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Overthrown 

They didn’t start a revolution at Revolution. But what they accomplished was pioneering, and distinctive.

With each exhibition they organized, Revolution Gallery director Paul Kotula and assistant director Sandra Schemske proved that important contemporary art could be made out of any material and using any process, if the artist had something relevant to say.

Twelve years ago when photography was shown in photo galleries, putting pictures by the artist and commercial photographer Larry Fink in an exhibit with painting and sculpture wasn’t done. Anything made of clay was considered craft or decorative art, so showing Tony Hepburn’s cart of vessels alongside so-called “fine art” put the gallery in uncharted territory. At Revolution, it was this mixture that established the context.

Even when Kotula and Schemske did a two-person show, the juxtaposition of the two artists, their media and ideas gathered under the banner of a particular concept, was thrilling. Being there was about experiencing all of this together: seeing 10 kiln shelf-paintings by Jim Melchert that pushed the idea of chance almost to the point of no return; looking intently at Robert Turner’s enigmatic pots, Howard Kottler’s outrageous ceramic sculptures and Frank Auerbach’s wrenching expressionistic paintings; knowing where Brenda Goodman and Jim Chatelain were going with their work and seeing it in relation.

It was Kotula and Schemske’s sureness of judgment in all art’s arenas that made the mixes work. They could sense that ineffable something that would bring such artists as Tony Oursler, Iñgio Manglano-Ovalle and Rineke Dykstra eventual fame, and saw the same kind of potential in artists with local connections, such as fiber artist Ann Wilson and sculptor Heather McGill. Art of the highest quality was the common denominator in any Revolution exhibition.

With owner Meg LaRue’s support, Kotula and Schemske opened a space in New York City where they tried to get the establishment to see what they saw. Their shows got good reviews and attendance, as did those in the Ferndale space. Kotula even got a rave for the work he brought to the first African-American art fair in New York last year.

But New York was expensive, and in the end so was the gallery here, where there are so few collectors willing to trust the judgment of two locals, even if they could successfully navigate the art world. The demise of Revolution will leave a huge gap in an art scene already so thin it’s withering.

Marsha Miro is a freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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