Apollonia Vanova’s Sleepover Gallery in Toronto

by Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Artist Lumír Hladík on left and Darren Gallery’s owner Apollonia Vanova. Photo, Yianni Tongh

EKH: Darren Gallery is reopening after, as you’ve said, a long and painful renovation with a new concept: Sleepover Art Gallery. Where did this idea come from?

AV: The sleepover gallery concept came about from a variety of factors.  It’s difficult to sell art, as it’s not a life necessity and not a surprise when galleries close down after a few years. This is not exclusive to commercial art galleries – retail stores are going out of business all the time due to online shopping. People are also living in smaller spaces and not buying as much stuff.  If one walks by a commercial art gallery, chances are it’s always stark and devoid of people, except the director sitting by their desk on the computer.  If one musters up the courage to actually walk in, the feeling is usually cold, intimidating and uninviting.  I wanted this gallery to be something different, different from the traditional ‘pictures on the wall’ gallery that’s devoid of people and empty of life.  At Darren gallery, I want the viewer to feel comfortable by providing a space where they can relax, sit down, lounge on a sofa, contemplate the work, read about the work and even sleep in its vicinity.

There is one significant phenomenon that stands out in our culture: people are always looking to experience new and interesting things – more so than ever before. This idea is confirmed by our online presence and Instagram culture, where we want to be seen at the most unique places, we want to experience unusual things etc. I would like to provide for my guests a unique art-fueled experience. Moreover, maybe it is time to break the old conventions. Why don’t we try to observe the art alone with no witnesses, at 3 am, in the middle of a sleeping city. Make it a fully immersive and memorable experience!

Darren Gallery from the street with the curtains. Photo, Yianni Tongh

EKH: Could you please tell us more about the sleepover part?

AV: The gallery is on street level, with huge storefront windows covered with thick velvet blackout curtains for your privacy. The main gallery and exhibition space is punctuated by a couple of discreet (comfortable Twin XL high end memory foam) Murphy beds, surrounded by the art installation.  The kitchenette, shower, closet and bathroom are located in the bright, newly renovated basement, where you will find towels, coffee, tea, for your overnight stay.  Sorry – no TV, unless it’s part of the installation as the focus is on the art.

EKH: How will you select the people who will sleep in the gallery?

AV: Every person is welcome and one doesn’t even have to be an art lover, but it would help if you were curious with an open mind. Overnight stays are limited to 2 guests per night as the gallery has only two beds. Obviously, there are the standard rules of: no smoking, vaping or partying.  The gallery does take a refundable damage deposit to protect the artwork. The overnight stays can be booked by contacting the gallery directly, through our website as well as through AirBnb.

EKH: Will the bed remain in the gallery through the day? Won’t the place look more like a hotel room than a gallery? 

AV: Murphy beds are great: so discreet, and virtually blend into the wall.  They can also be used as “walls” to break up the room and incorporate into the exhibition.  The typical hotel room feeling comes from the ‘typical hotel’ decor. The gallery is nothing like a hotel.  At Darren Gallery – artwork dominates the space and the furniture is minimal. If anything, the challenge has been more the other way around – that it doesn’t feel enough like a hotel. How do you make a gallery with concrete floors and white walls feel warm, comfortable and inviting enough to sleep over? I am hoping, with selective furniture for lounging, comfortable mattress, ambiance and with a unique art exhibition, I can transform the space.

Installation view of Lumír Hladík’s Cozy Venom (4) Photo, Yianni Tongh

EKH: Your first show, titled Cozy Venom features Lumír Hladík’s work. How does this show fit into your concept?  

AV: Lumir is a Toronto based, Czech born, post WWII neo-Avant-garde artist, one of the pioneering creators of the 70s East European installation, action and performance art movement. Lumir’s current work has a lot of unprecedented and unpredictable aspects. His material combinations are totally unique. He also collaborates with living Canadian wildlife, such as Black bears or fishers or birds… At his studio visit a few years ago, I was absolutely mesmerized by the work – the symbolism, craftsmanship, attention to detail, quality was unbelievable. We spent a few hours talking about it: it’s so full of layers – including aspects of religion, science, quantum physics, sex, life, death, innocence, vulnerability…. The work is surreal and one can draw a multitude of conclusions from one piece.

Cozy Venom has a dreamy quality that fits nicely with the sleep over aspect.  Lumir is a museum caliber international artist and it’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to spend time with the work on such an intimate level. 

Installation view of the Sleepover Art Gallery. Photo Yianni Tong

EKH: How does the artist feel about people sleeping in his exhibition? 

AV: The artists I have talked to have been very open minded to the idea.  They like the concept of people experiencing their work on a more intimate level. It can start a new relationship, a dialog. Each individual show is 3 months long – which is also nice as their work will be seen by more people. Shared revenue from overnight stays is also a good thing. It supports their work by putting some money back in their pockets, without the pressure of having to sell anything.  All the pieces are available for sale and while it would be wonderful to sell them, that’s not the main purpose.  

EKH: What is your method in selecting artists for future exhibitions? Do you follow a theory, a theme or create one around the artist’s work?

AV: Darren Gallery is interested in national as well as international artists with a strong body of work and exhibition history. Installations with a time element would be ideal, where something happens over a course of time, but we’re open to anything that is visually groundbreaking, mesmerizing, interesting and transformative for the space. Darren Gallery would like to invite and encourage guest curators to reach out with exhibition submissions. 

*Exhibition information: February 6 – May 3, 2020, Darren Gallery, 346 Margueretta Street, Toronto. Gallery hours: Sunday 12 – 6 pm or by appointment only.