introducing DORF, Austin's newest home gallery space


Artists Eric Manche and Sara Vanderbeek are helping turn the tide on Austin's recent wave of gallery closures. They've turned their home studio into a gallery. The space is called DORF and it opened last weekend with its inaugural exhibition, Landscapes, Portraits and Still Lifes. The exhibit features work from Elizabeth Chapin, Jeffrey Dell, Joey Fauerso, Ana Fernandez, Raul Gonzalez, Jules Buck Jones, Drew Liverman, Raymond Uhlir, Vincent Valdez and Sara Vanderbeek. In addition, Gonzalez will be hosting a performance at DORF this Saturday, May 19, at 4:00 pm.

When did you and Eric decide to open a gallery? Was there any particular catalyst?

SV: We have wanted to start our own space for many years. We just had in our heads that our gallery would be a traditional brick and mortar space and we knew we couldn’t afford that. We had been renting studio space on the East Side but left in 2015 when a developer bought the building and doubled our rent overnight. As a solution to the increasing East Austin studio shortage and skyrocketing rents, we converted our two-car garage into a furnished studio with fresh new walls.

During this time, I joined ICOSA Collective where I got a major crash course in gallery and non-profit management. In 2017, I stepped down to afford myself more time for my personal art career and family. As a result of all of these experiences, we realized we could put on pop-up shows in our studio. Our studio is modular, everything is on wheels, so it is flexible and fluid. To complete the space, we built a wall on our large moveable storage unit.

We are by no means the first artists/curators to take this approach in Austin (Testsite, Blackbox, etc.) but I think the in-home model will pop up more and more as a sustainable solution to the affordable space shortage.

Much has been said (and written) about East Austin's arts community—much less about South Austin's. Can you talk about South Austin, and its particular strengths? What else is happening there that readers should be aware of?

SV: Yeah, the South Austin art scene, particularly south of Ben White where we live, is pretty quiet in terms of venues but things are changing. I’ve believed for years that there is a slow pilgrimage from the East Side happening because of the relative affordability and larger spaces down here. Since moving to our neighborhood in 2013, we’ve noticed a lot more creative people, restaurants, cafes and breweries popping up. Now we just need some studio complexes! As Austin’s “accepted” boundaries continue to grow South, we feel that South of Ben White and North of Slaughter has a lot of potential to be a new art hub for the city. Was it an indicator that the 2017 Texas Biennial was held down here?

How did this first show come together? What was the inspiration?

SV: I got the idea while painting one night last fall. I was working on a huge painting of one of Jim Carrey’s Aloha shirts in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. I was thinking about how I felt the painting fit several painting genres: it was a portrait, a landscape and a still life. Then I was thinking that a lot of artwork that I love does this – overlaps genres. I wrote the words “Landscape” “Portrait” and “Still Lifes” on the wall that night and decided that would be the first show I would curate. I loved how simple the name was, but how complex the show themes became. Before we realized our studio could also function as a gallery, I was brainstorming other spaces I could approach to pitch the show. It’s funny that I had the idea for the show before we had the space.

Tell us about Raul's performance happening on May 19, and how it fits in with the theme of the show.

SV: I’m so excited about this performance! Raul created a custom piece specifically for the event and audience that he’s been mulling over since our initial conversation a few months ago. He’s performing Self Portrait where he will alternate between Children’s-Book-Storyteller and Dancer. He’ll read his daughters’ favorite books and bust out dance moves across the DORF driveway atop one of his iconic abstract duct-tape installations. This, in the middle of our little suburban street, should be quite a spectacle!

Self Portrait fits in to the show themes perfectly: an unconventional self portrait dancing on an invented landscape. It also fits in with other themes of parenthood, nurture/nature, work, pattern and color woven through the show.

What makes DORF an alternative and experimental space? What are you hoping to achieve with it outside of the paradigm of Austin's DIY scene?

SV: DORF exists in our garage, surrounding grounds and backyard. We plan to host outdoor film screenings, outdoor open figure drawing events, garage sound baths, workshops, dinners, and who knows what else, the sky's the limit. This is why we describe ourselves as alternative and experimental. We do fit into Austin’s DIY paradigm and will push the boundaries of the possibilities a suburban home, gallery and grounds present. DORF will also produce events, shows and happenings outside of the constraints of our property. We will put on programming all over the country by tapping into our broad art community. We also plan to put on shows that exist only on the internet.

DORF is gonna do some crazy shit.

What is the meaning behind the name DORF?

SV: Eric and I met on a RISD trip to Japan and, while in Kyoto, saw a Swedish restaurant named Dorf with a funny little logo. We took a photo of the sign, got married and a decade later saw that photo in a stack when we were looking for names for our space.

The rest, as they say, is DORF. DORF also means “village” in Dutch and German and we liked that nod to the neighborhood and our art community! DORF!

RSVP to DORF’s performance here and learn about DORF's future events here
Interview by Sean Redmond. Photo courtesy of Sara Vanderbeek.