Crazy Bunch: The Pleasures Of Art In The Living Room

We're more connected than ever. With the advent of social media, there's now a conversation running through every minute of our lives. We used to simply eat; now we share photos of our food as we munch. The digital revolution notwithstanding, though, there's still a good deal of art being made by individuals aka spending time alone. It stands to reason that those who do so might crave something more than the internet's simulated interactions. The group of artists that make up Salon des Fous have found a way to lessen the loneliness a bit.


It was two years ago that Queena Ko, Olivia Swisher and Laura Meyer (who had to miss this month's meeting) first had the idea to host an informal critique, inviting artist friends to share and discuss their work. The goal, Ko says, was “to find a group of people we could trust” in order to create an encouraging environment for the artists involved. Regular meetings also meant deadlines, a simple motivational tool and something Ko says she missed from her time in architecture school.

I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

We sat in on a recent session of Salon des Fous to see the group in action. The meeting took place at Swisher's apartment in Brooklyn. The format was straightforward: each of the participants brought a piece to present, and fifteen minutes of discussion were allotted for each. The different pieces—photographs, paintings, a crocheted figure—were hung haphazardly on the walls while a few participants working in video showed clips from their most recent projects.

Artist Queena Ko in good spirits. Photo: Christina Kruise

The evening was an echo of the kind of critiques you might experience in art school. Of course, the absence of a professor supervising the proceedings – not to mention the beer and hors d'ouevres – made this a far more casual affair. Olivia Swisher, who works under the moniker Baby, presented excerpts from a video she had made for a Shoegaze festival at a Brooklyn music venue, which one participant praised as “visual white noise.” Joey Weiner presented a trio of related photographs; Queena Ko displayed two paintings that evoked pinhole camera images, each reflecting Ko's interest in the “impact of framing.” Carolina Zamora asked for guidance on a project she had planned working with children at summer camp. Jeff Gess brought different episodes of a comic, all centered on one character, the solitary, hollow-eyed “Protagonist.”

Artist Jeff Gess carefully organizing his presentation. Photo: Christina Kruise

The internet and social media figured in the work of many participants. London Kaye, attending for the first time, was more than a month into a project that called for her to hang a different crocheted piece in a public space each day. She was documenting the project on her blog, posting photos of each piece once it had been installed out in the world. After watching a video by Natalie Okupniak, discussion turned to online venues, such as Vimeo, that allow this kind of work to find a viewership. Matthew Kanbergs brought a rough print of a photograph, then invited the group to look at the same photo on his website. Viewing the undistorted image online, the group waxed rhapsodic about the magic of low quality laser printers at FedEx Kinko's.

Artist London Kaye breaking a leg. Photo: Christina Kruise

The participants' familiarity with one another's work provided context for the discussion of individual pieces. As Ko explained, this is a big part of the appeal: “It's great because we all know each other's work really well, so it's not just a one time critique; it's a growth.” All of the artists involved are young; it's not likely they'd find so familiar an audience anywhere else.

Artist Matthew Kanbergs taking center stage for the night. Photo: Christina Kruise

An individual participant might receive guidance from the others' comments, but the clearest benefit of the group seemed to be the sense of community it fostered among its members. The night went on well after the last piece was discussed, shifting easily from structured critique to plain social gathering. It's tempting to say that this intimacy was more important than anything gleaned from the discussion. For all involved, Salon des Fous makes the solitude of the artists' garret more bearable – but that doesn't make it any less necessary. It's fine to feel connected, but the work gets done when you're alone.

Article by Marshall Yarbrough