If Girls at Night on the Internet is a pool full of multicolored Jell-O, then the digi-only gallery known as Art Baby, founded by 26-year-old artist and curator Grace Miceli, is the diving board. “Being a girl at night on the internet is where I personally found the confidence to share my work and to create this really supportive community of artists,” explained Miceli, who also curated this show. “For me, it’s an identity and a space I wanted to celebrate. Being a girl at night on the internet is where I met all these artists and, in a very basic way, it’s just a description of where this all comes from. And this show has just been partially about bringing this world that already exists to a broader audience.”
Girls at Night opened this past Friday at new-kid-on-the-block gallery Alt Space, bringing one particularly creative corner of the internet to real life. It’s hard to imagine a better suited venue for it than this one fronted by Alt Citizen, the mini-music zine and online mag. Located where Bushwick meets Williamsburg, the art gallery/concept store has the feel of a hyper-net-aware Tumblr.
The attendants were all dressed like Instagram celebrities and the artwork and regular stock of the place was playful, brightly colored, design-centric, and to the point (in the interest of serving our internet-fueled lightning-flash attention spans). There was even a dog that looked vaguely internet famous napping under a canopy of neon and wildly patternend clothes, all of which would be impossible to sport with a straight face if you’re over 30. He occasionally reared his head to waking life and the delightful cooes emanating from the stream of (mostly) girls coming through the door. The Bud Light flowed like water.
Most artists participating in the show are also part of Art Baby Gallery, a very net-minded online art gallery indeed. It’s pretty clear by now that the internet has made things easier on emerging artists who may not have access to elitist Art World means of getting their work out there, but sites like Tumblr and Instagram have also made way for like-minded artists to connect and form support networks. “I mean, for me using the internet has been a way for me to discover art and discover friends,” Miceli said. “A lot of us live in different cities, but I’ve just found this really supportive, encouraging community online of female artists.”
Like many female artists before them, Miceli and the women at this show have cultivated their very own art space, a parallel structure of art sharing. Even their output shares characteristics with other marginalized art forms like craft and bedroom pop. Much of the work (though diverse in medium) is smaller in scale and self-referential, made with materials that are inexpensive and easily sourced, and crafted in such a way that it can be circulated and shared on the artists’ own terms.
“Being able to work on shows like this with people like Nasa– she’s a female who runs a gallery space– and being able to do this myself, I’m not like asking anyone for permission, I don’t have to pitch my show to some old man,” Miceli explained. “I’ve worked in galleries in Chelsea, I’ve done that — there are just like old white dudes who are totally out of touch and just have so much money— for me it just feels kind of stifling, whereas this feels like some of us are saying, ‘You know what, fuck it. I’m going to do it myself.’”
Miceli has included her own work in the show and like the rest of what’s on display, there’s a sense of youthful rebellion to it — maybe even a hazy, teen-dream view of the world. “I think especially being in your mid-20s when you’re supposed to start getting serious and be an adult, you’re still grasping for all of this stuff that’s comforting or whatever,” Miceli said. “So I think I’m in that spot right now where youth culture is still very interesting to me. I’m just trying to figure out my relationship to it, I guess.”
But some of the participating artists are truly fresh on the scene. “It’s exciting because probably half of them are still in school and– I don’t want to use the term amateur at all– they are still in that phase of figuring it out,” Miceli explained. “A lot of the work is really vulnerable.”
While there’s a major focus on pop culture (a large portrait of Rihanna, a woven blanket of Drake flipping the bird), there are some heavier themes as well.
Vivian Fu has included some photographs from her “Asian Girls” series that challenge interrelated stereotypes about race and sexuality. And Sanam Sindhi, whom Vogue dubbed “Rihanna’s sidekick,” submitted some text-based pieces that Miceli mentioned as among her favorite in the show. “They’re kind of a play on Jenny Holzer’s 15 Inflammatory Essays,” Miceli explained. “They have this pink, fluffy background but the text itself is really raw and serious.”
Sindhi, an artist of Indian descent, is a fine example of one of the “Internet famous” women participating in the show. She has over 80,000 followers on Instagram, where she was discovered by Rihanna and cast in one of the pop star’s music videos. While many of the uploaded photos showcase Sindhi’s superb sense of style front and center, she also posts her artwork and it garners almost as much attention.
“I think that there are so many women making work online and I think the self-promotion of it and posting your work can inspire other artists to do it too,” Miceli explained. She added that too often female artists, including Molly Soda (read our interview with the digi-artist here), get flak for this. “I definitely think [Tumblr and social media] is a platform for getting your work out there, but people always want to dismiss, and no one’s that one-dimensional.”
While none of the participating artists are obscure exactly (most all of their output can be found online via a simple Google search, and some of them, like Sindhi and 22-year-old Petra Collins, have cult followings), all of them belong to groups that are still underrepresented in the art world.
The numbers for women artists are still abysmal. This year marked the 30th anniversary of the formation of the mask-wearing feminist art collective known as the Guerrilla Girls; as a reminder that their mission of equality in the art world is far from complete, they re-released one of their classic action posters with updated numbers. Sadly, the numbers demonstrate that change has been slow over the last three decades.
As the poster illustrates, of the major New York City art museums, only MoMA had more than one solo exhibition dedicated to a female artist (at two exhibitions, just one more than in 1985). While the Guggenheim, the Met, and the Whitney had precisely zero exhibitions dedicated to women in 1985, each one of those institutions made slight improvements by having one female-led solo exhibition in 2015. Yikes.
But despite the show’s title, and Miceli’s stance as an outspoken feminist, her curatorial work isn’t simply about showing work made by women. “My focus is not to just be like, ‘Look at these female artists.’ Sure, most of them happen to be female, but that’s not the point. I think people want to break it down to that. But that’s not what I’m trying to do, that’s not the full focus,” she explained.
Instead, Miceli is hoping to focus on heightening the visibility of all kinds of artists who are marginalized, including artists of color, and to bring a sense of legitimacy to a newer kind of art making, one with a strong digital presence.
“I’d like to think that some people are taking it seriously,” Miceli laughed. “Me and other artists are not going to wait around for someone to be like, ‘Here’s your gallery show.’ We’re just trying to make it happen ourselves.”
There’s an instantly recognizable aesthetic or at least a familiar conversation dominating Girl at Night, and while Miceli is hesitant to call it something as serious as a “movement,” she agrees that something is coalescing. “There does seem to be this thing going on, girls are just getting shit done. It’s exciting and I hope it can evolve into bigger things,” she said. “It’s too early to tell [if it’s a movement] and I don’t want to categorize or limit anything that’s going on by saying it’s all the same thing, but it’s related in a really exciting way.”