The Freeport in Geneva, Switzerland holds upwards of a million artworks in an ultra-secure facility with exact temperature and humidity conditions. These artworks, which include antiquities and masterpieces that could be seen in museums around the world, are stored in crates, unseen by the world. Increasingly, art has become a proxy for currency. Like currencies, artworks are stored away in vaults, only withdrawn when an exchange is required. This phenomenon is described by Stefan Heidenreich as ‘Freeportism’ in a recent e-flux journal article.

‘Peeling’ by Isabel Yellin (2016)

Lock Up International is “a transient project space in storage units worldwide.” Its aim is to open up and make exhibitions in these locked places, making them accessible to anyone with an internet connection, as well as anyone actually able to visit them in person. Founded by Lewis Teague Wright in 2015, it is part of a growing movement of curatorial and artistic projects that extend outside of the commercial and institutional confines of white cube art spaces.

Wright is a graduate of Byam Shaw School of Art, which is now part of Central Saint Martins in London. An artist himself before founding Lock Up International, Wright gravitated toward curating exhibitions that “opens a discourse with artists” he admires and that allows them “collaborate on problem solving.” He was drawn to storage facilities as exhibition spaces for their affordability and “contractless” quality, in addition to them being “universal, definition-less and pre-existing.”

Having traveled extensively, Wright chooses where to stage exhibitions according to his experience on the road. Sometimes with the help of friends or contributing artists, Wright has already staged in London, Frankfurt, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Istanbul and Tokyo. On arrival in each new location he spends several weeks researching potential sites. He often finds himself on the edges of cities, noting that “access is often an issue for visitors.” While the shows are open for the public to visit by appointment, he adds: “I don’t feel inclined to make it too easy,” and he encourages “stealth in visitors.” Not only does this avoid attracting the attention of contracted security services whose employers might not approve of such unconventional uses of their storage units, it adds to the clandestine feeling that storage units evoke.

Safety Deposit Box (2016)


Guy Lee

Mathis Gasser

Hayley A Silverman

Michael Ray Von

Yuri Pattison

In Frankfurt, Wright co-curated the group show Safety Deposit Box (2016), with Celena Ohmer, that literally took place within a safety deposit box vault, with the works “awaiting the viewer’s request to unlock them.” While further exploring the idea of art as a form of currency, the show also brings to mind Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise (or box in a suitcase) or Herbert Distel’s Museum of Drawers.

His most recent project included three successive shows in Mexico City, one of which featured work by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, with whom he had previously worked as co-producer on the film Bight of the Twin. The documentary, that explores the origins of voodoo in Benin, West Africa, sparked the beginning of the pair’s affinity and they have remained friends ever since. For their show in Mexico City, Breyer P-Orridge installed a glowing white neon pagan cross inside a chain-link storage unit on top of a building.

Lock Up International’s curatorial programme is deliberately broad. Wright explains that he selects artists based on “two perspectives of practice: artists who create art within the world, and those attempting to catalogue and archive their surroundings.” He encourages experimentation within the particular environment, adding that “there are challenges to presenting work in visually chaotic situations: white walls afford artworks a moment of clarity and calm; corrugated steel walls and chain-link fences are less sympathetic.”

More exhibitions will be coming up in 2017 – keep your eyes on

Words Aric Miller

Photography All images copyright and courtesy of the artists and Lock Up International