Closet Case

University City's newest art gallery is not for the pretentious -- or the claustrophobic

"I had a closet, and I could either store all my shit in it or have an art gallery in it." Michael Williams hunches over a cup of coffee at Meshuggah, discussing the motivation behind Gallery Michael Williamses (sic) Closet. Williams has reddish-blond hair that refuses to lie flat. He's tall and could even be considered physically imposing if not for a remarkably babyish face -- a face that nonetheless expresses a joyful expression of larceny much of the time.

The first Gallery Michael Williamses Closet newsletter that appeared at the RFT was unceremoniously chucked into the trash: A Washington University art student shows work in his closet and wants some press -- not this week.

But subsequent newsletters arrived, each more clever and amusing. The GMWC newsletter consists of color snapshots and text -- typed on Williams' Webster XL500 typewriter, purchased at the Disabled American Veterans thrift store for $4.95 -- documenting each exhibition opening. For example, Wash. U. professor and artist Ron Leax receives this newsletter bio: "In addition to being a professor of sculpture, Ron is a trout hunter, a crossword enthusiast, and in his younger years an alligator wrestler in Florida. As a child Ron came one piece from completing a 1,000 piece puzzle of a teddy bear picnic."

Lezlie Silverstein, artist, would-be-cult leader and a former curator for Gallery Michael Williamses Closet: "I showed up late for an opening and I was fired."
Jennifer Silverberg
Lezlie Silverstein, artist, would-be-cult leader and a former curator for Gallery Michael Williamses Closet: "I showed up late for an opening and I was fired."

The newsletter includes guest reviews of exhibitions, stories about the goings-on at the openings themselves -- such as the night Williams broke a baseball bat over his knee to sell Jesse Abramowitz's muffler sculptures -- and odd, lurid tales surrounding the artists' lives, such as a night of drinking whiskey and shooting windows out of parked cars with a shotgun in Des Peres.

A blurring of fact and fiction, a celebration of bad behavior, an unsubtle parody of the gallery system -- such activity deserves appreciation.

At Meshuggah, Williams, with a smile offers a position with the gallery and presents a standard Kinko's job application. Throughout the form,"gmwc" has been pasted over the copy company's logo. For example, "Join gmwc, a world leader in business services and named in 1999 by Fortune magazine as "one of the 100 best companies to work for in America.'"

The job offer is refused for fear of a conflict of interest.

With Williams this day are two "employees," Justin and Brian. Last names? "It doesn't matter," says Justin, who, naturally, works as the official "gallery nihilist." Brian serves as Dumpster diver: "I go through Dumpsters to collect interesting stuff." When Justin applied for his job, his résumé consisted of "some pocket trash." "Of course I accepted his application immediately," Williams deadpans.

Also present is artist Lezlie Silverstein, whose work is to be featured at a Gallery Michael Williamses Closet opening the next evening. Whereas Williams is laconic and droll, Silverstein is responsive and vocal. She openly discusses inner gallery politics, explaining how she was once a curator but "I showed up late for an opening and I was fired." Williams suspects that "she wanted to get fired so she could have a show."

Williams' curatorial process is far from exclusionary, though. "Anyone who wants to have a show can have one. Whoever is pushing the most to have a show can have a show. I'll hang it even if I don't like it."

Williams acknowledges he's partly making fun of the gallery system, "but at the same time I'm having a gallery and starting a scene, which I like more."

Williams came to Wash. U. from Providence, home of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, choosing to come here to become independent from his parents and because "I liked it out here. I like St. Louis. I like the fact that downtown is large and bleak."

The discussion moves to GMWC's revolutionary tendencies, its drive to topple the gallery system, which apparently disinterests Brian and Justin, who make an exit. "I'm just going to get a turkey sandwich," says the nihilist.

In his stead arrives Abramowitz, who not only makes art from mufflers -- or exposes the art within mufflers -- but also holds a permanent position in the art-critique department of the newsletter. He has taken it as his mission to critique anything relating to the closet, including letters from the parents of his fellow artists.

Thin, angular, with a nest of hair on his head as disheveled as Williams', Abramowitz comes ready for some radical talk. "I'm for the art-in-the-apartment movement," he pronounces. "I like how it destabilizes the gallery system. It allows everybody to participate in some kind of gallery system. It offers the idea of open-mindedness into the system. Go to a gallery in St. Louis, and you come out empty. At Michael's gallery, there's an association with people. It's a warm and fuzzy thing."

The three, as if on cue, all express how much they like each other.

"The gallery system exists in a vacuum," Abramowitz continues once the friendliness is over. "It's in a completely white-walled space, so sterile. Unless you are in the system, you go there with nothing but eyes. I like the art. It's nice, but it doesn't fly off the pedestal."

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