A new gallery just opened on the west edge of downtown. Not "new" in the sense of name; J Crist Gallery has been bringing contemporary, innovative art to the area for over a decade. "New" pertains to the building--specifically designed to be a gallery. Why is it worth mentioning? Because it is not a remodel or adaptive reuse of an existing building, as is typically the case for most of Boise's gallery spaces. It is a new cultural building in Boise, positioning itself as an anchor to the developing arts corridor emerging along Main Street--and, it's edgy.
For gallery owners Jacque and Charley Crist, the idea of a new space came about several years ago, when their space in the Belgravia Building in Old Boise was becoming too small. They began the process of finding a new location, bringing along Dwaine Carver of Trout Architects, and visited existing Boise buildings looking for an appropriate space. The notion of finding a plot of land and building new was never seriously considered, until they found this parcel, a former car lot, on the corner of 17th Street and Fairview Avenue.
Carver and Jacque Crist had worked together over the years with the Belgravia space. In explaining whether there were any preconceptions or notions about the direction the design wanted to go, Carver indicated that they both shared many of the same thoughts and intended vocabulary for the new building, with each mentioning the work of Tadao Ando as a point of precedent. (Tadao Ando is a Japanese architect who works with a limited palette of materials, primarily monolithic concrete walls, and uses the immaterial, like light and water against that to create dramatic spaces and connections to the landscape.)
The context set the tone for many of the design decisions. Carver describes the area as "a tough, gritty, concrete neighborhood, especially the (Interstate 184) Connector and surrounding warehouse buildings" and the notion of a monolithic building was "right for the neighborhood." The design represents pure, monolithic forms--"al dente, not very cooked" is how Carver describes the building. "Lots of raw materials to try and be a kind of scaffolding for the art." A light gray colored cement plaster skins the building and aluminum for window frames and doors to serve as a crisp highlight against the monolithic walls.
Initial design concepts positioned the building entry at the northeast corner, facing Fairview. Crist brought the idea of a courtyard scheme to the table and, according to Carver, "the design snapped right into place." The footprint of the building conforms to the site's trapezoidal shape and bleeds out to the greater context through carefully placed horizontal and vertical slits in the wall planes. These "framed moments," as Carver describes them, capture the context--from the courtyard the Connector goes unheard but holds a visual presence, and from Crist's office there is a straight shot of the downtown core.
The 3,300-square-foot gallery contains a large exhibition space, office/work area, frame shop and support functions. In an attempt to, as Crist puts it, "demystify the gallery experience," a conscious decision was made to introduce the visitor to the workings of the gallery. From the point at which the visitor enters the courtyard and transitions into the building, they are exposed to the people who work in the gallery and what they do. A visitor's first opportunity to "see" into the gallery comes from a broad band of windows in the office/work area that front onto the courtyard. Within the gallery, a large, carefully cut opening separates the exhibition space and office/work area. The office and work spaces are designed to double as display spaces; picture rails are incorporated into the backside of millwork cabinets and Crist's office is set up as a miniature gallery.
The interior architecture presents strong horizontal and vertical planes, which are then carefully broken down or cut away to reveal and capture light, the structure and adjoining spaces, all while not competing with the works of art on display. The cut opening at the northeast corner walls of the exhibition space allows light to filter through the space, creating an interplay of light and shadow on the surfaces. This cut corner also presents a space for an object to exist but does not affect the gallery's ability to show art, as corners are typically non-usable space for hanging art. Also along the north wall, Carver inserted a boxed window, an "overture to the vehicular culture and the drive-up window" but one that can "take the function as a jewel box," allowing objects to be displayed and viewed from the exterior at night. Just above this opening are one of two roof scuppers that, in form, respond to the boxed opening. These scuppers shed the roof water as little waterfalls that drop down to the graveled landscaped area.
The materials and components of the interior are deliberate and direct. There are no extraneous elements--everything is where it needs to be and displayed in the "raw." The selection of materials and structural system create an interior that is flexible and prepared to accommodate all forms of artistic media. Plywood has been placed behind the drywall on the walls, oriented strand board flooring will allow work to be secured to it, then removed and easily patched without permanent scars. The ceiling/roof structure is constructed out of 10-inch-thick structural insulated panels and precisely installed across open web trusses. All of the interior millwork was designed by Carver and is constructed out of birch, matching the blond tones of the wood and ceiling.
Carver and Crist use the term "austere" when describing their approach to the landscape design. "We wanted the monolithic aspect of the building to be very prominent and not be obscured in any way," explains Crist. The horizontal plane of the lawn accentuates the angularity of the lines of the building and "presents a space for the building to exist in," states Charley Crist. The expanse of lawn also serves as a blank palette for future outdoor sculptures or activities. In contrast to the austere, is this one "moment of luscious" that occurs within the courtyard space, a space which he describes as a "transitional moment before you come into the exhibition space"--an area to purge yourself before walking into the art.
Jacque and Charley Crist consider the new gallery as just an extension to what it has always been--a commercial gallery in the business of selling art. The larger interior and exterior installation spaces provide more opportunities and fewer limits in the scale of artwork the gallery can exhibit. J Crist's relocation has resulted in a big cultural step for Boise. As the arts district continues its westward move down Main, and with the other developments occurring nearby, this area is poised to offer the community an enriching visual art experience.
See more photographs of J Crist Gallery at www.boiseweekly.com