Chapel Gallery & Domestic Archive
Writing & Photography By Andrew Gatti
CHAPEL GALLERY was ideated by Olivia Tiberio and manifested as a tangible exhibition space within the physical confines, as well as under the professional umbrella of Domestic Archive--a collective retail space for vintage furniture, objects, and artwork. Domestic Archive is an extension of a pre-existing business/identity called Vanitas Objekts, founded by Alycia Linke and Amiel Tomlin who are based in Atlanta. I had an opportunity to chat with Olivia Tiberio about Chapel Gallery, and the unique business model that she, in partnership with the Domestic Archive team, has come up with.
This might be a little confusing so we can back up a little bit and start at the beginning. Tiberio moved to Savannah in 2009 to attend Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) for her undergraduate degree. She decided to stick around town, and ultimately adopted Savannah as her permanent home. “I love the city itself, the pace, the architecture, the layout of the streets, the flora, the weather. “ She succinctly sums up many of the same things that drew me and countless other transplants to Savannah. It’s an alluring town, aesthetically, culturally, historically, etc. Tiberio talked a bit about how she’s had this profoundly rooted sense of confidence in the city, in a very forward-looking, pregnant sense of things. ‘About to become..’ rather than ‘Already happened’ which is in direct contrast to the traditional view as a ‘historic city’ deeply rooted in the meticulous preservation and the public presentation of its past life(s) and the iterations it has previously gone through.
I love this point of view. We, as a society, desperately need people who look for unrealized potential in situations. Of course, both directions, chronologically speaking, have value; Too many people looking back upon our past means that society might stagnate, lacking innovation. However, if everyone is forward-thinking and not enough people are concerned with history, of course, you might be vulnerable to lose valuable lessons from the past and repeat mistakes that can be avoided. It is a curious dichotomy, and striking a balance is ideal, but I think it is fair to say that Savannah, culturally speaking, leans on its past pretty heavily. “I have never been able to shake a sense of optimism about Savannah- in spite of the constant celebration of its history, it’s a place that always seems in transition like it’s always on the verge of something. ...it’s always seemed like it just needed a few more interesting people to pull off some interesting things (culturally speaking) and it could be a little paradise,” says Tiberio.
While attending SCAD, she met Alycia Linke and Amiel Tomlin in the painting department and they’ve been friends ever since. Linke and Tomlin moved to Atlanta at some point between then and now. Linke works as a professional prop stylist, and Tomlin is a “tech wiz” and radio DJ at WRFG Atlanta (Radio Free Georgia, 89.3FM). WRFG was founded in 1973 as “an independent, listener-supported, non-profit media outlet for local musicians, artists, community voices and progressive ideas for over four decades.” (via the WRFG webpage: https://wrfg.org/history-of-wrfg/) The duo has been operating a vintage good and furniture business called Vanitas Objekts, for several years functioning both online as well as in-person in a booth out of Atlanta Used Furniture. According to Tiberio, “They decided it was time for a change of pace and a little more creative control, so they took a leap and rented the space on Harmon Street in Savannah as a brick & mortar showroom & storefront for the business.”
This is essentially the birth of Domestic Archive as a derivative and extension of Vanitas Objekts and space for them to physically present their collection in a more traditional storefront setting. By having “outposts in both cities” (Atlanta and Savannah) [it allows them to] “be where the action is”. Domestic Archive is slated to open mid-summer, and it will allow Linke and Tomlin to showcase their vintage wares in the Savannah market. Of course, they intend to stick true to their roots and offer curated vintage furniture, objects, and the like. They are also intending to expand their offerings somewhat. “Amiel has plans to incorporate his musical expertise to include a selection of deep cut records and vintage audio equipment.” In the meantime, as Linke and Tomlin plan and work towards their store’s opening, Tiberio found herself in need of an exhibition space, and Linke and Tomlin had a section of their new property suited for just the task. The partnership was organic. As a space within a space, the team had the perfect naming convention to come up with ‘Chapel.’ “It is literally a little sanctuary, a place of reverence, inside of a larger ‘institution,’ so by definition, it seemed to fit.“
Chapel Gallery, like many things, was born of necessity. According to Tiberio, “In the process of finding a venue for my own MFA thesis show, I saw there was a niche to be filled. Several small galleries in Savannah have closed in the past few years for various reasons, and there is no shortage of artists looking to show work in this town. When Alycia & Amiel rented the storefront to open Domestic Archive, it included this long narrow room on one side that seemed especially suited to function as a gallery space, and I volunteered to take care of it as part of the collective.”
It may have been originally intended as a temporary solution for an individual, but it was extrapolated into a more permanent answer to a problem faced by a larger audience. With SCAD, a university literally built around the idea of higher education in fine art and design, there are approximately 10-15,000 students enrolled annually. It is an easy assumption that many of them would be interested in exhibiting their work to the public outside of the Schools six in-house galleries, as it can be a somewhat insular environment, as well as the fact that competition is steep. Just looking at the numbers, it becomes obvious how acute the need is for exhibition spaces. Assuming just half of all students are visual artists looking to show their work in a gallery setting, and if each gallery is used for one artist at a time (of course this is not always the case, [re: group shows]), there is approximately one gallery space for every 1000 students. That doesn’t work. Chapel as an exhibition space is of course not exclusive to students, they just represent a key demographic that can benefit from the space existing.
Olivia Tiberio, in partnership with Alycia Linke and Amiel Tomlin, offer a platform to early, mid, and late-career artists to showcase their work to the community at large. “My priority right now is making another exhibition space available to this city that’s teeming with young artists looking to show, but I’m absolutely open to bringing new people in from out of town. At this point in the development of Savannah’s art scene, the galleries are not really in competition; one little gallery’s success is good for all of us. The more the merrier.”
Tiberio said that she is open to all kinds of proposals and is interested in showing as often as possible. The space is primarily functioning as a rentable exhibition space (available for rent by the week). Tiberio said that she intends to fill the gaps in their schedule by curating group shows in between contracted exhibitions. “[we] plan to curate shows focused on artists who are making good work and could use some more eyes, local or otherwise…. The first curated group show in May, ‘Where Everybody Knows Your Name,’ really exceeded all of our expectations in turnout and in sales, which was an exciting indication that the group show model works and that people seem enthusiastic about coming to see the work & take it home with them.”
Galleries exist as a bridge between the makers and the buyers of art, acting as a platform to connect the two. They allow artists to focus on creating work rather than figuring out how to market and sell it. For buyers/patrons, a gallery acts as a sieve through which the buyer entrusts to take the vastness of available artists and filter which ones may appeal to their individual taste. Through selective curation, a gallery presents an overall aesthetic, doing the legwork of finding and showing high quality, interesting, unique, and worthwhile art. Olivia TIberio, Chapel gallery's manager, books the space out, coordinates the flow and execution of gallery activity, and curates group exhibitions. “The artists in the first group show were a curated crop of beloved locals & should be on everyone’s radar: Clay Walsh, Gordon Rabut, NoNo Flores, Thomas Mizelle, Will Comer, Phil Musen and Johanna Hickey,” says Tiberio.
I asked Tiberio if there are any galleries that she thinks exemplify what an art gallery should look like and her response illuminates why I feel optimistic about Chapel Gallery with her oversight: “I have really enjoyed following media from contemporary gallery Tif Sigfrids up the road in Comer, GA. The gallery is in an old storefront with beautiful light and a great old tile floor that gives some texture to the space, it has a little more character than the standard white cube. I love the vibe of their online presence. The Instagram feed features images of the work and the space of course, but it’s also always full of people--artists, visitors, friends & family- which is sort of the whole point of showing work in a physical space. Though the art is high caliber, the venue feels friendly and casual in a refreshing way that skirts the rules a little bit in terms of how a professional art gallery is ‘supposed’ to present, and in turn makes those rules seem arbitrary. It’s clearly working for them--they were just included in an article in the New York Times about galleries outside of the major art hub cities.”
The departure from more traditionally rigid views on what a gallery “should be” recalls the earlier point of view on innovative forward thinking as a benefit and something that Savannah in particular can benefit from. It isn’t exactly like there is an overflowing contemporary art gallery scene in Savannah; there is room for more players in this space. There are quite a few established art galleries downtown which are more focused on traditional styles of art (whatever that may be), which may or may not be less interesting to a local audience. These more “traditional” galleries may or may not be catering to Savannah’s steady stream of visitors who come here for historic Savannah and buy that art.
There are obviously quite a few standout spaces exhibiting contemporary work for sale to the public with Laney Contemporary being the most prominent. And we of course have the Jepson Center within the Telfair Museums and the SCAD Museum of Art both anchoring the scene from an institutional and non-commercial standpoint. However there is an apparent under-saturation of exhibition spaces available to working artists, and a deep well of untapped talent waiting for exactly this kind of platform. Tiberio’s take, “Chapel is a cozy, accessible, affordable, rentable, artist-run and artist-forward exhibition space. The idea is to offer artists a venue to exhibit work in a setting that’s clean and professional, but unfussy.”
With Chapel sourcing, showing and selling the art of contemporary practicing artists, in combination with Domestic Archive actively reviving and retailing vintage items for sustained life in new homes; it seems like Alycia Linke, Olivia Tiberio, and Amiel Tomlin have found a clever way to strike a mercurial balance between drawing on forward and rear-facing sources. They have conceptualized and launched an imaginative and sustainable business model, which adds cultural value to Savannah.