From the exterior, Northside House — the new gallery that just opened on Colerain Avenue — looks exactly the way its name sounds: a nondescript red-brick house on a residential street. I accidentally drove past it.
Within the weathered walls of this 1880 shotgun-style house, however, awaits an unusual experience for those adventurous enough to visit. Simple, understated and unpretentious, Northside House quietly delivers high-quality exhibits in a place that feels like home.
Walking in on opening day, I was greeted silently by a large African sculpture, followed by a collection of smaller pieces of tribal art. I passed by the wood-burning stove in the next room to the kitchen, where a feast of colorful and expensive-looking hors d’oeuvres surrounded a woman cheerfully serving wine.
“Would you like some coffee?” a voice asks. It’s gallery director Chris Hoeting, 30, offering caffeine and chocolates.
Later, Hoeting explains that hospitality will play a large role in the gallery — gourmet delicacies at openings, impromptu public breakfasts and “coffee talk” closings.
“We want the house to be welcoming,” he says, “to invite (people) in, feed them, show them a really nice time.”
He also wants it to showcase contemporary art alongside the more traditional. One of the two opening shows is called Inauguration and features local installation artist Alice Pixley Young with Steve Amos of Chicago, Jon Payne of Dayton and Ellington Robinson of Washington
Why a house, though, to show this? Especially a house that required more than $10,000 in renovations before being ready for the first opening? Hoeting says that the building owner and gallery co-partner, Doug Hafner, saved the house from ruin. When Hafner bought it, the building was in shambles and was a refuge for squatters and crack dealers. Over the course of five years, he gutted it, cleaned it up and got it into a workable shell. He then invited Hoeting and Jonathan Sears this past spring to co-create a gallery in the space. They immediately agreed.
Within three months, the trio (along with plenty of volunteers) whipped the gallery into shape.
“We were off to the races converting this 100-plus-year-old house into the gallery you see today,” Hoeting says.
Besides creating a new venue for the community and transforming an eyesore into a business, the gallery was also saving a piece of history.
“So many houses are being lost,” he says. “This house probably would have been torn down.”
The house format does offer advantages to showing art. The gallery plans to alternate group shows with solo shows and to overlap these with smaller shows of collectibles. With the house layout, the gallery operators are able to feature several artists at a time, but provide each their own room, giving the feel of a solo show.
The second opening exhibit, Life, features West African ceremonial objects (and other items) by carvers of the Dogon, Lobi and more tribes of West Africa. For instance, there is a small hand-carved Ashanti sculpture, with stylized markings and detailed representations of hair and facial features.
Northside House offers a lot of surprises, combining many elements that would seem incongruous. The theme that ties everything together, however, is the feeling of welcome and comfort that the owners strive to create.
“It’s not really a gallery,” Hoeting says. “It’s a house.”
Northside House is a house that wants to be a home.
NORTHSIDE HOUSE (4034 Colerain Ave., Northside) presents Inauguration through Aug. 23 and Life through Sept. 13. For more info, go to www.thenorthsidehouse.net.