whitespace

The Exhibition Nest homepage flows images of the art from user profiles, creating a gallery of work to explore and experience.

The Exhibition Nest homepage flows images of the art from user profiles, creating a gallery of work to explore and experience.

If you want to find an art exhibit to attend in cities including Boston, New York and Amsterdam, ExhibitionNest.com will help. If you just want to check out great contemporary works from artists in Boston and worldwide, the site is great for that too.

But that’s not really the point of Exhibition Nest, founder and curator Rob House said. It’s just Phase 1.

“I’ve always felt a bit isolated as an artist,” said House, whose own work tends toward painted portraiture in a dizzying array of styles, not so coincidentally shown off to great effect by his website’s gallery algorithm; he’s a Web designer as well as an artist (and a Jack the Ripper expert to boot), and he’s coding the site with co-founder Misha Koryak. “I was looking around at other sites that were out there and it just occurred to me there was no place where I could go and meet other artists online, especially ones that are local, and find out what’s happening in terms of exhibits.”

Exhibition Nest founder Rob House, in the image he chose for his own profile on the site.

Exhibition Nest founder Rob House, in the image he chose for his own profile on the site.

“The site is so small, but in the future I could envision it bringing culture to even smaller places than Boston and giving people a sense of community where they feel isolated,” House said. “The real goal is to empower artists by giving them resources and a sense there really is a community they can turn to, ask questions and collaborate.”

But between what House envisions and the current site – which he considers basic, “clunky” and still in beta and bug-fixing mode after launching in September – comes a few significant steps. First, he wants to give users the ability to “follow” artists who create profiles there in addition to being able to message them, a function the site already has. That could happen with a week. Then comes a way to have galleries themselves sign up and post their own exhibit content, a responsibility that now falls to House. (Although House is a Cambridge resident, New York’s exhibition content far outweighs Boston’s simply because there’s more going on in New York.) That could happen within two months.

Then comes the recruitment of contributors and introduction of arts content in blogs, interviews, artist profiles, online classes and how-tos, so artists can pass on tips to make their everyday needs easier – how to make gesso, for instance – or to pass on techniques that might otherwise fade away, such as the archaic but expressive wet-plate collodion photography now being practiced by Sally Mann and a handful of others. Ideally the content will be of interest to art lovers and artists equally.

Next up, probably next year: an innovation in e-commerce, although House worries that the modern focus on arts as a commodity benefits only a few. “We want to allow artists to sell art through the site, but I’m trying to come with some alternative ways to have artists make money off their art apart from just selling it,” House said. “There are a few things in the gestation stage there.”

Finally, House would like to see Exhibition Nest move offline in the form of talks and, more likely as the balance of its artists tilts further toward the professional, actual exhibitions. “What I really think a city like Boston needs is to support the arts a little bit more. Maybe the Exhibition Nest of the future can fill that type of role … I would love to someday have an actual, physical space for showing art, maybe just an event for people who’ve joined the site to have a show,” he said. “The MFA should be doing more to support local artists, and they really don’t do anything. Can you imagine if the Museum of Fine Art had a show that was like ‘100 Up-and-Coming Interesting Artists?’”

While institutions such as the MFA, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln and Peabody Essex Museum in Salem may be afflicted with a staid, Boston Brahmin approach to the arts – largely content to mount variations on Sargent, Degas and the like – House sees potential in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams and Boston’s own waterfront Institute of Contemporary Art. He’s even more excited by the proliferation of open studio events in the area.

“You go to those and you start seeing there is all this art going on, but it’s under the radar,” he said.

Having more creative-minded engineers come forward to help build and debug the website – which House hopes can happen because both he and Koryak work full-time and must do Exhibition Nest as a side project – would accelerate Exhibition Nest’s potential as a complement to those open studios. He enjoys curating the art and finding artists doing interesting things, but he also wants to get the site to where its content goes viral regularly and becomes self-sustaining.

That may be sooner than he thinks, even before some of the steps he thinks the site can take.

“We’ve had some people sign up from all over the world. We had one girl [make contact] from the United Arab Emirates,” he said. “I don’t even know how she found out about it.”