Gallery Incomplet in Santa Fe is likely the world’s first art space to exclusively display incomplete works of art, ranging from barely completed paintings to undeveloped rolls of film.
SANTA FE, NM—There’s an oil-on-canvas portrait without the face details hanging on one wall. Make a 180-degree turn and one will see a potter’s wheel with a glop of clay. But be careful before pirouetting or else you might step on a paint-stained paper towel, which, by this point, I discover isn’t trash but an actual artwork.
Though this looks like a typical artist studio, with art supplies and various works in progress at different stages of completion and incompletion, it’s absolutely not. This is Gallery Incomplet.
“You see that half-eaten lunch over there to your…,” says Gallery Incomplet proprietor Mat Johnso, who falls in line with the name of this new Santa Fe art space and won’t speak in complete sentences. “That could also be considered part of the gallery display, which, in my opinion…”
I turn to my left, careful not to step on a Japanese black and tan shiba inu that has nestled near my feet and see that there’s a plate of breakfast enchiladas that’s been gnawed. The container’s lid is missing and a plastic fork seems to be without one of its prongs.
Southwest Contemporary broke the news of Gallery Incomplet’s existence/inexistence on April 1, 2022. Since then, we’ve tried to piece together a complete story of Gallery Incomplet. This probably wasn’t the wisest approach.
The gallery’s mission statement, filled with barely composed sentences, partially reads, “Here at Gallery Incomplet we celebrate works of art that can’t be bothered to be finishe…” I wonder if this concept is a half-baked idea or the second coming of John Cage’s 4’33”.
After spending an hour at the art space, I still don’t know. But I did learn that the gallery appears to be the world’s first, and acts as an expanded concept of Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, the 2016 exhibition at the Met Breuer in New York City that displayed in-progress artworks as well as pieces that were purposely unfinished.
At Gallery Incomplet, a disassembled painter’s easel activates the center of the room. Nearby, a supposed fifteen-minute video piece stops and then starts over after nine minutes. There’s even a half-stretched canvas dangling from a movable wall.
Pretty much everything here challenges, deconstructs, and bends my worldview of art, and that’s a great thing. But what about the other objects inside of the gallery? Is literally everything in here an unfinished work?
I ask Johnso if the cardboard box that housed the painter’s easel, which rests next to the device, is an art piece. “The easel only cost…,” Johnso says.
How about the undeveloped roll of Fujichrome film that’s on the information desk next to a medium-format camera? “You know, Fuji has a…,” Johnso says.
Ok then, what about the film that’s inside of the camera? There are about half of the exposures remaining so it’s technically incomplete. Is that part of the installation? “I was going to tell you about…,” Johnso says.
But the camera came from a major manufacturer so it’s technically a completed piece? “Actually, it’s broken and…,” Johnso says.
UGH and ARGH.
Ok, never mind. Let me try to ask Mat Johnso (I assume his real name is Matt Johnson?) about the bigger picture: is Gallery Incomplet some sort of statement against the tourism-driven art scene of Santa Fe and/or the art market at large? “It’s not out of the realm of…,” he says.
Fine. But for real, and out of greater concern: is Gallery Incomplet, either accidentally or intentionally, enabling the so-called self-destructive habits of artists—procrastinating, blowing deadline, asking for an extension, making another pot of coffee and checking socials instead of applying spot tone to a silver gelatin print—and perpetuating these stereotypes?
“I mean, it’s…” is the extent of Johnso’s insight.
Looking around Gallery Incomplet, I honestly don’t know what to think. Are the doors an illusion? Is the flickering gallery light because the bulb is on its last legs or did Incomplet deliberately modify the electrical current? Is that clump of shiba inu fur also art? My head hurts and I’m hungry. Is Johnso going to finish the enchilada plate? Because I want to. But what if I were to eat it all—would I then be committing a psychic sin? Is there a law on the books against completing anything, even my thoughts, at Gallery Incomplet?
I have no clue, but I do know that I’m feeling paranoid about free-falling into spiritual bankruptcy so I don’t think this story can be complet [punctuation mark intentionally left out]