Saturday, July 20, 2024

Visitors to Cambridge’s Harvard Square check out the 25/8 artspace on Linden Street. (Photo via Nat Reed)

The new and bite-sized “25/8 artspace” is lighting up Harvard Square at all hours of the day.

Its first exhibition is “Bikes Move Us,” sculptures that celebrates the political power of bike riding – a potent theme in Cambridge now – by artist Nat Reed.

The space opened at 2 Linden St. in June in partnership between artist Yolanda He Yang and Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association. The name comes from Gallery 24/7, a collaboration last year between the association and artist Kyoko Ono, Jillson said. That work turned an old Bank of America ATM into a space for art.

It’s also a reference to the amount of time museum staff spend in their jobs, Yang said: If it’s 25/8, that gives an extra hour in the day, and day in the week, for staff to dedicate to their art. Yang, now the go-to curator for 25/8, is founder of Behind VA Shadows, a collective of people “who lead dual lives as artists and as museum professionals,” according to their social media. (The VA name is a reference to Visitor Assistants, the under-paid and underappreciated customer-facing staff at museums.)

Artist Nat Reed in the narrow 25/8 artspace. (Photo via Nat Reed)

The small gallery space, just a strip the length of the Santander bank behind it and the width of a narrow hallway, requires creative installation methods.

“To transport the pieces I had to take them apart,” Reed said. To reassemble every piece quickly, “everything I needed … was all together in a little bundle.”

While 25/8 artspace is low in square footage, it packs a punch. “The fact you can just stumble upon the show is really quite special,” Reed said. “It’s free, and you can see it at all times of the day. It really opens up the possibilities for all kinds of people to experience it.”

Nat Reed prepares her “Bikes Move Us” exhibition in 25/8 artspace. (Photo via Nat Reed)

Unlikely collaborations

For Yang, every empty space presents a curatorial opportunity. Her first taste of city gallery spaces was collaborating with the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District on a pandemic-era exhibition in Downtown Crossing. It’s rare to lease a huge commercial building with no budget, but Yang’s cold-calling chops secured one of downtown’s vacant commercial spaces without any funding.

Staff from the Boston BID introduced Yang to Jillson, leading to projects including wrapping the Sumner statue when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.

“She’s a wonderful artist,” Jillson said.

And with the new gallery, Yang has “done just a lovely lovely job” with a peculiar space.

Art space through zoning 

Cambridge has some other tight spaces – notably the O’Reilly Spite House at 260 Concord Ave., Huron Village, a 1908 home of 308 square feet built to annoy a neighbor. It’s now the offices of the Annie Hall Interiors Store.

The Harvard Square art window came about from zoning written by HSBA and the Harvard Square Neighborhood Alliance demanding that banks coming to Harvard should be limited to 25 linear feet of frontage. The space Santander was moving into in 2022 at Massachusetts Avenue and Linden Street had frontage of closer to 60.

The building is owned by Intercontinental Management, HSBA members that Jillson said “give back to the community in so many ways.” Intercontinental provides the space to the association for free and connected with artist Ross Miller to install lights, Jillson said. Yang will need to submit an exhibition proposal to Intercontinental for each new 25/8 artspace show – standard practice for all their Harvard Square pop-ups, said Jillson, who handles the permitting and paperwork so Yang can focus on curating and installation.

Room for disagreement

Not everyone was excited by Intercontinental’s solution to the frontage problem. After the company presented it, Patrick Barrett – an attorney who helped write the zoning for Harvard Square – sent a letter to city staff calling the what would become 25/8 an art gallery “clearly in name only … it does not have any meaningful area with which people may enter, no bathrooms and literally no accommodations associated with this separate commercial use.” Suzanne Blier, of the Harvard Square Neighborhood Alliance, was similarly skeptical. Windows of art are used to enliven CVS pharmacy buildings in Porter and Davis squares, and as a solution for cannabis retail shops that are required to have windowed storefronts that can’t advertise pot products.

The art space also doesn’t have its own website. The VA site hosts information about Reed’s “Bikes Move Us” show and calls 25/8 a “branch” of its own work; Behind VA Shadows released a rolling call for art this summer to working artists such as museum staff.

Emerging artists encouraged

The 25/8 artspace and Reed’s “Bikes Move Us” exhibit light up Harvard Square at all hours of the day. (Photo: Nat Reed)

In addition to museum-staff colleagues, Yang wants to prioritize artists who have never had a solo show – “If I find anybody who has been doing their practice for a long time, but cannot find a place to display their work,” she said, she will find a way to exhibit their work –  and sculpture, a medium she feels is often sidelined in Boston area galleries.

Sculptures look great at 25/8 – particularly when the sunlight hits in the late afternoon. “Don’t overlook sculptures,” Yang said.

“Bikes Move Us” gets a closing reception from 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 9. HSBA is requesting a permit to shut down Linden Street to cars, and potentially renting out a food truck.

Yang hopes to get a new show up in the space every four to six weeks. The next one will be by multimedia artist and filmmaker Maria Servellón.

Jillson hopes the collaboration at 25/8 it will go on “for a long time.”