Real Good 5

Jack Metcalf has used his studio, Real Good Art Space, to host interactive games, such as a dadaist bingo game and an interactive shooting range.

MICHAEL WORKMAN, courtesy photo

A favorite spot for experimental art in Missoula is officially closing Monday. In a nod to its brief, weird run, it will end with a symbolic "Dumpster fire" of some of the art it housed over the years.

Printmaker Jack Metcalf opened Real Good Art Space about three years ago, and transformed it into a home for conceptual and performance work. It was part gallery, part communal gathering space and part party, that was an unofficial last stop on First Fridays.

He thought of print-making as an entry-point for conceptual art or collaborations with other artists, dancers, actors and musicians. A fan of the French writer Guy Debord and his book, "The Society of the Spectacle," Metcalf turned theories about sensationalism and spectacle into commentaries on art. 

In February, he hosted "Slump," an installation by one of his students, Chris Powell, and quietly stopped having events. After Monday's finale, he'll finish moving and begin working out of a backyard studio.

"I'm going to miss the space, for sure," he said. He didn't want to rent anymore, and he wanted to focus on his own art again. He's done some commissions lately "but I haven't made a solid body of work in a year," he said.

***

Money and time were concerns. Real Good events, which required fliers, installation and often beer and food, all were paid out of his own pocket.

Often by design, there wasn't any art to sell. The point was to offer an experience that wasn't regularly presented in the community, frequently of a performance variety.

Setting up installations and tearing them down is time-consuming, for one. To make space, he had to move his shop equipment into the back of the studio once a month.

Like many artists, Metcalf has other jobs. He studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and has had his work in many Missoula Art Museum shows over the years. After getting his MFA at UM, he began teaching as an adjunct at the University of Montana School of Art. This fall, he has added duties with the gallery director position at UM's Gallery of Visual Arts, the large space in the Social Science Building that hosts student and faculty shows through the academic year.

He supports himself as a bartender at Al and Vic's, which relieved the pressure to sell art, or make easily sold art. Metcalf's a father, too. His son Dash is 3 and 1/2 years old.

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Real Good's "phase-out" was especially noticeable after the May 2016 closure of the Brink, a contemporary art gallery in downtown that shared a non-commercial philosophy with Metcalf. (He's shown there multiple times.) In the space of half a year, two of the city's most adventurous places to see art outside of campus and the Missoula Art Museum folded.

"I feel like something is going to fill its shoes and take its place," he said.

He estimates that about half or more of his exhibitions were staged by students, an aspect of the gallery in which he sees value. He'd often guide them through the process: design, fabrication, hanging, promotion.

"There should be a space for people, like emerging and younger artists, to experiment and learn how to put a show up. Take chances, not worry about selling stuff so much," he said.

"I think that kind of space is hard to come by," said Michael Workman, an artist and filmmaker. "Jack had the means to get a space that large and also it just takes a certain type of work ethic to keep something like that going."

And the artists took advantage. In Nick Kakavas' "Guise," the artist used functional ceramics with iconography of the male physique and gay culture that likely wouldn't have been shown elsewhere around town.

Several of Metcalf's favorite shows over the years, he guesses there were around 40, were by younger artists.

Workman created an interactive piece called "Masses," which was a formal dinner and commentary on consumption. Guests were given a dish of a pink gelatin that was decidedly unappetizing based on appearance, but was supposed to appear prized and commodified.

Workman, who was a recent graduate, said he was given free rein, with a space to make work and show it. He doubts that a gallery would've let him do it.

As a spectator, Workman said he would go to Real Good every First Friday that he could.

"The shows were always exciting and strange and you didn't know always what to expect when you go in," he said. The absurdist bingo game, early in Real Good's existence, was one of his personal favorites.

For "Polybius," Halisia Hubbard and Metcalf built an arcade with life-sized arcade games. As patrons entered fake money and attempted to play them, they'd discover a human opponent inside the cardboard game boxes, ones who often didn't play by the rules you'd expect.

Marshall Granger, an artist, filmmaker and musician, created a multimedia piece called "Manic Pixel Dream Girl" that expanded on some earlier work, with Twitter elements, video installations and a musical performance on a bed set up in the middle of the gallery.

"The way that he let me prepare the space and use it as a residency allowed me the opportunity to really take it over in a way," he said. Granger said ephemeral art and the atmosphere, where people would socialize after visiting the other galleries on First Friday, helped add to appeal.

Metcalf himself did things other galleries probably wouldn't let him. In “E-I-E-I-O," he and Dash made large-scale abstract expressionist drawings and paintings with comically high price-tags in the four-figure range.

He once used a pseudonym for an installation called "I Can Explain" under the pseudonym Noel Oyellette. Viewers had to climb through a window to reach the interior of the gallery, where the alleged artist (not Metcalf) was seated in a canoe and playing a keyboard along with video elements.

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Earlier this week while Metcalf was preparing to move, the art space itself was scattered with tools and old pieces of art. There are rows of his prints from previous shows, such as deliberately gaudy woodcuts of crushed beer cans and cigarette butts. There are woodcuts of babies, too, based on Dash. He made "masks" of Sen. Jon Tester for a Missoula Art Museum event and masks of a boar head for a fundraiser dinner for a friend who was gored by one on the Moon-Randolph Homestead.

Metcalf's not sentimental in his art, and for the Real Good closer he's planning a "metaphorical Dumpster fire." He'll move a real Dumpster into the studio and fill it with some of the art and detritus he doesn't want anymore, illuminating it with non-metaphorical spotlights.

He and Lee Stuurmans, a ceramicist and staff member at the Clay Studio of Missoula across the street, have collaborated on a final, humorously conceptual touch: a small, limited-edition blue ceramic Dumpster with the Real Good logo.

Metcalf, as artist and bartender, will serve flaming cocktails.

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