Jan 302008
Authors: David Boerner

The Gallery Underground may be the hippest art gallery in Fort Collins.

It’s painted gleaming white from floor to ceiling and lined with water pipes reminiscent of “the modern mechanized human existence.” All the people are chic.

And the art is entirely aspen tree-free.

But, far from being the work of pretentious curators, the Gallery Underground was opened last November as a reaction to a Fort Collins art culture that the creators feel marginalizes original artists.

Open until 12 a.m. Friday, as part of the First Friday Gallery Walk, the Gallery Underground offers what no other venue in town can.

The three owners, photographer Darren Mahuron, ceramic artist Erin Mortensen, and painter Jacquelynn Woodley are all artists, and have all witnessed the Fort Collins gallery scene’s tendency to show less-than-cutting-edge work.

“I saw a lot of my friends have to hang their artwork in coffee shops because it doesn’t fit in with what the galleries are showing,” Mahuron said. “Artists have to make their work more mainstream to get it into local galleries.”

Woodley agrees.

“There are artists in Fort Collins that feel like they have to show in a different city,” he said, “or move to a different city.”

Mahuron, who has co-owned and operated the successful Summit Studios with his wife since 2005, had been planning to open a gallery that kept Fort Collins local artists. Last year, he went to Portland, Ore., to to see how their galleries looked and ran.

Mortensen, a Colorado native, was living in Portland at the time. The two, acquainted by a mutual friend, met to discuss galleries.

Mortensen had been considering moving back to Colorado anyway, and they decided to open up a gallery in Fort Collins.

Mahuron was very deliberate about wanting to work with artists of different mediums, and both agreed that they needed enough people involved to not have to worry about compromising to pay the bills.

Mahuron contacted Woodley, who immediately caught Mahuron’s enthusiasm.

“I’d been living (and painting) in Fort Collins for three years and I hadn’t shown anywhere,” she said. “There wasn’t really a gallery.”

So the three pooled their resources, Mortensen moved to Fort Collins and they made the gallery themselves.

The Gallery Underground is about making Fort Collins an art destination by showing the best, most original, most diverse local art they can get. All of the artists are from Colorado. The owners are young. The space is creatively renovated. The artists are interesting. And they can show whatever they want.

“Our goal is not to censor,” Mahuron said.

And since the ownership is split three ways and all of the owners use the back of the gallery as studio space, they don’t have to worry about making money off the art. “We don’t have to sell to stay open,” Mortensen said.

But they’ve done quite well anyway. Over 500 people showed up for opening night the first Friday of November, and since then they’ve sold quite a few pieces.

“We had some relatively controversial stuff (at the gallery’s opening),” Mahuron said. “The first people that came down was a couple in their 50s or 60s. We were thinking, ‘this will be the barometer right here.’ And the first thing the guy said was ‘thank God there are no aspen trees.'”

This month’s First Friday features two new artists and some new work from the existing artists.

And they’re always looking for more.

“We want submissions from the CSU students,” Mahuron said. “We really try to take the intimidation factor out. We just want to look at stuff.”

The Gallery Underground is for local artists. And the local community has proven that it’s interested.

“Fort Collins is open to change,” Mahuron said. “Just by the sales you can tell. The town is definitely behind what we’re doing.”

Verve writer David Boerner can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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