fund this.
Josie: Is your gallery a 501(c)(3)? Do you get donations that way?
Holly: No, we definitely have been researching to get the 501(c)(3).
Homero: But it seems like too much, perhaps.
Holly: I mean, it’s a lot. It’s just the two of us and getting a board and getting all that stuff seems a little anti-project space, not experimental at all. Maybe eventually.
Homero: We do have some kind of a benefactor too.
Holly: She wants to be anonymous. She buys a lot of the artwork from artists. We have some people that really support and purchase stuff from artists, when it’s sellable. We don’t say, “Oh, your work has to be sellable.” We have a lot of performances and we know that that’s not going to sell, but we encourage it anyway.
Josie: Have you found that your audience is mostly other artists? What about other collectors?
Holly: I would say mostly artists, but we do have some collectors that come in. There’s not many here in Vegas, which is hard. But the ones that I know of in town, they do come to the shows and they usually do buy work. We’ve connected some artists with these collectors now and they continue to buy their work, which is good.
Homero: What’s interesting is that the people that Holly’s talking about, they get really excited about the work they see. Every time they come in it’s like, “Oh my God!” because it’s always so different and always unexpected. That helps a little.
Josie: Who are you showing next in the gallery?
Holly: Daisy [Sanchez]. So Daisy, I think she just got her BFA. We just thought it would be nice to have at least one emerging, very new artist who hasn’t shown it all in the city. … She has these really cool sculptures that we like, so we kind of encouraged her to show them. She brought in some paintings that we looked at, but we definitely prefer the sculpture. We hope it’s a painting and sculpture show, both of them.
Josie: But ultimately she’ll decide what is there?
Holly: Yeah, and I think she wanted us to help her a lot. So, we’ll probably start working with her to curate.
Homero: Yeah, it’s very similar to Heidi because she’d never shown in a gallery either.
Holly: And then we have Wendy Kveck after that. She hasn’t shown in Vegas in a really long time. So that’s gonna be really cool.
Homero: And then we’ve talked about us doing some more curating. Some loosely themed shows and then just showing experimental pieces and group shows.
Josie: Homero, I remember the last time we talked you were just about to launch ASAP and you had mentioned that ASAP was a temporary name. But it seems like it’s stuck.
Homero: Yeah, we couldn’t find a name but the sign up in front said, “Available Space.” So I remember telling Holly, “I’m going to fight to change this name,” but she thought it was funny.
Holly: Yeah, I thought, this is great. I love it. But then it’s also ASAP because it’s like a quick residency. Here’s 10 days of free space for you to do what you want with it.
For more information about ASAP Gallery and upcoming exhibitions, go to availablespaceartprojects.com or follow the gallery @availablespaceartprojects on Instagram.
You can read Josie’s Q+As with Homero Hidalgo here and Heidi Rider here.
Photos courtesy of ASAP Gallery.