In 2011, straight out of college, bored, and broke, 21-year-old Grace Miceli, aka Art Baby, founded Art Baby Gallery, with a plan to put shine on young artists' work outside of the infinite Tumblr scroll. She chose an online gallery over a brick-and-mortar space because “when you’re 21 and you don’t have any money, you can’t just do that.” Miceli approached the space in a DIY fashion, coding the site herself and asking her vast array of internet friends (including Petra Collins and Tavi Gevinson) to submit their work. In the four years she’s been doing it, the online space has grown beyond her internet circle. This summer, the gallery had its first IRL incarnation with the exhibition Girls at Night on the Internet. Showing at the Alt Space gallery in Brooklyn, the show featured the work of 18 artists (17 of whom were women) making art about femininity and pop culture.
While Miceli started as an outsider, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call her that now. Girls at Night on the Internet was one of the hottest shows this summer, she's newly been appointed the permanent curator at Alt Space, and is also expanding a clothing line, which so far has popped up everywhere from Portland to China. Despite her recent success, Miceli is not interested in assimilating to mainstream art culture, something that her followers recognize. With Art Baby Gallery, Miceli is nurturing young, underrepresented artists who have traditionally been shut out from the art world. By giving them a space to show their art, one that feels just as welcoming as their Tumblr home pages. The FADER caught up with Miceli to get deep about “women artists,” dressing like a teen boy, and her Drake obsession.
“Why can’t I just be a fucking artist? Dudes get to just be artists. They don’t have to be ‘male artists’.”
How did the Alt Space show come about, and what was the concept behind it?
Girls at Night came about super quick. I hit up Nasa, the owner of Alt Space, to do something, and she was like, “OK, the next opening is in three weeks.” Luckily, because of the relationships I had built with all the artists, mostly on a friend level, I just texted everyone being like, “Yo, I’m doing a show, do you wanna be in it?”
The concept wasn’t necessarily the idea that everyone's making digital work but more that where we found each other and where we were influenced to make this type of work was online. Not so much traditional “net art,” because so much net art can feel cold to me. Not to be cheesy but I wanted to create a show where you felt that camaraderie and friendship and bond that these artists have—maybe not even with each other but that they all have with their art.
Is there any meaning behind the name Art Baby? Why specifically “baby?”
When I started it, the focus was more on young artists. I was 21 so I think it was referencing that, just the inexperience and being a baby in the art world. I don’t feel like that’s necessarily true now that I’ve been doing this a while, but I still like baby as a term of endearment like, “Hey babygirl.”
I get that it can be a sort of a negative infantilizing thing, it’s obviously not at all where I’m going with it but I understand the read of it.
What’s the relationship between your work and the internet? Your drawings are obviously referencing internet culture but you choose to make physical drawings instead of working solely online.
The physical aspect of the markers and the painting is almost like a meditation for me. My head can enter a space that it doesn’t when I’m on the computer. I like that combination of physical and online—I scan my stuff in and I use really shitty Crayola markers so you can see the marker lines. Everything I do is shared online. That’s how we experience everything and how we live, so to just have a little reminder of messiness is interesting to me. It’s nice to have that reference of the human touch on it.
A lot of the work you make and curate deals with femininity and Girls at Night on the Internet was a women-mostly show. What are your thoughts on the concept of “women artists?”
It’s hard because I have conflicting views on it. Sometimes I want to be like, “Hell yes, I’m a feminist, I really support feminist art.” I’m so proud to be a feminist and I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I was in any way embarrassed with aligning myself with that movement. Because that happens in the media, these actresses are set up and asked, “Are you a feminist?” and people are still like, “I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist.” The fact that that still happens blows my mind. So for that reason I want to be like, “Yes, call me a feminist, have the title of the article about me use the word feminist.” But then also I get frustrated, like why can't I just be a fucking artist? Dudes get to just be artists. They don’t have to be “male artists”.
Tavi spoke to Vanity Fair about how she feels that there's this idea of “clickbait feminism” now. It’s hard for me because a part of me is so glad that feminism is a trend, but then sometimes I’m like, “Are you really going to ask me if I’m a feminist?” I’m personally very conflicted and I’m still figuring out how to navigate it.
Your work heavily references pop culture and nostalgia, what is it about that area that influences you?
Personally pop culture is the language that I speak in. It’s how I think. I’m always referencing like, “That's like that movie, that’s like that tv show.” What I like about the combination of feminist art and pop culture is that it can make it a little more fun. It’s not just art about our periods or whatever. It’s [also] a woven blanket of Drake.
I’d like to think that someone in his team was aware of the show—he probably wasn’t, though he is the most self aware dude ever. I just read The FADER interview with him and I was almost brought to tears. He’s the one entity I am an ultimate fan of.
What connection does your clothing have to your art or do you see it as separate?
I’ve always had an interest in streetwear, that’s how I enjoy dressing, that’s my vibe. I have zero knowledge or skills on how to actually make clothing and the way I work is so messy and imprecise that I couldn't actually be a designer but I see it as a fun medium to work in; I paint, I draw, I make clothes.
It’s also an affordable way to own my art, people buy prints and hang them up on the wall in their room but it’s cool to have something that’s actually a useful object that you can wear out or whatever.
You have a big teen following. Why do you think that is?
I think just the silliness. I definitely have an amateur, youthful style. I was over on Lafayette Street the other day and this mid-30s business man in a suit came up to me and was like, “Are you Grace? I like what you do.” Usually it’s 14 to 18 year old girls who come up to me which is amazing. It’s great that so many young people are interested in feminist art, but with that guy I was like, “Aw that’s my first busines man fan.”
What were you like as a teen?
I was a very serious teenager, I got really into feminism and punk music when I was 15 or 16. I was very self-righteous and a know-it-all. I had no chill. Now I’m like, “Man I sucked.” I think that’s why I am the way I am now, because I didn’t have those fun carefree teen years—I was just a big nerd.
What would you like to change in the art world?
It’s not like I think what exists is super problematic or fucked up. I’m just bored of it. Recently I go to galleries in Chelsea and I’m just like, “Ugggh.” It doesn’t feel relevant to me. I don’t know if I’m interested in assimilating into that fancy art world as it exists currently. I’m almost more interested in, not like “making my own art world” but a sort of like...
An alternate art world?
Yeah! And I think that that’s happening these days with so many artists working with brands. With social media, I feel like there’s this fluidity and crossing over that allows for that. Petra shoots for Adidas, and I think that’s really awesome because you’re reaching a wider audience. Only so many people are going to go out to Chelsea, it feels like a very insular world. I used to think being in that scene was the ultimate goal but now being here, I’m more interested in doing things on my own terms, with my own rules and shit.
Who are five young artists whose work you’re into at the moment?