Artwork by local artist Julia Garcia hangs on the walls at Night Club, a new contemporary art gallery in downtown St. Paul, on March 14, 2023. The gallery participates in the Downtown Alliance’s Grow Downtown program, which provides short-term rent-free leases. (Photo courtesy of Emma Beatrez)
A contemporary art gallery called Night Club is due to open in the city center this weekend as part of the St. Paul Downtown Alliance to connect new businesses with rent-free short-term rentals.
The Grow Downtown program started last year and has so far filled about 18,000 square meters of retail space.
The nightclub may be new to St. Paul, but the downtown gallery is actually the third iteration of the project founded by artists Emma Beatrez and Lee Noble.
The first iteration was, in a sense, a literal nightclub—an evening extracurricular gathering of students at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, including Beatrez and Noble, all interested in workshopping their interdisciplinary, experimental art.
The second came after Beatrice and Noble graduated from MCAD in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, and moved into a house in the Bryant neighborhood of Minneapolis. Cases of Covid-19 increased and indoor galleries were closed. So Beatrez and Noble took advantage of their house’s large picture window and began organizing art exhibitions that could be viewed from the outside. Eventually, when it became safer to do so, they turned their entire front room into a public gallery.
The duo has put on about nine shows at their home in the past two or so years, Beatrez said, and they haven’t actively sought to grow into a showcase gallery. But when they heard about the Grow Downtown program, they decided, why not apply and see what happens? And when they saw the space Downtown Alliance had in mind, they were sold.
“It’s really an amazing opportunity to expand on our programming that we’ve been doing so far,” Beatrez said. “We never expected it to expand so much in such a short time.”
Both as a series of house exhibitions and now as a downtown gallery, Night Club prioritizes experimental art by emerging artists, Beatrez said. As working artists, she and Noble want to both support their peers and help promote the kind of art they want to live in.
The gallery will host an opening reception from 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 18, at its new space at 340 N. Wabasha St. From then on, the gallery will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday; entrance is free.
Night Club St. Paul’s inaugural exhibit is a solo show by Julia Garcia, a Cuban-American visual artist who grew up in South Florida and recently moved to the Twin Cities.
The show, called Sawgrass, is composed of a series of vibrant color paintings based on found photographs of bikini-clad women wrestling alligators. Garcia intended the work to explore the contradictions between desire and aggression; as she puts it in her artist statement, “the disturbing intimacy with which eroticism and death coincide.”
Then, after Garcia’s show ends at the end of April, Night Club plans to install a collection of three-dimensional multimedia works by 12 different artists that “push the boundaries of what sculpture can look or sound like,” Beatrez said. She and Noble have already booked a full schedule of shows until their contract ends in October. They also hope to add additional programming such as film screenings and sound installations to complement the planned shows, but those plans have not yet been finalized.
As for the Night Club’s future after their rent-free contract expires this fall? That’s up in the air, too. Some Grow Downtown participants have received extensions from the Downtown Alliance; others have chosen to stay long-term, signing formal leases with the buildings’ landlords.
But Beatrez and Noble took center stage in the first place simply by seizing unexpected opportunities as they arose, and that remains their plan.
“We’re going to see how the space actually works with the people that come from there, and then we’re going to see what might be possible,” Beatrez said. “It’s still pretty new to us.”
Night club: 340 N. Wabasha St; the gallery is free and open from 13:00 to 17:00 Friday, Saturday and Sunday; website: nightclub.gallery/