Lift Off

A new space for beginning artists and collectors to take flight

Jennifer Kleven’s first gallery at Emergency Arts is small. Really small. And while by the time you read this she’ll have moved into a slighter larger space across the hall, Kleven Contemporary could still probably fit inside your trunk.

The small size (read: low rent) gives the young artist, who is less than two years out of her BFA at UNLV, a chance to have a gallery at all. Best of all, the tight space means visitors won’t be overwhelmed by too much art. There’s only room for a handful of works, and it has to count.

“I really want this space to function as a place where the community can come to see high-quality, conceptual fine art,” Kleven says. It’s a niche she feels has been unfilled since Libby Lumpkin’s departure from the now-closed Las Vegas Art Museum.

The challenge is to get people more comfortable viewing conceptual art. She hopes the small space helps visitors feel more at home. (Reasonable prices won’t hurt, either; Kleven says works at the gallery cost less than $1,000.)

“People have to gain an understanding from their own personal identity,” she says. “I think that’s what I want the gallery to function as.” Kleven also wants the gallery to be a space where young artists can get exposure and learn the ropes of submitting to galleries.

For the gallery’s debut, Kleven, 26, will show a series of works on paper by local artist Nico Holmes-Gull (through Jan. 23). Titled Баллада о лайка (Russian for “The Ballad of Barker”), the five pieces feature angular-shaped cutouts, stacked in layers. Occasionally revealing colored origami paper, with a fabric-like texture, underneath. The work is delicate and sinewy, making you want to reach into the canvas and pull out a meaning that is just beyond reach.

The works—priced from $200 to $500—purport to interpret the thoughts of male artists and thinkers (some fictional) as they ponder the fate of Laika, the Soviet space dog who died aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957. (Laika apparently translates as “barker.”) The thinkers include Charles Xavier, head of the X-Men, psychologist B.F. Skinner, director Quentin Tarantino, French author Michel Houellebecq, and Japanese musician Komuro Tetsuya. It’s a motley crew, chosen through Holmes-Gull’s “rapid consumption of media.”

Holmes-Gull, 24, graduated with a BFA from UNLV in 2010. “When [Kleven] came to me about making the show I was kind of feeling really alienated and at odds with my environment,” he says. “Constantly thinking about escape.” He was drawn to Laika’s story—she quite literally escaped the Earth. “We’re just constantly moving toward what we hope is a better goal,” he says, which is a “metaphor for my very young existence.”

Imagining conversations about the fate of a canine cosmonaut is difficult enough. But how to translate them into art? “In all honesty I would sit down, put on some type of very structured music and really think about how do I get across this idea that this author would be thinking,” he says. “This becomes a very trancelike state. I barely even know how it happens.”