The Closing of Houston’s Space HL: An Interview with Paul Middendorf

by Christopher Blay April 28, 2020
GalleryHomeland art Space HL in Houston Texas

Space HL, Houston

Space HL, an experimental Houston art space that opened nearly 15 years ago (formerly Gallery Homeland), is closing its doors. We’ve covered a lot of the exhibitions there over the years, including a recent show from Jose Villalobos. The announcement came two weeks ago from Space HL’s founder-director Paul Middendorf in an emotional video post on social media, and an announcement on the gallery’s website, which reads:

“[Due] To Covid19 Space HL Will Be Closing. Closing but NOT GONE. Yes Space HL is closing its storefront but will still be working on community engaged projects in the near future and we hope to see you all very soon.”

I spoke with Middendorf over the phone about what happened, and where the gallery goes from here.

Space-HL-Houston-Executive Director-Paul-Middendorf

Space HL’s Paul Middendorf

Paul Middendorf: It’s just kind of a calculated decision that we had to make. I mean, like I {said} in the video, we could sustain probably for the year but it’s like it doesn’t really make a lot of sense right now, especially if we don’t know if we’re going to be able to open; we don’t know what performances are going to look like, and we don’t know about congregation. Basically, financially it makes sense to close and just wait ’til whatever the new normal looks like, and then we can reevaluate, if and when that’s possible.

Christopher Blay: Regrettably, having just moved to Houston and not having visited all the galleries yet, Space HL is one that I wish I’d visited before the shut down.

PM: We did a lot of performance and experimental music events, and we’re a big venue for that. Basically what our drive has always been is to sort of focus on new experimental works and projects. A lot of installation, sound installations, and new media projects. In fact, I think the last exhibition that [featured] sort of commercially viable works was probably Jasmine Zelaya and that was… last year, you know, so prior to that was just a lot of installation projects.

Jose Villalobos, Transitory Sound and Movement Collective, Keliy Anderson Staley, 2019

Jose Villalobos, Transitory Sound and Movement Collective, Keliy Anderson Staley, 2019

We are trying to tap into the all the COVID-19 resources right now. Some of them have dried up, and some of them are just logistically crazy to tap into. We can sustain ourselves for a little bit, but let’s just say the SBA loan system wasn’t a giant clusterfuck; what’s $10K gonna get a small business, right now? Even with a single employee (me), it’s not sustainable because in three months, we’re gonna be back at the same spot. 

I could get the funding to maybe get us through like another year, with some donations. But what does that mean? We’re not going to be able to present, or fundraise to the extent that we want to, and we’re just going to be paying most of our own overhead on an empty space.

Roberto Jackson Harrington, 2018

Roberto Jackson Harrington, 2018.

And it breaks my heart because we were working in a 4,000-square-foot space, and we ultimately lost it after [Hurricane] Harvey, and then it took us a year to figure out what we were going to do. Then we rebranded because that whole situation really made us rethink. And so now with with COVID, it’s even more, so we just have to do what’s realistic .

Maybe the best-case scenario is at the end of the summer we can start posting satellite exhibitions, but until then, we just have to rethink what we’re  going to do it right now.

CB: Do you plan on doing anything online right now, and if so what is it going to look like?

PM: We’re doing  a series called How What Why: Community in Covid19, and we’ve been interviewing people like bar owners, a doctor in North Carolina, [John} Abodeely and Lauren Hainley from Houston Arts Alliance, and others, for about 20 to 30 minutes each. It’ll be on Instagram Live for 24 hours and moved to our Facebook page.

We’ll do that until, you know, we move on to a different format. In my opinion, the digital art stuff is great, but I think it’s a temporary thing, right? We need to experience and we need to see art, you know? Especially installations that involve the environment that you’re in. I don’t know about you, but I’ve just been like, lackluster when it comes to 3D activations like walkthroughs.

If you’ve ever curated a show, it’s hard to do it with slides, because you don’t know what the work actually looks like.

CB: Yes. I was just having that conversation the other day with Annette Lawrence.

PM: It’s good for us to be active and to do that, too, but at the same time, I think we’re kind of forcing something. Maybe it’s something where we just have to stop. And we have to rethink every aspect of our lives. Not just in the art world, and not just in the professional world, but we’re gonna have to rethink everything because when this stuff ends and we return to whatever the normal is, it is going to be different. We’re all gonna have different jobs and we’re gonna have to rethink sustainability.

CB: Yeah, for sure. I’m sorry to not have experienced Space HL before you shuttered, but I hope that whatever the new scenario looks like on the other side of this thing is something that I get to experience. Thank you for talking to me, and giving our readers a sense of where you are and what could happen in the future.

PM: For sure, and thanks for reaching out.

For more about Space HL, please visit its website here.

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