Peekaboo Gallery, an effort dedicated to displaying relics and collectible memorabilia from the 20th century, opened this year. In this Q&A we talked to gallery director Matt Kennedy (also of Gallery 30 South) about the reasons behind starting the spot and what’s ahead.
HF: Can you tell me about what inspired the creation of a gallery focused on exhibiting antiques and memorabilia? And specifically, 20th-century items?
MK: I have been collecting things most of my life. I think the first collection I had was beer cans, then it was stamps, coins, LPs, baseball cards, comics, toys, art and esoterica books, movie posters, VHS tapes, 8-Track and compact cassettes, CDs, Laserdiscs, DVDs, wine, whisky, and fine art. Fortunately for my wife, I don’t still collect ALL of those things. My friend Jordan Reichek is a kindred spirit who has been a massive collector of everything from The Beatles to Tiki. His Disneyland collection set the groundwork for the Van Eaton Disneyland auctions, which have been massively successful. His Tiki collection was the basis for the Tiki book and exhibition we did at La Luz de Jesus Gallery last October, which was also an incredible success. We discussed the idea of a series of Pop-up exhibitions that could have an auction element as well, and that became Peekaboo. As collectors, we both have networks of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that are also collectors–many of them with different focuses. The 20th Century is widely regarded as the American Century and where the era of Pop Culture began, and right now nostalgia is at its peak for mid-century and later collectibles.
HF: So far, your exhibitions have centered on arcade games and “the art of high-altitude travel.” What is it about commercial air travel that appealed to you, as a gallery director?
MK: When we were looking for a location to host the first Peekaboo Pop-Up, we put together a list of potential shows, and based on the response to our outreach, we were able to narrow it down to which shows we were fairly certain we could stage impressively in the shortest timeframe, while also considering which exhibitions would best help build the Peekaboo brand and garner the most attention. We were mindful of the sequencing of these shows with an ability to tie-into other pop culture events. We knew that Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Ready Player One was coming out in May, and we had access to a few collections of classic Arcade Games and some original Atari art, so we were able to follow the film pretty quickly with 25¢ a Play: The Art of the Videocade and capitalize on the renewed interest in classic arcade games. To be honest, we were surprised that there was no standard grading system for videogames, and the condition of what was available on the market at the time required a lot of repairing and replacing of thirty-to-forty year old parts in order to get them into legitimate museum condition.
When we located the collections of original stewardess couture uniforms and industrial airplane models, we knew we could stage a museum-quality exhibition in the same space, which makes the transition between shows more practical. What appealed to me most about the items we were gathering for Friendly Skies: The Art of High Altitude Travel was the immersive nature of the exhibition as a whole; it’s not just paintings or posters. We hired a couple of set designers who work primarily on game shows and the schematics they developed with our modular, moveable walls made it possible to produce an experiential exhibition that includes everything associated with the golden age of airplane travel, from those incredible uniforms and original flight bags to original posters, paintings and maquettes, and even archival flight-focused fashion illustration, but also inexpensive items like time tables, luggage tags, flight bags, branded swag, and travel accessories. September is a big travel month, and airports now are a source of frustration not luxury. Now, more than ever, I think people long for that bygone era when you would get dressed up to get on a plane, and when fairs were all regulated so the airlines had to get creative to earn your business.
HF: How does Peekaboo Gallery specifically fit into the cultural sector of Pasadena?
MK: I think by virtue of my static space, Gallery 30 South, I’ve established an awareness here in Pasadena for creative exhibitions that challenge the status quo and bring attention about the arts to this city that is home to some great cultural institutions and influential collectors. My years of working with Billy Shire at La Luz de Jesus really instilled an egalitarian approach to art presentation. Billy established the notion of the Anti-Gallery, and really stripped away the pretense that plagued the art business in the 1980s, which really appealed to me as a kid turning twenty and working on Melrose in 1991. I’ve lived in Pasadena for quite a while now, and as I became aware of Walter Hopps and Norton Simon and their groundbreaking work here, I saw an opportunity to bridge those two worlds, and The Peekaboo Pop-Up Project is very grounded in that. It’s a celebration of the collector as much as a presentation of nostalgia.
HF: How do you balance your roles with this gallery and Gallery 30 South, which you founded?
MK: There is never enough time in the day! During these first two Peekaboo Pop-Ups, I’ve been spending most of my business hours at Peekaboo. Much of my time at Gallery 30 South has been after hours and before hours, so to speak: lining up the shows, the publicity, museum outreach, etc. I’ll have my podcast up and running again soon, too, so I must not like time off. For the last few months, my wife Ai, and our freelance manager, Alaska, have been overseeing most of the day-to-day business at Gallery 30 South–not the least of which has been checking in the thousand-or-so coasters that we’ll be featuring in the 6th Annual Coaster Show next month. I’ve been very fortunate with regard to the coverage our exhibitions at Gallery 30 South have been getting from local papers and networks like the LA Weekly, Pasadena Star News, KTLA and the LA Times, but also national and international outlets like Artnet, Art Daily, Rolling Stone, and of course, HiFructose. The Friendly Skies show at Peekaboo got us Wall Street Journal coverage. That kind of support makes having two full-time jobs a lot more enjoyable.
HF: Can you tell me about the upcoming show “Wagging the Dog”?
MK: We had planned on holding a political collectibles show to coincide with the mid-term elections, but we’ve decided to hold off on that for now. Art shows can certainly be polarizing at times, but I don’t want that to be an unintentional consequence of any of the Peekaboo Pop Ups. If my Facebook feed is any indication, the public are currently feeling a lot of political burnout. I’m hoping to revisit the Wagging the Dog concept down the road. We’re prepping right now for a Peekaboo Pop Culture Auction in the spring, and I’ve got an exhibition at Gallery 30 South with Ken Salter in December and January which is a musical collaboration with the band Mazzy Star. Those are going to require a lot of set up and there is a museum component to Ken’s show that will be occupying a lot of my time in November.
The Peekaboo Pop Ups are really driven by the collector base. The next Pop-Up could materialize from a phone call that I get in the next ten minutes. There are a lot of people with incredible, focused collections that now feel trapped by the sheer volume of what they’ve amassed. Peekaboo offers a way for collectors to divest at a profit in an unparalleled showcase to their obsessions, while providing patrons access to museum-worthy collectibles that have been off the market for years. I understand both sides of the equation because I’m both a collector and a patron.