Krowswork Becomes Artists Lab

Founder Jasmine Moorhead brings an artist in residency program to her gallery, turning an Oakland pioneer in experimental contemporary photograph, video, and installation into a projects space with working artists in charge during their tenure.



Jasmine Moorhead is taking Krowswork, the gallery she founded, in a new direction by bringing in monthly artists in residence.

Photo by Stephen Texeira

In February, after six years of exhibitions, Krowswork founder Jasmine Moorhead was ready for a change.

“I was at what I thought was an emotional impasse with the gallery,” she said. “Our lease had come up and. I was forced into the calibration mode. What do I want? Can I get there? That was right after the Ferguson protests.”

Krowswork, in the rear part of the building also housing Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, is one of the top Bay Area venues in for experimental contemporary photography, video, and installation. Nevertheless as 2015 unfolded, Moorhead found herself pondering, “What does it mean to run an art gallery in Oakland at this moment? Can I justify what I’m doing? I put a lot of effort into these shows. Should I be putting energy into something else?”

So she changed directions dramatically and started a successful Kickstarter campaign that has funded a yearlong experiment transforming the gallery into a project space with artists in residence.

“Press, sales, audience, right?” Moorhead said. “I moved the focus to digging into the self and process.”

Now the artist’s process and practice are as much on view as the objects or experiences that he or she creates, with the gallery abandoning, or at least de-emphasizing, the traditional commercial priorities. The Krowswork residents’ program began with language-based media artist Ann Lesley Selcer. This month, Mary Hull Webster, a specialist in video, electronic art, and painting, is in residence through Oct. 10, and Shalo P, who does experimental video, sound, and comics, assumes residency Oct. 17-Nov. 7.

During the three- to four-week residencies, the gallery serves more as laboratory or extended studio than as art-goods store. Its use is entirely up to the artist in residence. “Some people have been here almost every day,” Moorhead said. “Some people have just come in when the gallery’s open. Most people have had a number of special events, and that’s been fantastic.”

Moorhead graduated from Yale in 1996 and then lived in West Africa before landing a job in publishing at MOMA in New York, where she stayed until moving to Oakland in 2003. Until 2013, she worked at the Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco, which exhibits the work of modernist masters. A big part of her job there was working with artists’ estates. Despite an art history background, she found the academic life, particularly teaching, unappealing. “That wasn’t my path. I like a certain freedom,” she said. “It just didn’t fit me.”

And so she launched her gallery, Krowswork, an Oakland Art Murmur pioneer, in 2009 while still at Weinstein, explaining, “I felt like the energy of this area was so amazing. It was a moment of total excitement about Oakland and Oakland art.”

The name, a palindrome, plays on crows, which Moorhead identifies with and admires for their cleverness and adaptability. “Mythologically, they’re tricksters and connectors between the dark and light, messengers between these two worlds: translators.”

The move toward artist residency is a logical extension of Moorhead’s agenda of empowering artists and visiting curators. “For me, the gallery should present something that other galleries aren’t going to. I’ve always needed to work with that sense of freedom,” she said about Krowswork’s evolving mission.

She added, however, “The thing that I am most worried about is that Oakland becomes a less interesting, unique place to be. Oakland was a political place, a weird place, a magical place—this intersection of all these things next to each other—and it’s becoming more generic,” Moorhead said.

For now, the artist residency program is slated to run through January, with the future beyond that undetermined. Its destiny apparently depends on whether an audience continues its enthusiastic support and how new construction and rents on the march will allow a gallery owner like Moorhead to make plans with any certainty in the supremely unpredictable art business world.

Krowswork, 480 23rd St., Oakland, 510-229-7035 www.Krowswork.com.

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