Grapefruits Art Space is a little hole-in-the-wall gallery space in an alley—actually called Industrial Alley—between North Tillamook and North Thompson. But it’s not difficult to find. A bright pink sliding industrial door and an interior pink wall create a warm glow in the night air. I’m 60 percent sure that I came to a rave in this alley once, but it wasn’t in Grapefruits.

Grapefruits is tiny (about 20 by 25 feet), so on a rainy February evening, people were milling up the dock steps, checking out the paintings on the wall and the Turkey Club #3 zine curated by Jenny Vu, then coming back outside to talk to their friends. A Nike bike was locked to a guard rail. It felt like old and new Portland were somehow getting along. Toward the end of the evening, the lingering crowd started a dance party while Free School PDX organizer DJ P played ’90s hits like La Bouche’s “Be My Lover.”

A week later, I arrived at midday to interview the four people who run Grapefruits—Martha Daghlian, Alix Ryan, Cameron Hawkey, and Jamaali Roberts—to find that Grapefruits was without power. Daghlian was on the phone about it, and Hawkey was running an extension cord from next door. Without the crowd, the space felt smaller and darker. (Also, the lights were off.)

Grapefruits is a non-hierarchical collaboration; all four members call themselves collaborative curators. Daghlian named the space—which began in March 2017 in St. Johns and moved to Industrial Alley in September—after Grapefruit: A Book of Instruction and Drawings by Yoko Ono. She gestured to a copy of the book they keep on a podium by the door and said: “It fit with what I wanted the gallery to be. Ono’s work is serious and conceptually really rich, but it’s also fun and friendly. People at different levels of engagement with contemporary art can appreciate it. It’s generative, especially that book, because they’re proposals for actions. Some of them aren’t even possible.”

When I asked if the group felt a specific need for this space, Daghlian said, “There are a lot of beautiful professional galleries and there are awesome coffee shops where artists can show, but Grapefruits is a weird half-step between them. There aren’t a ton of spaces like these. Over the years, there have been, but they close or move on because it’s a lot of work and investment.”

“Also, on a practical level, we all needed studios,” Hawkey added. “Saying that I felt the specific need for Grapefruits is probably not so true, but saying that I needed a space that works for me and other people is true. Working on this has definitely expanded what I thought being an artist was.”

“You have to develop a community of peers and you have to develop an audience and you have to get practice,” Daghlian said.

“At the same time,” Alix added, “I also feel this safety in knowing it’s small enough that we all have ownership, which is really important for feeling safe enough to be vulnerable in making art.”

Photo by Yvette Aispuro for
Fantasies in Parallel

This year, Grapefruits received a grant from PICA’s Precipice Fund that enabled them to extend their space to Portland organizations like Free School PDX, which teaches one-off workshops every other Sunday. The grant will also help the space create a book documenting the year’s shows for posterity. Grapefruits’ spring shows will include a photo show curated by Jess Garten in March called Fantasies in Parallel which Daghlian describes as “13 female and non-binary photographers, who have formed a loose creative community together, celebrating their work and their shared influences.”

“And in April we have a show scheduled with two other galleries. That’s TRIAD III,” Hawkey added. “That’s with OV Project Space and True Measure Gallery.”

“This is the third year that Andrew Auble and Sam Klickner have curated it,” said Daghlian. “They always bring out a ton of people and have really cool artists, but since it’s their third year they’re upping the ante. A lot of stuff is popping off in the alley.”

“Who was that guy who showed up with oysters?” I asked, referring to the Turkey Club opening. No one knew. He might be a friend of Roberts who couldn’t meet up for the interview. “I didn’t know him but I was like, ‘When did you show?’” said Hawkey. “And he was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, man. I was just shuckin’ and everyone was jiving.’”