On a hot Tuesday afternoon, Kalindi DeFrancis is hanging what look like large slabs of meat in a large storefront window on 17th Avenue.
With the door propped open to let a breeze into the tiny space — as much for her snoozing, wolf-life dog Malachi as it is for her — she’s preparing for an opening two days away.
“I have a lot of sausages I’ll be bringing later,” DeFrancis says.
The sausages and the slabs hanging in the window aren’t meat. It’s a little more plain to see when you get closer that they’re driftwood, painted red for her installation, “Meat Amigo (a butcher shop),” at The Storeroom.
DeFrancis’s work is the fifth installation at The Storeroom, which Brendan Picker opened in the fall of 2018. The 150-square-foot space was previously — you guessed it — a storeroom for Vine Street Pub.
Picker, whose day job is with Denver Arts & Venues, has for a while been interested in using mostly deserted storefront spaces to showcase art. He’d been searching for such spaces in Denver when he walked by 1700 Vine St.
“I approached the owner of Vine Street Pub and said, ‘Hey, I have this idea to kind of create an art space in that storefront,’ and the owner (Kevin J. Daly) was really amenable. He supports the arts.”
The first installation opened in November of last year — “Harlequin Night,” by Knomad Colab. It ran through January and was followed by Rebecca Vaughn‘s “The History of Enchantment and the Dark Side of the Heart,” then “Spring Formal” by Hay Dixon, then a tribute to The Stonewall Inn for Pride month.
“I’m open to lots of ideas. I know that maybe an artist isn’t in a gallery at the moment or they don’t’ have a show in a museum, so I just love the idea of offering artists a different kind of space to show their work,” Picker said. “My vision is that the work is visible during the day time and at night. Also, it’s not just a gallery wall where people hang two-dimensional work. It’s where artists create a space and really utilize the entire space.”
Daly is donating the space and Vine Street Pub is even helping pay for the artists’ time and supplies, Picker said.
“We always supported the arts and we loved the idea of doing something with that block because it’s kind of dark at night,” Vine Street Pub owner Kevin Daly said. “… We’re really excited for what he’s doing there. We think the Denver art scene is getting really cool and we’re happy to be part of it.”
And it’s not a totally new idea. Artists in a lot of cities are using vacant storefront space this way. Picker hopes it’ll catch on here.
“I hope it inspires other property owners to activate empty storefronts,” he said. “It’s been really fun and I have a lot of interest from artists.”
So much interest, in fact, that The Storeroom is booked through 2020.
DeFrancis’s “Meat Amigo” will be on display through August. When it’s ready, more of the windows will be papered over with meat ads and she’ll have “a weird theatrical backdrop” on the back wall to make it look more like a deli inside.
For her opening night performance, she’ll be dressed as a butcher — complete with fake mustache — and pretending to prepare meat inside.
“It’s basically my surrealist take on any sort of meat experience,” DeFrancis said. “I was raised vegetarian, so I never ate meat growing up until I was 12 and found out I was anemic and had this weird carnal attraction to meat and was like, ‘I need to eat right now’ and didn’t know why.”
Her husband, who she runs art installation business JDP Art Services with, is a hunter, and she’s been “doing a lot of field dressing,” putting meat more on her mind.
“It’s a weird interpretation of what meat is, and us as humans, what it means for us to be eating meat, coming from superstores and everything like that,” she added. “I’ve also been collecting driftwood from Colorado rivers and I suddenly had this idea, ‘What if I painted them to look like meat?’
“But it’s not meat. You probably shouldn’t eat it.”
“Meat Amigo (a butcher shop)” opens at 7 p.m. Thursday. DeFrancis will perform inside around 8 p.m. The installation will be there until August.
Artists and any building owners with vacant space who’d like to work with Picker can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: In an earlier version of this article an incorrect last name was given in one sentence for Kalindi DeFrancis.