Sad news for all of us who knew him.
From Philip von Zweck…
Jim suffered a heart attack while waiting for a bus to work on July 27 in Taiwan, where he’d lived for four years with his wife Zen “Mimi” Lulu; they’d been married just under a year.
Jim completed a BA in English in Seattle University in 1995 He then relocated to Chicago to pursue a BFA and then an MFA from School of the Art Institute Chicago. While in graduate school he was so broke that, against policy, he secretly lived in his SAIC-provided studio. He befriended the security staff, learning their routines so he could hide his sleeping mat and hot plate in the storage cabinet when they came through for inspection.
As an artist, Jim was interested in wonder and discovery and in demystifying art itself. He may best be known for his Two Foot Square art gallery, which he set up in parks and other public spaces to engage the casual passersby in a discussion about art. He was also known for his long-running project with Hui-min Tsen, The Mount Baldy Expedition. Inspired by historic voyages during the Age of Discovery, they built a boat to sail from Chicago to the Mt. Baldy sand dune in Indiana.
To make a living, Jim did what many young artists do: he was a preparator and mount builder. He worked at the Smart Museum of Art and in other exhibition spaces before site-managing SAIC’s G2 (later Sullivan Galleries). He later became the galleries’ Exhibition Manger. It may be in this work that Jim’s greatest legacy lies, for somewhere in his job description was the one word that kept him coming back, despite the stressful work, low pay and occasional verbal abuse by a sleep-deprived students with no concept of how to install a video projector; and that word was mentor.
Jim was a recognizable figure on State Street, where he took his breaks in his Sox cap, horn rimmed safety glasses, Carhartt shorts, tucked-in, oversized t-shirt and work boots, chain-smoking Reds and elegantly balancing his cup of coffee on top of his thermos.
He loved baseball, Iggy Pop, the Cramps, cooking and the work of Tehching Hsieh. He often tried to get me to accompany him to tango lessons: the man loved to tango. He also loved to regale anyone who would listen with tales of the chaos caused by the Monkey King from the classic Chinese novel The Journey to the West. To the chagrin of the administration, Jim made the Monkey King the unofficial mascot of Sullivan Gallery.
Most nights after work Jim would say, “Let’s get a quick one,” which we both know would be neither quick nor just one. Over whiskey at the Exchequer, George’s, or the L&L, where Jim had been a regular for years, talk would inevitably turn to our student workers: “the crew,” then “the kids” and by the end of the night, “my kids.”
He loved his “kids” and taught them all he could—not just about hanging art, but also about being an artist and a stand-up person in the world. Jim assembled not a team of student workers, but a family. Through his work he impacted the lives of countless SAIC students, the crew and every student who exhibited in the gallery, which means pretty much every graduating student. Jim missed the good parts of SAIC, and for many of us, he was certainly one of them.
Jim is survived by his wife Ye Mimi, his mother, the cowboys, SAIC, countless friends around the globe, and of course by his “kids.”
Philip von Zweck