For the past 4½ years, God Hates Robots has tried to do things differently — striving to be an art gallery for both new artists and new art buyers.
All the exhibiters are Utahns. Nothing costs more than $400; a lot of pieces cost considerably less. And 80% of the sale price goes to the artists. (Many galleries can keep 40% to 50%.)
And it’s never been a moneymaker for its owners. “Yeah, it’s a terrible business model,” co-owner Shon Taylor said with a laugh. “It’s largely not constructive to do things that don’t pay for themselves.”
And that’s one of the reasons that the current art show, “6-Pack,” is the last: God Hates Robots gallery is shutting down after Thanksgiving.
“We’ve always subsidized the gallery with our other businesses,” said Taylor, who also owns and operates online ticketing platform 24tix and software developer Bottlerocket Manufacturing with his business partner, Ray Childs. They lease office space at 314 E. Broadway from Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli, and opened the gallery in space neither of their other businesses was using.
But they recently negotiated a new lease, and the rent increased. “Our expenses are going up, and that was certainly a big factor in things,” Taylor said. (They’re remaining in their offices; they will sublet the gallery space.)
It wasn’t just the increased rent that prompted the decision to close God Hates Robots, however.
“We honestly just felt like we had run the course of our experiment,” Taylor said. “We sort of saw what we were going to see and we had a lot of fun. Even if our lease wasn’t up, the interest to put more money into it wasn’t there.”
Which came as a bit of a shock — if not entirely a surprise — to artists whose works had been exhibited there.
GOD HATES ROBOTS
What • “Experimental” art gallery
Where • 314 W. 300 South, Suite 250
Hours • Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. or by appointment
Admission • Free
Current (and final) exhibition • “6-Pack” is a series of six screen-print posters by Shon Taylor using transparent white ink on black paper. The six pieces are simply labeled A though F.
“It was never about being market-driven. It was more about community,” said painter Sri Whipple. “I was definitely sad about [the closing] because it’s an awesome venue. There’s nothing that compares to what they did. They kind of filled in a gap. It’s kind of a bummer.”
Taylor has been hearing say-it-ain’t-so comments in person and on social media from both artists and buyers, “and that’s a very, very nice thing,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of support from the community over the entire time. And it’s meant a lot to both Ray and me.”
God Hates Robots exhibits works from both established artists and newcomers, who created both traditional and untraditional works — paintings, drawing, illustrations, sculptures and more, using conventional and unconventional materials.
“In Salt Lake, there’s not really anything for artists who are maybe a little edgier or have less experience,” said Camilla Taylor, a Los Angeles-based artist, unrelated to Shon Taylor, who grew up in Utah and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Utah. “And Shon was introducing those artists to the art world. It was an amazing thing.”
Shon Taylor said the gallery’s goal was to “empower artists” and be “less bound to dollars and cents and more to just this idea of art. That’s really what the experiment was all about — to see if we could provide an exciting and interesting place for shows.”
And they aimed to encourage people to buy original art, perhaps for the first time. They set the price limit “so that people know that they can walk in and, if they have $400, they can walk out with a piece of art.” Which is not the way most art galleries work.
“It was this awesome thing that provided a space for a lot of artists that you wouldn’t see in most galleries in Salt Lake,” Whipple said. “Young, upcoming, affordable stuff. There’s not a lot of affordable art in Salt Lake. And there’s not many venues to put it into.”
Shon Taylor and Childs were hoping to pump up the local arts scene and steer people toward other art galleries. Taylor said he “loves” the first art pieces he bought when he was younger, and that made him “want to be around art more.”
“I do think that that is kind of a critical thing — to provide an avenue for people to begin purchasing art. But that was the part of the experiment that maybe didn’t work as well as we’d hoped — the idea that if people purchase art, they may fall in love with purchasing art. And they may buy more art and support artists directly.”
But while he kept prices at God Hates Robots low, he couldn’t do anything about the prices anywhere else. “It is hard to walk into the gallery and say, ‘OK, that’s $5,000. I’ll buy that,’” he said. “I can’t do that. And most people can’t.”
Shon Taylor said he has no regrets, only fond memories of God Hates Robots. “It was super rewarding,” he said, adding that he always considered it a “temporary type of space.” He thinks someone else will step up and fill the gap for low-priced arts; others aren’t so sure.
“I’m really sad that it’s going to be gone,” Camilla Taylor said. “And I don’t know that there’s anything equivalent that exists or that will replace it anytime soon.”
Whipple agreed: “There’s not much to replace it.”
There is the Avenues Open Studios, which invites all artists who wish to participate. There are no prerequisites, and the event is open to potters, fabric artists, painters, jewelry designers, tie-dye clothing makers, greeting card makers, photographers and sculptors. But it’s only one day a year; the next one is in September 2020.
Avenues Artists does sponsor other events, including one currently showing at the Sweet Branch library.
AVENUES ART EXHIBIT
What • Free art exhibit/sale featuring local artists.
Where • Salt Lake Public Library Sweet Branch, 455 F Street
When • Continues through Dec. 21. Library is open Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-9 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Sundays, Thursday, Nov. 28, and Friday, Nov. 29.
“It’s so hard to get into galleries, and there are so many artists who can’t,” said organizer and artist Anne Albaugh. She said what God Hates Robots “has done is pretty amazing,” and she’s hoping someone else steps up to fill the gap.
“I would suggest to them to go talk to people that have empty buildings. They don’t have to be right downtown. They can do it anywhere, especially in the near west side,” Albaugh said. “I know the space is out there and it doesn’t have to be fancy. I was driving by Trolley Square the other day, and I noticed that there was a lot of empty space. And it’s been sitting there for a long, long time.”
And Shon Taylor is decidedly upbeat and optimistic that someone will find a way to give local artists a new showcase.
“I did my thing for this long, now somebody else can do their thing. And I’d like to see that, too,” he said. “I think somebody younger than me who’s got better ideas and more energy and less obligations that I have — they’re going to do something that is wildly more interesting.”
Coverage of downtown Salt Lake City arts groups is supported by a grant from The Blocks, a cultural initiative of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.