When Royal Oak’s 323East Gallery closed its doors last year, fans were left wondering where to get their lowbrow art fix next. The tiny art space had become the new home for kitschy and cool ever since Detroit’s CPOP closed its doors in 2009. Thankfully, the gallery now has a spiritual successor as part of a much larger art facility downtown, intent on sharing its taste in contemporary art not just with Detroit but the entire world.
The next incarnation is called 1XRUN, an online retailer of art prints headquartered at 1410 Gratiot in Eastern Market. The brainchild of 323East partners Jesse Cory and Dan Armand, the gist of 1XRUN (pronounced “one-time run”) is simple: The site offers limited-edition art prints of its favorite artists for a limited time, which run the gamut from pop art to surrealism to street art. Imagine the daily deal website Groupon meets an art gallery and you get an idea.
It’s both a way of manufacturing hype and adding a dynamic element to the art-buying experience. “There’s a lot of things on the site that move,” Cory explains. A ticker shows how many prints are left in each edition. Below, the next batch of offerings is shown, with a timer counting down to when they will be made available. When the countdown hits zero, the site flips over and the selling begins again. The timed mechanism makes it possible to create a palpable frenzy, whether for an artist who can sell 30 prints in a minute or 400.
“Dan introduced me to collecting art prints,” Cory explains, recounting an experience of trying to buy a print by L.A. artist Audrey Kawasaki online years ago. “It got released on a Saturday at 2 o’clock. We both hit ‘go’ and [Dan] got one and I didn’t. We went outside talking afterward and I said, ‘That was like a $40,000 minute!’ And we thought maybe we can replicate what we just experienced.”
Before then, Cory had experience developing two Internet startups that ultimately failed. One was a pay-your-rent online application, the other a social referral-based job board. “I came to Dan, and I said I think we can sell prints,” he says. “Forget about these websites that we think people will use — let’s go out there and put out a product that we love.”
The two met in the early 2000s, when Cory was running around town, shooting a documentary about graffiti culture. “They were filming a wall being painted at St. Andrew’s on 9/11,” Armand says. “I went to just check it out and they interviewed me.”
The pair quickly bonded over their love of street art. “We interviewed him again, and then we went out ‘bombing’ together,” Cory adds sheepishly.
Five years ago, the two were partners in founding 323East. “323 was kind of a boutique for the first year,” Cory says, explaining that the gallery started as a hodgepodge of showing their friends’ art, selling screen-printed T-shirts and throwing barbecues. Things changed when local lowbrow art star Glenn Barr, who previously had success at CPOP, began frequenting the space. He agreed to hold a show there, decking the space with his paintings of retro cartoon-inspired vamps. “There’s kind of a gentlemen agreement you don’t walk across the street and show at another gallery,” Cory says. “But if the gallery doesn’t exist anymore, then it’s OK. We saw kind of a vacuum.”
The gallery soon had clout to host national and international artists as well, and it wasn’t long until it outgrew its small space. “We opened right in the middle of a recession,” Cory says. “[The space] was our biggest asset and our Achilles’ Heel.”
1XRUN’s new three-story headquarters — envisioned as a top-to-bottom facility designed by architects Tadd Heidgerken (who worked on the Red Bull House of Art, also in Eastern Market) and Kristen Dean — is a departure from 323’s cramped conditions. “We’re hoping to have the whole experience here,” Cory, who lives on the top floor, explains. The building hosts in-house digital printing for its editions, office space where eight or so employees prep orders and interact with customers, a loft for visiting artists to stay, and a new gallery space, called Inner State Gallery.
Fittingly, the first show at the new gallery will once again be a Glenn Barr show, and Armand and Cory are excited to return to the gallery scene. “Art openings are a huge part of our culture. It’s something that we feel really good about,” Cory says. “We’ve built so many relationships with people that we would just never have expected.”
“If you’re rebellious and your art is rebellious and it’s weird, then you’re welcome here,” he adds. “It’s not like we’re trying to say, ‘Well, this is a big career artist and here’s their whole C/V and their biography and this is why they’re going to be valuable.’”
Armand chimes in: “We’re not selling art that you need a master’s degree to understand.”
Inner State Gallery at 1XRUN opens to the public with a show by Glenn Barr titled “Rooms” on May 17th.
Lee DeVito is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Reach him at [email protected]