artworldArt Business
Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Sister Act: Profile of Churner and Churner Gallery

Before Churner & Churner could be built, something had to be destroyed. Owner Rachel Churner snapped up the space on 205 10th Avenue after a restaurant had pulled out, but converting the site into a gallery space required a drastic overhaul. “We had to do a full gut renovation.” The gallery’s third exhibition, a joint show for the works of Matthew Brandt, Christine Nguyen, and Latha Wilson, which ran until July 30th, by coincidence flirts with the same themes of destruction and construction as it explores the ways in which photography can be a physical process as opposed to an image.

Rachel Churner with artist Joianne Bittle
Rachel Churner (left) with artist Joianne Bittle. Courtesy, Churner and Churner Gallery

The poster for the show, which was envisioned by Churner, encapsulates the time-based quality of photography that many of the exhibits are exploiting. “I thought what would be great is if, when you open the poster, the photo turned black as you were looking at it. Just like undeveloped photo paper would do.” Rachel laughs at the mention of the show poster, partly at the absurdly ambitious idea and partly because the absurd idea ended up working so perfectly.

The same enthusiasm flows into the discussion of the three artists being displayed in the exhibition Every Photo Graph Is In Visible. Rachel specifically mentions one of the installations from the third artist, Laitha. Entitled “2X4,” it’s literally a photograph pressed into the wall – “crumpled” – by a two-by-four. To install the piece, Churner will have to cut into the wall of her own gallery and insert the installation. Six months on and three installations in, Churner is still remodeling.

The idea for the gallery began while Churner was still working at Peter Freeman, Inc. “We were dealing mostly in 60s and 70s artwork. But the more that I started working with the artists, the more and more exciting that became.” She began looking for a suitable space, but found that she would be limited by the aesthetic characters of most neighborhoods. She wanted to feature emerging artists, but ones that were less consciously in the vanguard and more dedicated to craft and conceptual rigor. The only place that felt appropriate was Chelsea.

Churner & Churner is located close to the corner of 22nd Street on 10th Avenue. Rachel Churner had to go against conventional thinking about location – that galleries thrive on streets and are choked out on avenues – in pursuit of more important factors. The space had to be small, and location on the ground floor was a must – a spot on 26th street would have been unacceptable if it meant being up on the sixth floor. It’s a quiet section of the city, and construction scaffolding is slowly encroaching on the gallery front, but foot traffic has still been steady. “We’ve had great foot traffic. In part because of the High Line, that’s really made a difference in people just walking on the avenue. When we first opened it was just because they were looking how to get on it.”

The other Churner in Churner & Churner is Rachel’s younger sister Leah, a film curator and archivist. Churner & Churner is the first major project the two have worked on together, and Rachel comments that their family’s perception of the venture has become its own beast. “There’s this great confusion in my larger family. Because my grandparents assume that now that it’s a Churner and Churner business that we also live together. They have no idea that there are distinct personalities anymore.”

But so far, the two have collaborated very little on the gallery. Leah herself remarks that she helps from the sidelines, mostly assisting at openings and giving input when Rachel is hanging shows. Even the latest programming event – the screening of several short films from the 60s and 70s featuring, among others, a Lar Tusb film of Joe Cocker playing baseball – was, according to Leah, an idea developed and executed solely by Rachel using films rented from The Filmmakers Coop.

It remains to be seen to what degree Leah will include herself in the gallery’s programming and exhibition schedule. For now, it seems that Rachel needs little help. She tosses out a few ideas she has been turning over in her head as she tries to settle on the perfect event. “While the exhibition program is set for the next year, these little things aren’t. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”