When Commercial Galleries “Flatline,” Apartment Galleries Give Hugs

March 6, 2009 · Print This Article

Deanna Isaacs reports in The Reader this week that Flatfile Galleries will close their doors on March 27. This comes on the heels of Rowland Contemporary’s demise last December. Are these the first of many deaths to come? Most likely. But there’s a bright side to this undeniably sad news, and it lies in Chicago’s thriving apartment and alternative gallery scene. Although I haven’t been living in these parts for long, and I’m definitely still feeling my way around,  it seems to me that Chicago’s art world is uniquely primed not only to weather these disastrous economic times but to thrive in the midst of them. Now, I’m not trying to get all Holland Carter on your asses (see Carter’s Feb. 15th essay in the New York Times for what I’m referring to; earlier this week New York magazine writer Alexandra Peers offered a gloomier rebuttal of Carter’s sunny outlook for recession-era art). My point is that Chicago’s artists, indie curators and writers have been doing their own thing for a long time: running tiny galleries and think-tank type workshops out of spare rooms in their homes and apartments, creating flexible art and cultural storefront spaces whose content isn’t solely object- or market-driven–eh, you’re all BAS listeners, you don’t need me to tell you this.  I’m not denying that a crap art market has seriously bad ripple effects on everyone; but in these times the Chicago art world–especially the one that’s a bit harder to find and is usually only open on Saturdays, Sundays, or by appointment–offers a powerful and creative model of how to carry on with the business of art when the art business is going down the tubes. I, for one, am glad I’m here right now.

11 thoughts on “When Commercial Galleries “Flatline,” Apartment Galleries Give Hugs”

  1. Balzac says:

    While apartment galleries and charming and a good opportunity for young artist to get their start, I think you are overstating their importance to the overall art market. The extinction of the younger commercial space is bad news for everyone. The recent deaths of 40000, Gescheidle, Rowland, Flatfile, Navta Schulz, Skestos/Gabrielle, GardenFresh, are a serious hit to the community, and will be felt for a long, long time. The mid-level galleries are where the really exciting stuff happens, people are not doing (generally) student grade work, but aren’t in the blue-chip out of the range of mere mortals price range yet. Lets cherish Western Exhibitions, Tony Wight style spaces while we have them and hope they survive.

  2. Claudine says:

    I certainly didn’t mean to overstate the apartment gallery’s place within the overall art market – these galleries exist largely outside of the commercial marketplace anyway, as I expect not a lot of buying and selling happens there. I agree (and noted above) that a bad art market hurts everyone, and I wasn’t suggesting that we not support mid-level galleries (why frame it in terms of supporting one or the other, though?), just that we recognize that there are already alternative models in place within Chicago that might put us a step ahead of everyone else during economically challenging times. But I hear what you’re saying — things are getting bloody and are apt to get bloodier. I’m curious, though — how can the art community “support” these mid-level galleries if they’re/we’re not wealthy enough to collect? Is our only option to hold our breaths and pray for the best?

  3. Cronin says:

    Having not lived here long, I could use some help locating (at the very least) an entry point for this thriving underground scene. Somebody please draw me a treasure map. Please.

  4. Paul Germanos says:

    Consider the possibility that apartment galleries ARE commercial spaces.


    Money is made not only through the sale of commodities, but also through the receipt of grants, commissions, art-related [e.g., curator, gallerist, critic, etc.] employment, and the brass ring: tenured faculty positions.

    While critical of the market, very few artists want to be disassociated from the institutional support structure outlined in the preceding paragraph.

    Apartment galleries help people to get those things — by providing them with opportunities for public exposure and social networking.

    Some young artists have gone so far as to state — in print — that they hope to manipulate the so-called alternative gallery structure for the purpose of advancing their own [very commercial] interests: building a resume; being seen by so-and-so; hopping from one tier to the next; garnering wealth and celebrity in the process.

    Would it not be possible to do the same thing for the mid-level commercial spaces that people are doing for apartment galleries: go [but having decided a forehand to bathe, be polite, etc.] to them; write about them; ask to photograph something; link to them on-line, etc. Support your community?

  5. karly says:

    @Cronin — check out On the Make: http://onthemake.org/chicago-art-spaces/

  6. Claudine says:


    You’re making great points about the “commercial” aspects of alternative/apartment galleries that I am in total agreement with. You seem to be making several points at once so I’m also a bit confused. I hope/trust you weren’t being condescending when you wrote

    “Would it not be possible to do the same thing for the mid-level commercial spaces that people are doing for apartment galleries: go [but having decided a forehand to bathe, be polite, etc.] to them; write about them; ask to photograph something; link to them on-line, etc. Support your community?”

    You weren’t right? Because I know that mid-level galleries can be supported via critical attention, lots of (clean, ha ha) bodies in the space, publicity, etc. The original question, the one I think you were responding to (if you were responding to me at all, maybe you weren’t??) was in the context of a commercial gallery scene that could soon be in dire straights. If mid-level galleries are the ones that are most at risk during bad economic times (and I’m of the belief that we’re past recession and headed for depression), writing about these galleries, cherishing them, etc. ‘aint gonna be enough to save them. Can we keep these gallery afloat through words alone? Doesn’t it all just come down to how strong their collector base is?

    Tell me why I’m wrong; my questions are all genuine and not meant to be sarcastic. It’d be nice if responses were delivered in a similar spirit, then we can have fun talking to each other.

  7. Claudine says:

    Karly, thank you for posting that map!! It’s great, you can save it to your Google Maps site and then you have driving directions too. I’m in the same boat as Cronin, still finding my way around.

  8. Paul Germanos says:

    I beg you, Claudine, to be fair to the whole of Chicago.

    Skimming the News Archive, you’ve used Bad at Sports to write about: The Renaissance Society, Swimming Pool Project Space, Old Gold, Mini Dutch, Three Walls, The Block Museum, The Chicago Public Library, The Art Institute, and He Said / She Said.

    Those spaces are either: apartment, not-for-profit, museum, or public.

    Two months have passed. Only in this [above] article you do mention commercial spaces; sadly, one is closed and the other closing.

    If you know that you can support commercial spaces with attendance, documentation and promotion, but you don’t do it, then it’s necessary to infer a bias.

    Far from being condescending, I credit you with the ability to write in a persuasive manner. But are you trying to persuade your readers that all commercial spaces are equally close to failure? that it’s too late to do anything for any of them?

  9. Claudine says:

    Dude, gimme a break! I’ve only been blogging here for like, a week!(Seriously, I just got my admin access a couple of weeks ago; that Renaissance Society piece I wrote here was supposed to be a one-shot deal as far as I was concerned). I promise you, I’m going to cover a lot of different spaces here, mid-level, high-level, apartment gallery, etc. I dig your passion for this subject, I really do. I’m not arguing that all the commercial spaces are going to go under, in my original post I was just noting that, based on my relatively new experience in this city, Chicago’s alternative gallery scene seems more, what, well developed than the alt scenes in other cities? That’s really all. Oh, and I also write some art reviews for New City, so you can see my coverage of a range of other sized galleries there. I barely know how to use the WordPress format so just hang on a bit, more blab from me about all sorts of spaces will be coming soon. Thanks for your comments!

  10. edmar says:

    thanks for the post claudine.

  11. Richard says:

    Cut Claudine some slack! She is doing excellent work, and is aggressively pursuing getting a handle on the whole of the Chicago art world, which is complicated, sprawling and hard to track even for veterans. Be nice people, she is new here, this is someone volunteering her time.

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