[Artspace] at Untitled celebrates 20 years of exhibitions in OKC’s revived downtown area 

click to enlarge The Reclamation Re-Creation installation combines historic photos with artifacts from the building's history. | Photo Ben Luschen
  • The Reclamation Re-Creation installation combines historic photos with artifacts from the building's history. | Photo Ben Luschen
 Seeing the key exhibitions and accomplishments of [Artspace] at Untitled laid out on a thorough, wall-sized timeline, it becomes clear just how productive the downtown gallery and studio space has been in the last 20 years.

Laura Warriner, owner of the rehabilitated former Deep Deuce warehouse space, has consistently chronicled the happenings at Untitled since buying the building with her husband in 1996. Those events are listed in timeline format for the gallery’s Reclamation Re-Creation installation, which also includes a multimedia wall sculpture and slideshow presentation highlighting the venue’s two-decade history.

Reclamation Re-Creation officially opened Nov. 16. For the Love: Celebrating 20 Years of Art, a fundraising silent auction event, is set to begin 7 p.m. Saturday at Untitled, 1 NE Third St. Individual tickets are $100-$200. Those interested in attending should register in advance at 1ne3.org/forthelove.

Perusing the timeline, one will notice appearances by artists like internationally known sculptors Jesús Bautista Moroles (Untitled’s debut exhibition in 1997) and El Anatsui. In 1996, Eve Ensler performed The Vagina Monologues at Untitled before its off-Broadway run at Westside Theatre.

At the time, Warriner was worried the city’s conservative culture would keep many people from attending the performances. Instead, the shows brought a waiting line of people that stretched down the block.

Warriner said that the mid- to late-’90s did not present locals with many contemporary or local art viewing opportunities. She wanted that to change.

“I just thought, ‘There is room for a new voice in town, and I’m going to be it,’” she said.

Restoring downtown

Warriner — with her husband Joe, who died in January 2016 — submitted an offer to purchase the downtown warehouse space in 1994, hoping to use it as a studio space for her painting and sculptures. The building was not in great shape, and she hoped its owners would be willing to part with it.

Her offer to buy the space was initially declined. Nearly two years passed before the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. The blast damaged a lot of buildings in the downtown area, particularly the older ones and including the abandoned warehouse the Warriners had tried to buy two years prior.

The next year, the couple got a call from the owners asking if they were still interested in purchasing the space, and they were.

The building was in even worse shape when they took over as owners. The roof had caved in, and the inside was damaged and full of debris. There was no electricity or air-conditioning. Warriner’s Reclamation Re-Creation installation shows many pictures from the building’s restoration process, which took years of work.

Part of the reason Warriner wanted to buy a building downtown was because she had fond memories of the city’s commercial district peak from growing up in the 1950s. Oklahoma City demolished many of its historic buildings in the ’60s and ’70s to make room for new developments as part of a controversial urban redevelopment strategy. In the ’80s and ’90s, downtown OKC was mostly barren, home to just a few corporate offices.

Warriner wanted to have events in her new space to help enrich the community. Untitled saw success right off the bat, which she attributes to a general hunger for cultural activities in the city.

Still, downtown OKC had such a bad reputation that Warriner had to fight to win some people’s trust.

“I would hire a police officer [for events],” she said, “not because I really needed one, but they would just make people feel better.”

As the years passed, Untitled grew respect in the region. With help from people like Kansas City arts advocate Myra Morgan and collector Dick Belger, Warriner said she was able to draw world-class contemporary art exhibitions into a city that, at the time, had not been that exposed to those kinds of styles and ideas.

“They loaned me these incredible exhibitions that people would have to go to New York or LA to see,” she said. “I was fortunate to have met all these people who weren’t from here, but they liked what I was trying to do.”

[Artspace] at Untitled owner Laura Warriner used notes she has collected through the years to construct a timeline of her gallery’s key exhibitions and events. | Photo Ben Luschen
  • [Artspace] at Untitled owner Laura Warriner used notes she has collected through the years to construct a timeline of her gallery’s key exhibitions and events. | Photo Ben Luschen

 Full appreciation

Despite its rough beginning years, Untitled now appears as a first-rate art facility. As part of the Reclamation Re-Creation installation, Warriner has blown up two wall-sized photographs of the building, one showing the way it looked before she bought it and another showing the way it looks now.

Warriner projects slideshow and video presentations over the images that depict the history of Untitled and the downtown area.

“Since there is a whole generation of people who don’t know the history of downtown and stuff like that, I thought it would be interesting to do an installation that shows the history of what has happened the last 20 years,” she said.

Warriner has also put old objects from the building’s interior in elaborate frames. She wants people to understand Untitled (and to a larger extent, the world around them) as more than a place for art, as art itself.

“Because we live in this disposable society, our society today doesn’t really value much anymore,” she said. “They don’t even talk to each other anymore. They text; they don’t talk.”

Educating tomorrow

In recent years, Untitled has started focusing more of its attention on providing arts mentorship to school-age children. The studio partners with 10 different state schools, bringing in 12 children from each school to participate in a three-year mentorship program.

Untitled is highly equipped in the printmaking arts, and the students get an opportunity to work with presses that are not available to them in the schools. The students also hold their own competitive-entry art show in the gallery each year.

“We do not replace the classroom,” she said. “We bring them in, those 12 kids, and we focus on them having the experience and learning about creativity and innovation and technology and techniques.”

Education has always been part of Untitled’s mission, but it began as an effort to educate the adult community about the kinds of art found in other cities. With the state of arts and general funding in education, Warriner said their previous efforts had to be refocused for the good of local culture.

“My education component was really to help lift the bar and give exposure to a community who, to that point, really hadn’t supported local artists very well,” she said. “Today, art is not prevalent in the schools, so someone has to be there to mentor them.”

Visit 1ne3.org.

Print headline: Restore, reflect; [Artspace] at Untitled celebrates 20 years of exhibitions in OKC’s revived downtown area.

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