Thursday, July 18, 2024

Kyoko Ono curates Gallery 24/7, a repurposed former ATM space in Harvard Square. (Photo: Susanne Beck)

What would “trust, respect, generosity, care, positivity and inspiration” look like behind the windowpanes of a corner store?

A wander down Mount Auburn Street, beyond Harvard University’s Smith Center at its intersection of Holyoke Street, sits a pint-sized space that hopes to show passersby just that – and maybe more.

The sign for “Gallery 24/7” – a red-letter, paper cutout, propped in a pane along Holyoke – could be missed easily were it not for the iridescent pink scales of a white fish design placed alongside. A few steps beyond, taped near the Mount Auburn entry, is a more informative sign. The corner location, once a Bank of American ATM, has morphed into an all-day, all night artists’ collaborative, the latest in what some hope will be a series of public art installations in and around the city. This location is sponsored by Harvard Student Agencies, which owns the space, and the Harvard Square Business Association, as well as the creatives who provide their work for free.

The temporary gallery took root soon after Denise Jillson, executive director of the business association, passed by on one of her daily strolls through the square. Jillson noticed the empty space in early June and called her HSA contact, Dan Boldt (founder of Trademark Tours and “former punk,” according to Jillson, who got to know him during his undergraduate years at Harvard). That was followed by a conversation with local ceramist Kyoko Ono about curating the site. HSA gave the thumbs up, Ono said yes and, within a few weeks, the space was transformed.

Gallery 24/7 is modestly announced at Mount Auburn and Holyoke streets. (Photo: Susanne Beck)

Ono’s goals for Gallery 24/7: that it displays “trust, respect, generosity, care, positivity and inspiration.”

A peek inside today shows an eclectic mix of styles, media and colors, all the work of local artists. Among the items: Merav Gold’s black crow wood block prints, offset by various primary colors, on the lower display shelf along Holyoke Street; Nick Wyneken’s small, satirical wooden portraits of former presidents, “Potus Motus,” that sit kitty-corner across the way; and a number of works by Bob Smith – “Smitty,” to many – whose recycled sculptures can also be found in Eliot Triangle and on the Davis Square bike path, among other locations.

Ono, who curated the shadow box at One Brattle Square, a property owned and provided gratis by Piedmont Real Estate, is reluctant to take credit for developing either space, preferring to turn the spotlight on the creators and the concept of public art.

Gallery 24/7 explains itself in a window flyer. (Photo: Susanne Beck)

“I’ve never really done this curator kind of thing before,” at least not professionally, she said. She did “some curatorial projects here and there during my high school years, college years, at my children’s school events as a parent volunteer.” And while she expressed some frustration that viewers are separated from the works by glass, for her the installation – and public art itself – is about connection, something she learned from working with Smith.

From him “I really appreciated and learned the importance of sharing the art in public. You become the audience and the receiver too.” When people stand before the windows, Ono said, “in that one moment it’s almost like the time stops. And you are just there in front of this piece, whether it’s a sculpture or painting, you’re not paying money, you’re just there. And the importance of that moment can then turn into some kind of energy or inspiration to keep going with your everyday life,” whatever the challenges.

Bob Smith’s “Guards” are exhibited in Gallery 24/7. (Photo: Susanne Beck)

Connection also comes up in conversation with Smith about public art, but his view is more expansive and often more political after decades in the less-formal Cambridge arts scene, or what he calls “outsider art,” and at the long defunct Piano Dave’s Cooperative Art Gallery near Inman Square and Zeitgeist Gallery, in The Port neighborhood near Central Square.

To Smith, public art means access to all: “No juries, no judgment.” He finds it ironic that the 24/7 Gallery is in a former bank branch. “One of my favorite comments about my sculptures on the Davis Square bike path said something like ‘These unemployable so-called artists are not adding anything to the revenue stream,’” he laughed.

In describing his own work, Smith said he relies on “the castoffs of the most materialistic culture in history [as] my choice of exploration and joy.” Wood and metal are favorites. Some of his most whimsical and better-known sculptures – oversized creatures such as Michelle the Blue Elephant and Wapiti the Green Elk, both on view at Eliot Triangle – are what he and artist friend Nick Wyneken call “Skraelings,” a Nordic word meaning “not of our tribe.” His artist statement is more expansive: The creatures “are superheroes from another dimension of time and space fighting apathy and boredom.”

A larger art piece of Smith’s art, Wapiti the Green Elk, is on view at Eliot Triangle in Harvard Square. (Photo: Susanne Beck)

Smith’s favorite? There are many, apparently, but he singles out one not on display: Harley, the Unicorn Bison, which sometimes traveled on the roof of his car. On one trip, Harley caused Smith to be pulled over by state police in Maine. “The cop says, ‘I didn’t stop you because you did anything wrong,’” Smith said. “He just pointed at Harley and said, ‘What is that?’”

Smaller-scale sculptures are on display at Gallery 24/7 with pieces by Martha Whitman and Ono herself – look for her ceramics in the window, and electric blue wall hangings bursting with fireworks.

Ono hopes to rotate pieces as long as the space is available, with new artists and especially younger artists from the area. And she plans to make best use of the small space. “Goodness does not have to come in big size to make a difference,” she said.