A Place of Her Own: Alum Challenges the Status Quo with Glitter Milk Gallery
Miranda Sharp (’12, Illustration) has little patience for limitations. After graduating, the KCAD alum curated a number of art exhibitions throughout Grand Rapids, but never quite found a gallery setting that embraced her penchant for blending highbrow quality with lowbrow attitude. So she decided to create a place where she could play by her own rules.
In the spring of 2014, Sharp opened Glitter Milk Gallery on the west side of Grand Rapids. It’s everything that traditional art galleries are not – gaudy, informal, spontaneous, accessible, and unabashedly smitten with pop culture – and yet there’s no shortage of talent on display. The gallery features emerging and professional artists from around the globe, and there’s a kind of energetic looseness to the space, and to Sharp, that makes Glitter Milk feel like a place where anything can happen.
View from outside Glitter Milk Gallery (image courtesy of Glitter Milk Gallery)
"The Thirft Show," an exhibiton held at Glitter Milk in June of 2014, aimed to capture the whimsical atmosphere of thrift stores and curiosity shops (image courtesy of Glitter Milk Gallery)
“I really wanted to make a space for people who didn’t quite see their work fitting in in any other gallery in Grand Rapids,” says Sharp. “I took a trip out to Los Angeles a few years ago and was inspired by these galleries I saw that had really strong personalities. They organized shows around themes like a specific TV show or Dungeons and Dragons, not vague ideas, and all the art was amazing. I wanted to bring in a kind of art that’s high caliber but deals with subject matter that many people in the art world may consider frivolous.”
Sharp (right) and a friend at the opening recption for the "Morbid Visions" exhibition, held back in August of 2014 (image courtesy of Glitter Milk Gallery)
Shows at Glitter Milk are curated on the fly and frequently powered by collaboration. One of the more recent exhibitions, “Speed Read,” was conceived at one of the gallery’s opening receptions, where Adam Schuitema, who teaches creative writing courses at KCAD, expressed interest in exploring the intersection of visual art and written narrative. Schuitema reached out to local writers he knew, asking them to submit short, ‘flash’ fiction pieces they had already written. Sharp then recruited a pool of illustrators, each of which were given a piece of writing and asked to create a cover illustration in response to it.
KCAD professor Adam Schuitema reads his work at the opening reception for "Speed Read" (image courtesy of Glitter Milk Gallery)
“Even in this increasingly digital age, book cover art still has a certain cachet to it,” says Schuitema. “We totally judge books by their covers. Miranda and I wanted to see how different artists would interpret a two-page story, using that same kind of classic mode of illustration that we all know.”
In the gallery, the large-format illustrations were displayed side-by-side with printed excerpts from the stories that best reflected the conversation between the two mediums. In viewing them, one could easily look at the pairings for an hour and still not notice all the subtle ways the curve of a line or the choice of colors were dancing with the imagery, characters, and dialogue. Each trip through the exhibition revealed new meaning and new points of entry – reading the stories first, and then taking in the illustrations, for instance, provided one experience, while the opposite approach yielded another.
Writers read their work aloud during the opening reception of "Speed Read" (image courtesy of Glitter Milk Gallery)
At the opening reception, writers read their stories aloud, projecting their own interpretations of the mood and tone of the writing out to the crowd, and as people viewed the work, they mingled and talked about it as a record player oozed background music from the other room.
“The readings were received really well; the crowd was very engaged in the stories, and there was even some laughter,” Sharp says. “Because the style of my gallery is more light-hearted, a lot of the authors’ performances reflected that. They were more dramatic and gave their characters voices, it was great to see the authors personalities come to life.”
Glitter Milk may have a light-hearted vibe, but Sharp is very serious about the inclusive and accessible experience she’s trying to provide All events are open to the public, and any art that is sold at Glitter Milk is priced to be affordable, with most of the money going straight back to the artist. The work in “Speed Read,” for instance, was collected into a printed anthology that sold for $30 at the show’s opening, and Glitter Milk retained 30% of the profits while 70% went to the illustrators who created original work exclusively for the exhibition.
Exhibitions at Glitter Milk Gallery, like last April's "Die Cut," have an incredibly social atmosphere (image courtesy of Glitter Milk Gallery)
Visitors to Glitter Milk Gallery enjoy "The League of Extraordinary Ladies," an exhibiton held in September of 2014 (image courtesy of Glitter Milk Gallery)
Sharp’s passion for social activism also permeates her gallery shows. “NSFW,” a burlesque-themed exhibition currently on display, champions ideas of positive body image. The show will feature a public film critique in which the first installment of the 50 Shades of Grey films will be examined alongside the 2002 film, Secretary, exploring the kink culture inherent in both. Half of the $5 cost of admission to the critique will be donated to the Sasha Center in Detroit, an organization that provides sexual assault services for holistic healing and awareness.
In all that she does, Sharp is first and foremost interested in exploring possibility, and she’s not about to let any preconceived notions of what is or isn’t art stand in her way.
“I’m always open to anyone coming up to me with a show idea,” she says. “That’s really a big part of the gallery’s ethos.”
See more of what’s happening at Glitter Milk Gallery at glittermilkgallery.com.