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August 1st, 2011 - Kelley Chambers

One cool Womb

A less-than-traditional art space — not a gallery — opens with a splash


Wayne Coyne only has one requirement for The Womb, his new art space in Automobile Alley.

“I want it to be cool,” he says. Judging by the bright, psychedelic mural on the former Mel’s Towing, 25 N.W. Ninth, painted in May by Brooklyn-based artist Maya Hayuk, it looks like The Womb is well on the way to achieving that “coolness” Coyne desires.

Andy Warhol had The Factory; The Beatles painted a 19th-century London building with a psychedelic mural and opened the short-lived Apple Boutique; and now, Coyne has The Womb. In the long history of famous art spaces, Oklahoma City has never been on the map. Coyne, lead singer of The Flaming Lips, has put his money where his mouth is to bring something truly weird and wonderful to his hometown.

How the space will evolve, naturally, is anyone’s guess.

Coyne has entrusted his vision to artists Rick Sinnett and Jake Harms. Sinnett knows a thing or two about nontraditional art galleries. He opened Against the Grain on N. Shartel Avenue a decade ago, and featured nationally known artists who were not necessarily part of the mainstream art scene. When he closed shop, no one picked up the torch. Coyne gave him the chance to again bring cutting-edge art to Oklahoma City on his own terms.

“It’s really Rick’s trip,” Coyne says.

“It’s just a space where we can do stuff. We can come down here at 4 o’clock in the morning and do something because it’s our place.”

Coyne wanted to build on that vision by bringing edgy artists to Oklahoma City who he wanted to meet, hang out with, collaborate with, and inspire one another.

“Artists want to be around other artists doing new things,” he says.

With a demanding tour schedule that sometimes keeps him away for weeks and months at a time, Coyne’s role will be more docent and artist-at-large rather than curator, but if he’s in OKC, he says don’t be surprised to see him working on a project at the space. Rather than shooing away gawkers, Coyne and Sinnett say they are likely to welcome people in to see what’s going on.

“We want to create an experience,” Sinnett says. “Not only by bringing in internationally renowned artists, but somehow tying the community into that.”

Fortunately for Sinnett, Coyne’s day job can help support the gallery and allow him to focus on lining up artists, and creating innovative projects, rather than stressing about keeping the lights on, endlessly applying for grants, or bowing to the demands of donors or a board. With that freedom, he is working on defining a space that he envisions as being ever-changing.

“I like the term ‘art project,’ rather than a definitive term like ‘gallery,’ or something of that nature,” Sinnett says. “We see it as something that is constantly evolving, fresh and new.”

Hayuk was the first featured artist with her exterior mural project. Working with about 7,000 square feet, Sinnett plans to lure other artists to have free rein on the interior. He said some projects could include constructing walls that a painter designs and then sells pieces of the work.

The building’s owner, Steve Mason, was happy when Coyne came knocking. Mason has spent the past few years revitalizing buildings along Broadway Avenue, and turning that blighted stretch of N.W. Ninth Street into a hip dining and shopping destination. One big question mark was what would be the best use for the former Mel’s Towing.

“We’ve been searching for a use for that building,” Mason says. “I believe Wayne is going to accelerate the creativity in this district. That building allows them a lot of artistic freedom.”

“We want to create an experience. Not only by bringing in internationally renowned artists, but somehow tying the community into that.”

For Coyne, he says while a conservative mindset can sometimes be a deterrent in Oklahoma, he felt that the city could handle an art space like none it has seen.

“I travel all over the world, and I see stuff that I think, ‘Wow, why can’t we do that in Oklahoma City?’” he says. “Oklahoma City needs something like this.”

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