Familiar with Peculiarity: Inside the Art Haven at Voertman's Gallery

It’s warm out. Not uncomfortably hot like it has been for months on end, but if you stand in the sun long enough you might break a sweat. The wind breaks up the waves of heat you feel into manageable patches, and it’s how any Texan knows that Fall is not far off. This change permeates throughout Denton as the new school year begins with fresh faces filing into this town, and for the next eight months they experience for the first time the kind of life that Denton offers to the community that exists outside of the realm of being a student.

If you are a student now or have been during the past four years and you’ve been through Voertman’s (if you haven’t – go), it’s guaranteed that you experienced, even if just in brief glances, works of art in the section of space across from that beloved art department. It’s hard to miss the open space between just two black leather couches and multitudes of various works adorning the walls spanning textured abstraction, multimedia, illustration, print media, to just about any form of physical artistic expression you could think of showcasing. Even the large square beams that line the space hang someone’s art this time I come to visit, but there’s always art in this small bookstore off of Hickory, an aspect of it that I come back for specifically.

Art in Denton is seen, but not heard, meaning it's difficult to find interaction between the artist and the community about the work that they produce. It’s something hanging on the walls in local coffee shops to make overpriced, albeit delicious, coffee palatable because they’re obviously supporting local artists, right?  It seems strange that a town overflowing with creatives is so quiet when it comes to supporting them in ways as simple as providing them a public space to be vulnerable through their work. At least one particular art haven conveniently exists across the street from UNT. 

As I make my way towards the gallery space I spot Given McClure, the manager of the Voertman’s gallery, atop of a ladder installing a long, printed piece for Miscellany Art Assemblage. He tells me later, as we sit on one of the leather couches facing the work he’s spent the morning putting up, that they’ve done a deinstall–reinstall weekend turnaround before and it’s a lot to take on. He takes a break to talk with me about his history with Voertman’s and his position as manager of the gallery.

“Whenever I took over we renegotiated the contract to be less of a curatorial position and more of a manager of the gallery, so we made it known that Voertman’s was a public gallery. Open submissions all the time," McClure said.

Given McClure
photo by Mateo Granados

His job, as he explains it, is to facilitate and help artists that come to him and wish to put on either solo or collaborative works. He helps them conceptualize what kind of show they want to have, how much of their work is needed to put on that kind of show, how to pick which artists would coincide best with their body of work, and even suggests other artists they may want to reach out to if they’re unsure about whom to collaborate with. McClure's position at Voertman’s allows him to help artists, traditional and non-traditional alike, create an exhibition for themselves, giving them the opportunity to understand the process of curating a solo show and a collaborative one, as well as offering a good intermediary between the academic setting and what a professional gallery might feel like, without the unnecessary pressures that come with that.

McClure said, “It just works out that the ones who are in search of a show are really dedicated to the concept of putting on their own show, and curating artists they’re interested in [into] it.” With the blessing of the Voertman’s owner and the guidance of Given in how each individual should tackle the project, many artists have been able to showcase their works that hundreds of people are exposed to simply by walking through the doors.

Rachel Weaver, who is currently working with Voertman’s and McClure to host the Denton Zine and Art Party, sat down with The Dentonite at Voertman’s to talk about what she’s working on and how Voertman’s plays into that. The pair have worked with Collective Mind of the Individual Artist earlier this year for the exhibits at Brick Haus Ar What Does Our Future Hold? and 8 Ours (hosted at Brick Haus Collective), which both focused on artist community involvement and the potential of artistic expression if given the freedom and support to do so. Weaver realized that the Zine Fest hosted at Rubber Gloves last year was not reoccurring, worked to help revitalize it back into Denton’s art scene, and she needed a space to facilitate that.

“We got the space here at Voertman’s and they wanted to have work in the gallery during the beginning of the school semester," Weaver said. "So we were able to work with a month of time getting artists into this space. We thought about doing two different exhibitions just to try to get a variety of artists, or to show all the different media that some of the same artists work with.”

Installation by Weird Destiny Productions I Peculiar Café I September 2017
photo by Mateo Granados

Those two exhibitions she’s talking about are Peculiar Café and Miscellany Art Assemblage. If you’ve been to Voertman’s in the past month you’ve seen pieces from a variety of artists from around Denton (some DFW based) in both of these shows. The genres spanned from canvas work, interactive installations that bodies danced through when the music was just right, or spinning slot-machine eyes depicting inner desire.

Weaver, who sees herself as a dedicated Denton artist that's been in Denton long enough to watch the good venues go, tells me that she sees the lack of spaces to exhibit art, including the more experimental as very limiting to the artist community. Because of that she appreciates Voertman’s and its openness to offer everyone the opportunity to be brave with their community and put their work out there for the public to see. Weaver said, “I think a lot of creative spaces have become sparse, so I think myself and other creatives, artists, and musicians that I work with, we appreciate when a space is accepting to people wanting to experiment.”

McClure, a ceramics artist himself, wants Denton to have more public spaces accessible for group shows, and more sharing of space. He’s passionate about helping people get themselves out there, and being able to offer that space to them is something he believes in,

"I love people, and I love their work," McClure said. "There’s no denying this is important. Look at all these artists being represented, and there’s not many opportunities.”

The loss and lack of space seem to be a reoccurring themes of Denton’s creative venues, and it often times makes you feel completely powerless against what looks like the collapse of the town you grew to love and celebrate. Voertman’, though, offers some stability amongst those falling spaces by being dedicated to allowing Denton’s artist community to exhibit their work in an environment that allows you to be yourself – you’re just walking through a bookstore, after all.

Photos by Mateo Granados and Stephanie Holloway
Header image layout designed by Holden Foster