Before it was SPACE, Downtown's go-to venue for local artists to display or perform their work, the building at 812 Liberty Ave. catered to a somewhat different kind of connoisseur.
"Sometimes people still walk into the gallery asking, 'What happened? Where's the porn?'" says Murray Horne, its curator.
The porn shop closed after the building was purchased by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The first-floor space, boasting 17-feet high ceilings, was renovated and opened as a gallery in 2004. But while the site features a mix of local art and performance each year, the "gallery" tag may be too limiting for the type of work exhibited here.
Previous shows have featured: artists making work during the opening reception itself; visual art complemented by dance performances and poetry readings; and collaborations with other galleries both in town and from as far away as Valencia, Spain.
"We place as few restrictions as possible on the nature of the show and the artwork," Horne says.
Indeed, "the programming is quite varied," says Susanne Slavick, who guest-curated a show called Out of the Rubble early this year.
"It can be [anything from] really young emerging artists to slickly packaged traveling shows that are thematically based," says Slavick, a Carnegie Mellon professor. "You never really know what you're going to see there."
Carolina Loyola-Garcia, who curated the gallery's Overlapping Memories exhibit this year, says SPACE is particularly conducive to experimental work and explorations in new media. She says that's partly because the gallery's primary aim is not to sell the pieces, and partly because the space itself is so flexible.
"It has this sort of raw, transformational, industrial feeling," she says. "The approach to the work they will show is very different."
It is also great exposure for the artists, Loyola-Garcia says. Located at street level in the heart of the Cultural District, SPACE draws about 20,000 people each year. And while at many galleries it's hard to draw audiences in after opening nights, she explains, with SPACE, "it's right there on the street. And there are windows around it, so everyone walking by can see inside. I think it makes the work more available to the community."
It is also more available to local artists. SPACE curates five shows annually, each lasting about two months. Booking its location doesn't require a year-and-a-half notice, the curators say. Shows also benefit from the lack of physical barriers in the one-room gallery. "You can stand in one place and see a large body of work," Horne says.
And although each show operates on a strict $5,000 budget, Horne says the limitation becomes part of what makes SPACE's shows so unique.
"I just love the work that comes from SPACE," he says.