Magic Chef Gallery Takes Fridge Art to the Next Level

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Small figure of flower character on fridge shelf
Work by Roberta Klug in Magic Chef Gallery. (Magic Chef Gallery)

Annette Block has spent the pandemic figuring out what it means to be part of an artistic community without being able to see much of that artistic community. Before lockdown, the ceramicist periodically opened up her home studio to workshops, pop-up sales and short exhibitions by other artists. Keeping her doors closed was a choice, not a necessity. “If I just felt like focusing on my own work and not having classes or shows in there, I could just not have anything for like two years if I wanted to,” she says.

But she has bristled against the forced isolation of the past two years. When she downsized to a studio apartment in the spring of 2021, the move coincided with that brief moment when we all thought we might get to begin socializing again. But, Block says, “The pandemic just kept going on, as we know.”

And so, Block has launched a solution that merges her desire to support and interact with other artists with the particular constraints of living in a small space during an unpredictable time: Magic Chef Gallery.

Two black and white drawings on a fridge
Work by Jason Jägel on Magic Chef Gallery. (Magic Chef Gallery)

Here, the white walls are not Swiss Coffee-painted drywall, but the double doors of a Home Depot-brand refrigerator. Besides the rare houseguest, the only in-person audience is Block herself. Everyone else is following the space on Instagram.

“I needed a creative project and it was just some real estate that I felt like I could utilize—my fridge,” Block explains.

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The San Francisco gallery mounted its first show in September 2021 with three oil pastels on paper by Brooklyn artist Emilia Olsen. Each show lasts two to three weeks, with the exhibition schedule organized into six-show “seasons.”

Magic Chef is the latest—and possibly cutest—in a long line of alternative Bay Area exhibition spaces, many of which have been located in or around their organizers’ homes. But there’s something distinctly pandemic-friendly about a space that can be easily understood through images.

Small food sculptures on a fridge
Work by Rebecca Ackermann on Magic Chef Gallery. (Magic Chef Gallery)

The gallery’s second season just launched on Feb. 21 with ink drawings on paper by San Francisco artist Jason Jägel (known to many for the cover art he created for multiple MF DOOM albums). His large black-and-white pieces—one image spread across two pieces of paper—nearly cover both doors of the refrigerator. Magnetic lettering spelling out Jägel’s name in Block’s handwriting fits neatly below.

“Everybody seems really enthusiastic about it,” Block says of artists she’s invited to show work at Magic Chef. “They all think it’s very amusing and manageable.” A fridge already exists as a space where things get showcased, she points out. Magic Chef just formalizes that relationship.

And though the gallery is perhaps best suited to showing works on paper, several artists have ventured beyond the traditional fridge medium. San Francisco artist Rebecca Ackermann backed her polymer clay sculptures with magnets, creating miniature tableaux of various spilled foods for Oops I Did it Again. Los Angeles artist Roberta Klug even ventured inside the fridge, contributing a ceramic sculpture of a friendly flower.

Abstract drawing of flowers in greens and yellows
Work by Anjelica Colliard on Magic Chef Gallery. (Magic Chef Gallery)

Artists, Block says, immediately understand the creative assignment and run with it. “It’s really clear parameters,” she says, “physically and conceptually.”

Works in Magic Chef shows are for sale, and Block tries to keep everything affordable—under $300. “I just want things to be easy,” she says. “And even if it’s a fun project, it’s also a professional opportunity for these artists.”

After co-directing an artist-run space in Oakland and working in public-facing positions in various commercial galleries, Block has found what for now feels like the perfect way of presenting art on her own terms.

“The whole project is distinctly anti-social,” she laughs. “I guess it’s just entertaining for me, actually. It’s completely satisfying and fun every day when I go in there.”