Recently, drivers along Broadway Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City have noticed the progress of a mural, painted over two blank white faces of a two- story empty building on 9th Street. With flourescent pinks, radiating diagonal lines, graphic black-and-white eyeballs, and lots and lots of pink- its happy chaos is impossible to miss.
This building is Womb, the newest creative project of Wayne Coyne- Flaming Lips frontman and local ambassador of positive weirdness- a gallery and art space.
While the exterior mural boldly proclaims the building’s identity as an art-focused space, the interior is meant to be the heart of the site. Coyne has described his goals for this gallery in interviews, which include creating a gestational space (pun somewhat intended) for energy and creative work, and creating a gallery space that is “a little more radical” as an addition to other art spaces in the city.
Maya Hayuk, Brooklyn-based Ukrainian-American artist, is the creative mind behind the exterior murals. She draws inspiration from sources like deep space photography, traditional textile work, Ukrainian Easter eggs and other disparate items that ping her “obsession with symmetry and nourishing color.” A renowned multi-disciplinary artist, Hayuk has also collaborated with musicians, creating set pieces for musical acts such as TV On The Radio, Devendra Banhart, Animal Collective, and the Beastie Boys, to name a few. Her stark shapes, radiating lines and playful concentric shapes attract attention from blocks away: The mural seems to glow with warmth and joy.
Moving inside, there are two primary areas of focus: the first is the work of Bigfoot One, currently on display through September; the second is, well, an eight foot tall pink vagina made out of balloons.
Bigfoot One’s artwork- paintings, prints, and drawings on paper, canvas, wood and more- presents a woodland world populated by heavy-lined, graphically drawn characters. Despite the wilderness setting, the pieces feel drawn from an urban sensibility.They range in size from a few inches across to a full-wall mural. Bigfoot One, a California based artist, is known internationally for his clothing designs for the skateboarding community. On his website, Bigfoot One embraces the chance to show his work in the state: “There are many Bigfoot sightings in Oklahoma, and I’m happy to make some of my own.”
After weeks of watching these murals grow and blossom on the outside of the building, and after (full disclosure) being a Flaming Lips fan for years, I couldn’t wait to see what was happening inside. The August 5 grand opening came, and I headed down with a few friends.
Walking up to the building, one of my friends noticed Mat Hoffman in a nearby field, igniting a jet pack of some kind. As we approached the building, more details of the murals came into focus- shapes, text, and the brightness of the colors all grew sharper as we approached The entire front porch was bathed in a solid pastel pink up to the door.
In a crowded, sweltering room, eager attendees fanned themselves and looked at Bigfoot-themed prints and paintings that lined the walls. Hundreds of green, yellow, and brown balloons hung around the ceiling, complementing the colors of Bigfoot One’s art and completing the sense that these individual pieces were meant to add up to one unified scene.
Moving past the greens and browns of Bigfoot One’s urban woodsy world, some bright pink arcs stand over the crowd. The entrance to Womb’s womb stands open, formed from large inflatable shapes. Inside is a small hallway, colored magenta by pink balloons and pink flesh tones from a looping video of a human mouth eating candy. The piece affects almost all senses- sight, sound, touch- the balloons crowd the space and must be handled in order to pass through- and even smell, as the heat causes a strong rubber scent from the balloons.
The room is small, warm, and disorienting- perhaps intentionally, like an actual womb. Walking through the other side of the installation takes viewers to a large open room with cement floors, a cash bar,and more balloons.
What does it all mean?
Wayne Coyne is certainly among the most visible, driven, and creative cultural ambassadors for Oklahoma City, and his endless promotion of positivity, creativity, and fun continue to make a positive mark on the city’s personality.
However, leaving Womb, I couldn’t help wonder what the future will hold for this gallery.
I thought again about Coyne’s description of his effort to make a “more radical” alternative to Oklahoma City’s existing galleries and art spaces. Viscera, sensual, and immediate, the art inside both engages and challenges.
Still, the phrase “more radical” begs the question, “than what?” Boundary-pushing installations in repurposed urban buildings have been the mark of some of the city’s most dynamic art spaces, from ArtSpace at [Untitled] to the various iterations of OVAC’s Momentum Oklahoma City.
The most frustrating part of a visit to Womb’s opening is its lack of context. Traditional additions to opening receptions- wall text, explanatory artist statements or other written words help to orient the gallery visitor and give a bit of background on how and why the art came to be.
What really sets Womb apart? The influence of nationally known artists in our city is valuable- in this age of ‘supporting your local everything,’ it is worth considering that a strong arts community is a receptive one, that can both grow and thrive from its own artists and interact with those who bring new perspectives. Owned and operated by a few individuals, the gallery also has endless freedom and flexibility in its curatorial choices. Time will tell what artists will come to Oklahoma City through this site.
Indeed, the personality of Womb is still largely up in the air. While Bigfoot One’s work is guaranteed to appeal to some, future shows will help to steer the identity of this young gallery.
What Womb avoids in terms of art-world conventions- probably intentionally- it makes up in quirky details that demand a closer look. Videos of candy dribbling out of a mouth, Bigfoot-based paintings, gummy fetuses with Flaming Lips mp3 files hidden inside are only a few of the eccentric items on display. The unexpected can be found here, along with energetic expressions of raw creativity and rough-edged artistic experimentation.
And, of course, an eight foot tall vagina.