Dee Clements

March 2, 2011 · Print This Article

Guest post by Thea Liberty Nichols

Email interview conducted with Dee Clements

Dee Clements is the founder and director of The Paper Crane.  She is a painter, book maker and art writer. Dee received her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago a long time ago but still looks like she is 20. Sometimes her work can be seen here. Dee formed an acappella glee club once with her best pals and she loves the Midwest the most. She lives in Chicago with her boyfriend, dog and their two cats.

Dee Clements

TLN: As an artist with a background in painting and sewing, can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for launching the Paper Crane? Do you consider writing part of your art practice too?

DC: Yes, writing has always been part of my painting practice. Although with painting it has always been a way for me to articulate ideas to myself so that I can talk about my own work later. 

The Paper Crane started as a personal blog that I began in order to chronicle my studio practice on a regular basis. In 2009 I was laid off from my full time job at The Joffrey Ballet, at first I was worried and scared but then I saw it as an opportunity to stop doing something I didn’t care about just to make money and start doing something that was meaningful and important to me. So I started working in my studio every day, kind of treating it like I would a day job. Soon I started curating shows in my studio, then the writing I was doing on my blog evolved from writing about my own work to writing about other people’s work and the shows I was curating. I decided to start working toward making The Paper Crane legitimate. I got a domain name, asked my friend Eric Gallegos to help me design a better website for The Paper Crane, I rented a bigger studio and asked a long time friend Leslie Carlson to join up with me and start the space and started taking steps to become 501c3. The Paper Crane is now an artist books and works on paper studio and exhibition space. Presently, I am working on preparing for the first big exhibition of the year meanwhile developing an artist books pop-up library that will be permanently housed in the space.

Paper Crane space (Photo by Dee Clements)

TLN: I find it really interesting and exciting that your electronic, internet based blog in some ways birthed the real life, hard copy artists book and works on paper space. Can you talk a little bit about navigating the divide between digital and print? How does that enhance or inhibit your ability to communicate with others?

DC: The blog and the brick and mortar space kind of keep each other informed. The blog is a quick and easy way for people who are sitting in their office on a Wednesday at 2pm to check out what we are doing and thinking about over at the space. For me, I tend to use the blog to write exhibition reviews or post about an event or class we are hosting at the space. The internet can be such a wonderful tool that it has really enhanced our projects at The Paper Crane. I am curating a show that will be opening in March that features artist books by 26 artists. I put up a call for artists for this show and the amount of emails I received was overwhelming. In that sense it is great for getting the word out about what we’re doing. I work really hard at keep our posts constructive and positive and I think because of that we really have not experienced anything inhibiting as a result. I’m really fascinated by the internet and how accessible everything is because of it’s existence. Starting the Paper Crane would have been so much more difficult and slow going with out the help of having a website and social networking tools.

Paper Crane space opening (Photo by Dee Clements)

TLN: I know you gauge interest and enthusiasm of the Paper Crane gallery by the crowds at your openings and the students filling up your classes– how do you evaluate engagement with your blog? The comments section? Google analytics? And do you feel like one (real life) impacts the other (virtual reality) at all?

DC: I get a lot of emails from people telling me how much they like the site. This is really encouraging. We are starting an artist books library and I have gotten a lot of snail mail lately from people who read the blog and wanted to submit their work to the library. It never ceases to shock and humble me that people outside of my group of friends read the blog and are interested in what is happening at the space. The blog has a built in analytics that I track daily. It interests me to see what posts people are interested in reading. However I do not tailor the posts around this. I would like for the blog and the space to by synonymous however right now, they are still separate. The blog is obviously a lot more accessible and I hope it encourages people to come to our exhibitions and visit the space. It is a process integrating the two and it’s not easy. But the slow evolution of it is worth the time, effort and wait.

Flier for Artist Book Show (Design by Mike Domzalski)

 

 

Thea Liberty Nichols is an arts administrator, independent curator and freelance writer.

Erik Wenzel

March 1, 2011 · Print This Article

Guest post by Thea Liberty Nichols

Email interview conducted with Erik Wenzel

Erik Wenzel (Photo by Tish Noel)

Erik Wenzel deals with interdisciplinary art making, writing and exhibition organizing. He co-edited and contributed to Internal Necessity: a reader tracing the inner logics of the contemporary art field published by Sternberg Press in 2010, and has contributed a piece to the forthcoming Shifter17: Re___ing. Recent solo exhibitions include Live A Little, Live Ennui at the President’s Gallery at Harold Washington College, New ‘N’ Lonelier Laze and Warm For Your Formalism at DOVA temporary and Belief in Doubt in Painting at 65GRAND. Wenzel is a Senior Staff Writer for ArtSlant and has run Art or Idiocy? since 2004.

TLN: I remember around the opening of your solo show at DOVA you mentioned a listing in a local serial publication that described you using your “least favorite” descriptors strung together, i.e. Local Artist and Critic. Care to elaborate?

EW: The exact phrase from Time Out Chicago was: “Wenzel, a local artist and critic who’s a U. of Chicago alum, conjures a show from a deliberately sparse ‘collection of things’: a new video and some objects.” Which is basically a great description. I guess thinking about it now it’s not that big of a deal, but it bothered me because “a local artist and critic” seems so diminutive. “Local” sounds so small town and shut off from the rest of the world. Like a little newspaper for a little suburb that writes only to the interests and concerns of “locals”. It bothered me because it ties into a bigger problem with art in Chicago in general: the local is monumentalized. It’s privileged to the point of becoming a kind of provincial isolationism. This is a big international city, there’s no reason to have such an insular mentality.

Erik Wenzel • Rings (detail) • plastic bottle rings hung from nails inserted into holes left from previous exhibitions • in situ at "New 'N' Lonelier Laze" at DOVA temporary • 2010

As far as “critic” I kind of bristle at that term because I never have identified myself through that role. To me the word has negative connotations, people use it as a put down, like you aren’t even a writer, you’re just a critic. Or a critic is a failed artist, failed writer, failed musician etc. Sure it’s just semantics to a certain extent. But you do constantly ask yourself, “are you an artist who writes or a writer that makes art? Or maybe you should give up making art and just write about it.” It was actually during the installation of that exhibition, “New ‘N’ Lonelier Laze”, that I finally arrived at a definitive answer to that question. It is one of those things that you might know intellectually, but have to internalize over time before you truly believe it. It is clear to me that I am an artist first and foremost, everything else stems from that.

TLN: So if I’m understanding you right, can you tell us how you’ve absorbed writing into art practice? I’ve certainly seen some work by you that’s text based, or more conceptually driven— is that related at all to the other writing you do for say ARTslant or your blog?

EW: I guess I’ll give a little history here. While I’ve drawn and made stuff as long as I can remember, it was in high school when I began to develop my art making along side my writing. I was fortunate to go to a really amazing public school (Homewood Flossmoor HS, in the South suburbs) that had a pretty extensive art program. We basically had to write research papers that pertained to the projects we were working on, both of which only got more rigorous over the four years.

So the writing has always sort of been there. Things have been compartmentalized though; I think of writing about art was separate from making it. Which again goes back to what I was saying about understanding something versus actually feeling it. In theory it would make sense to say that this is all my art practice, but for me there is a distinction. Especially the writing for ArtSlant, which is pretty much straight up criticism. I look at it in a bit of a schizophrenic way because at various times–quite often within one review–I feel like I am coming from the position of a maker, an historian/critic or as someone making meaning. I consider them, the best ones anyway, to be primary sources. Ideally they will be of historical value beyond just a line for the CV and a clipping for the press book. I am interested in participating in the history–as someone writing about contemporary art, not just making it. Especially with “emerging” artist’s who don’t yet have a discourse surrounding them, you can sort of start that conversation. And in that way I hope they are of use to future curators, artists and thesis writers–anyone doing research, to use that popular term.

I guess the criticism could be looked at aesthetically. It is controlling and assigning meaning. I think the way information moves around is one of the most important concerns for art because this is really what contemporary life is about right now, economically, politically, culturally and socially. And art is the one thing that allows us to look at any thing in any way and ask any question of it. So that would be where a piece like the Bullet Point’s About Art comes in, it’s a set of memes that attempt to define some edges of the art field. It can take the form of vinyl lettering on a museum wall or as a sound piece. Bullet points can be added, deleted, re-written and so-on. It’s not just about the content of each statement, it’s about trying to present ideas as material. And addressing the fact that ideas change as they go through the world and move through time.

At this moment I look at my practice, to use another popular term, as a constellation of activities that include art and the things around art.

Erik Wenzel's Bullet Points About Art • 2009 (ongoing) • text (material manifestation variable, adhesive vinyl this instantiation) Installation view: Nomadic Studio curated by the Stockyard Institute, DePaul University Art Museum

TLN: To that end, can we close with having you tell us a little bit about a project you completed last summer, Internal Necessity? Also, what’s next on your horizon?

EW: I feel like this is the late night talk show portion of the interview. Please welcome to the program Erik Wenzel, his new book is out now from Sternberg Press.

The book Internal Necessity came out of the Sommerakademie residency I was a part of at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland in 2009. Each year a different curator is invited to put together the program. The year I did it Tirdad Zolghadr was the curator.

The tenor was very conversation-oriented with numerous guests leading discussions as well as us fellows presenting our work and projects. As it progressed we (the fellows in the residency) felt that these conversations–which carried over to dinner or riding on the bus the next morning–were valuable, especially since certain things kept coming up.

We also wanted to make something tangible and lasting of the experience since Tirdad had forgone the usual exhibition that is a part of the Sommerakadamie. This decision was what ultimately allowed these exchanges to take place. I think we were a lot more open to each other’s ideas and practices without the pressure of making some kind of exhibition out of it. Tirdad described his take on the notion of Internal Necessity, which is the “conceptual jingle” he came up with for his Sommerakademie, as being a productive break from the cycle of externally motivated art activities, such as exhibition making, fairs and biennials, where practitioners are expected to present product, not work in progress. The residency provided a time that could be used for contemplation rather than to display a polished surface. An intensive academy provides a special isolated situation ideal for being used as a sounding board to get input and feedback.

So a little ironically we, came up with the idea of a book. Not as a memory book, or a catalogue, but something that would be a forum to continue the thoughts that had been developing organically. We got together one night in the dining room of a gasthoff on the side of a mountain in Appenzell and hashed things out. There seemed to be four main themes that kept cropping up: Withdrawal/Refusal, Free time/Work time, Im/material Labor and Specificity. Originally we were going to organize the book into sections, but everything kept bleeding into everything else. To expand the discourse we all had the option of inviting people from outside the residency to participate. Some contributed separate pieces, others collaborated with their guests.

The whole experience furthered a profound shift in my approach to art—art making, “art” as a whole and my identity as someone who is in “art”. For a while I have been noticing that social interaction–I guess verbal interpersonal communication–is really important to me. It is almost a studio practice. When I am participating in a really good conversation I feel like I am making art. This can be a casual thing, such as when you are at a party and a few people end up talking for a long time about something everyone is interested in. Or it can be more formalized such as with the Sommerakademie. It’s a kind of immaterial production and is connected into my interest in information, content and value, all of which are things today that are completely dematerialized at the same time behaving very much like a physical material. Or can at least be conceptualized in sculptural raw material way. It’s something I’m working through and thinking about, so I can’t really give you a definitive statement. Right now I am trying to sort out a way where it makes sense for there to be these specific immaterial things going on at the same time art objects are getting made.

To that end, I organized a series of talks called Evening Academies as part of my exhibition at the Harold Washington College. The idea was to have a slightly formal, slightly casual situation where invited guests could present a topic for conversation. It was extremely important to me that it be productive and not an aestheticization of social interaction. Equally it was important that it was not oriented toward achieving a specific goal or again, presenting a complete package. I am interested in situations where useful things take place but are not immediately relevant or are only tangentially relevant. This is how things grow, evolve and move. This goes back to what I was saying before about information and how it moves through the world.

 

Thea Liberty Nichols is an arts administrator, independent curator and freelance writer.

New Guest Blogger: Thea Liberty Nichols

March 1, 2011 · Print This Article

Our big thanks to Julia Hendrickson for last week’s superb series of posts on printmaking and print curators, Sonnenzimmer, Spudnik Press and Corbett vs. Dempsey. This week Thea Liberty Nichols, a Chicago-based arts writer and arts administrator, is guesting on the blog. Starting today, she’ll bring us a series of posts exploring issues in contemporary arts writing.

For these posts, Nichols conducted interviews with friends and colleagues, all of whom are either artists, art writers and/or art administrators and who shared their insight on the various forms their writing takes. They’ll talk about how they define their written work within the constellation of their expansive practices, and how writing can be a tool for expressing themselves and also engaging with others. Chicago folks will remember that Nichols recently organized a panel on the form and content of arts writing in conjunction with Nomadic Studio – an audio recording of that conversation will be available later this week, so check out Thea’s posts for the link when it becomes available.

Here’s the bio scoop on Ms. Nichols, the woman who I’ve always said has a name befitting a rockstar superhero fighting machine – which no doubt she is, in her spare time:

Thea Liberty Nichols is an arts administrator, independent curator and freelance writer. Formerly, she served as Director of 65GRAND gallery and Study Center Manager at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. Presently, she works for The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Visiting Artists Program which selects, hosts and facilitates opportunities to engage with dozens of international contemporary artists via lectures and symposia.

 

 

Notes on a Conversation: Arielle Bielak

February 25, 2011 · Print This Article

Guest post by Julia V. Hendrickson

Notes on a Conversation.

With—Arielle Bielak (Coordinator of Alumni Programs & Exhibitions at the Marwen Foundation)

In—Marwen’s classrooms and galleries, 833 N. Orleans St, Chicago, IL

Commenced—on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011, 7:00–7:30pm

Unless you grew up in Chicago, there is an art school in River North that you’ve probably never heard of. Marwen is a particular kind of secret, one that is kept by this city’s young people. Offering free visual art classes to underserved Chicago youth in grades 6 through 12, this non-profit organization has a mission of wide-reaching creative education. Despite its low profile along the well-trodden Chicago artways, if you are a creative person and you start to ask around, I bet you’ll find at least one person that you know who has a connection to the school.

I started assisting with classes this summer, and it is to Marwen’s credit that the educators often learn a lot there, too. The environment is incredibly supportive, and it is so rewarding to interact with young people who are actively excited about creativity, while watching creative projects unfold before your eyes. Students do projects outside of Marwen’s walls, too, such as working with artist Jan Tichy and the MCA on Project Cabrini Green: a public piece with LED lights illuminating the last days of the housing project, blinking in time to audio recordings (which will be available at the MCA), allowing young people to share stories about home, community, and public housing in Chicago.


Marwen also holds another well-kept secret; on the second floor of the building lies a contemporary art space called the Untitled gallery. Designed to connect Marwen alumni with each other and back to the school, it is also an added educational component, with an aggressive exhibition schedule and powerful presentations by contemporary local and international artists. In 2010 the gallery’s exhibits showcased radical printmakers from Oaxaca, Mexico; emerging artists from Mexico City and Chicago; contemporary fiber and sculptural works; photographs from the Ukraine and Chicago; and more.

Coming up in the Untitled gallery, the exhibit opening April 1st is a curatorial project of mine, group show called Territories. It will feature works on paper by Suzanne Caporael, Ryan Travis Christian, and B. Ingrid Olson; paintings by J. Austin Eddy, Erika Hess, and Ryan Ingebritson; sculptural work by Maria Gaspar, Jessica Taylor, Matt Nichols, Josué Pellot, and Kevin Reiswig; experimental video by Russell Weiss; zines from Anne Elizabeth Moore via Cambodia; and a performance piece by Aurora Tabar and Sara Zalek.

My friend and colleague, Arielle Bielak, is the Untitled gallery coordinator, as well as a talented photographer in her own right. She is very much the driving force behind this gallery, and I asked her to answer some questions about her life and work. [Note: all of the photographs that follow are copyright Arielle Bielak].


JH: Can you give some background on the history of the gallery and your vision, goals, and ideas for Untitled?

AB: The Untitled Gallery at Marwen, formerly known for nine years as the Alumni Gallery, shed its Title in 2010. The whole shift is a culmination of years of hard work and relationship building with alumni, art educators, artists and curators. Its main inspirations are the Museum of Jurassic Technology, Antonia Contro, Sadie Woods, and the Arts Club of Chicago. The gallery is as unique as the building and community that it holds. It is due for a logo treatment and slick neon sign at its entrance.

My choices in artists and co-curators in 2010 were pretty intuitive, steeped with international aesthetics, microcontroller technology, and a sense of wonder. The whole run was organized around a Marwen sensibility of gallery education, a huge commitment to engage students and alumni at several levels, and a deep desire to manifest the art of social justice and the social justice of art.

2011 is moving forward with all of the direction of 2010, but there is a greater collaboration with other staff and programs in the Untitled space.


JH: Can you chart a brief trajectory about how you got to Marwen?

AB: I migrated to Chicago from New York via Virginia after an intensive yearlong stint working in the Big Apple Circus. I knew instinctively that I needed to get myself to Chicago, and settle directly in the middle of this big-ass country that I had bi-coastally divided and tangentially traversed for six years. Chicago was a dual return and a beginning. Marwen was the embodied trifecta of professional, personal, and creative desires I held in 2005. I did a lot of physical labor to allow myself to stay long enough in Chicago to meet the job of my dreams, and as it turns out, the marriage of Marwen, Chicago, and me was a powerful catalyst. I sit here today as a born again Chicagoan, and a self-proclaimed artist. This was not something that I had the proper huevos to declare before 2007. I believe in what I am doing here and everywhere I go. This is a magical and powerful home base.


JH: What kind of work were you making before you got to Marwen?

AB: A three year stint doing photo and installation work with Deadline Projects was nearly neck in neck with my relationship with Marwen. Walking into Marwen’s front door I was making stuff that was strongly influenced by a Miami aesthetic, and infused by an Etsy and glitchy nerdtech aesthetic. This is of course thanks to the other artists in the collective. What does that translate as literally? BIG photos. Narrative. Humor. Dressing up my dad and sister as the Anglo god and Satan, respectively, and putting them into a hotel room bed. Pressing a shutter. Gold leaf crutches.

Even FURTHER before, if you want to know, I wasn’t really making art as much as I was traveling around with a death grip on the body of an AE-1 that my dad gave me in the early 1990s. Later it was a Nikon D70 that I gave myself when I was 20. I pressed those shutters thousands of times around the people and musicians from the Warped Tour and Take Action Tour who were there alongside me trying to cope with and raise awareness around depression and suicide.

In the circus it was a similar story. I was going for anything that moved in the circus with that D70. I didn’t share much of any of that work with a public audience other than bragging about the circus a lot.

I’m sure that all of this was influenced by the time i spent in Florence in 2001 as a terrified art student abroad during the whole debacle of 9/11. How can I explain this time? People around me were setting miniature radios into jello molds and calling it art, while I convinced my TA and best friend to do my sculptural bidding for me as I stood there shocked and speechless.


JH: How has your work evolved since being at Marwen? Is it impossible to make work when other creative people surround you, or when you’re in an educational capacity?

AB: Nice question, Julia. You know it’s hard.

It is also paradoxically the most supportive environment in my universe. Go figure.

I find that the overwhelming amount of artists in my life force me to draw on my memories and photos from the past in order to find paradox. It also pushes me into the role of curator, and then further into the role of producer. I am drawn to the most powerful, dedicated and radical voices among the artists who approach me as an advocate of their vision. I seek out different experiences in my limited spare time. I seek out architects and free Spanish classes. I seek out Mexico City. I look into microscopes. I curate the artistic energy that I find all around me into elaborate and spontaneous happenings in my personal time.

Evolution? In my own mind, my creativity moves as a more fluid, performative, and elegant animal than ever before. My formative beginnings are less pronounced, and more sublime, embedded. I am myself. I am not concerned as much with being inauthentic. I am all of my thirty years, and more.

JH: How do you sustain communication with Marwen alumni, and keep a network of all of the working artists out there? Do you see yourself tapped into a unique contemporary art scene? Do Marwen alums network and organize as twenty and thirty year olds?

AB: If Marwen had a soul, that soul is the confluence of the individual and the greater artistic spirit. Alumni are the proof, the echo, the rhythm of that phenomenon. It is my honor and pleasure to learn how to converse with those who continue to feel connected and inspired by Marwen. It is my challenge to reach out to those who are doing great things and have not reconnected. I do this strategically and organically. I talk to people all the time. I talk and I listen. I email and I collaborate. I support and am supported.

Lately, I have been in awe of the possibilities that our new website promises for alumni in particular, and I can’t wait to move into this new and exciting mode of communication with more of Marwen’s former students. I can see clearly that more alumni will reconnect with each other, their own artistic practice, scholarship, job and exhibition opportunities.

And, yes, of course people network as twenty and thirty year olds. Some do it completely naturally, based on long-established bonds that I could never fully understand. Others come to me looking to help them reconnect with old friends. I’m also planning a pretty promising alumni reunion and exhibition this August.

This artistic universe, at which Marwen is the center, is completely unique, and 90% of every person who experiences this place understands this. You simply cannot find another place in this time and space that establishes such a fluidity of learning and artistic expression across generations, experience, and discipline. The work here isn’t being made or shown anywhere else. Art is always the queen.

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ABOUT:

Julia V. Hendrickson is a native of eastern Ohio who lives and works as a visual artist, writer, and curator in Chicago, Illinois. In 2008 she graduated with a B.A. in Studio Art and a minor in English from The College of Wooster (Wooster, Ohio). Julia is currently the gallery manager at Corbett vs. Dempsey, as well as the office manager and design assistant for Ork Posters. She is a teaching assistant at the Marwen Foundation, an active member of the Chicago Printers Guild, and has taught at Spudnik Press. A freelance art critic and writer for Newcity, Julia also keeps a blog called The Enthusiast, a documentation of the daily things that inspire, intrigue, and inform. She is currently exhibiting at Anchor Graphics (Columbia College Chicago) in a solo show titled FANTASTIC STANZAS, on view through March 26th.

Notes on a Conversation: John Corbett and Jim Dempsey

February 24, 2011 · Print This Article

Guest post by Julia V. Hendrickson

Notes on a Conversation.

With—John Corbett and Jim Dempsey (Founders and owners of Corbett vs. Dempsey)
In—the gallery, on the third floor, 1120 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago, IL
Commenced—on Thursday, February 17th, 2011, 10:15–11:20am

I am beginning this piece with a disclaimer: I’m writing about Corbett vs. Dempsey, and I work at Corbett vs. Dempsey. I work there, and I do so because it’s a place that I am excited to walk in to in the morning. It’s a place where I can be challenged, where I can always learn something new, and I’m conscious that my time there leaves me feeling energized and enthusiastic when I go home. I was not paid to write this, nor do I intend it to be a sales pitch for the gallery. However, it is one facet of my experience of the art world in Chicago, and I hope that my interview with John Corbett and Jim Dempsey can provide some useful insights into a gallery that seems to hold a treasured place in many Chicago hearts.

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One of things I find most interesting about John Corbett and Jim Dempsey is that they both do so many other things outside of running a gallery. Jim is the house manager at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and has been involved with the Film Center for decades. John has taught at the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) since 1988, he is a freelance writer, he performs with his spouse Terri Kapsalis, and he is also immersed in the free jazz and experimental music scene. Their diverse interests allowed them to meet over a decade ago in 2000 (mutually enthusing over Sun Ra), and have continued to sustain the life and energy of the gallery since 2003.

JH: I think part of what drives the energy of the gallery, and both of your energies, has to do with all of the other things that you do outside of these walls. I have wondered if the gallery could even exist if you didn’t do all of these other things, because you wouldn’t be talking to the same kinds of people and be in the same kinds of settings. What projects are you working on right now that don’t relate specifically to the gallery?

JD: “The Film Center has always been a great place to stay connected with students at the Art Institute who are all my box office workers. It’s also a great place to tune in, it constantly gives me a great film education, and it’s got an important mission. I’ve been a part of it for a long time, and I’ve always been proud of my association with it.”

JH: You see a lot of interesting people at the Film Center—didn’t you often run into Vivian Maier?

JD: “Yes, Vivian Maier, who has now got an exhibition at the Cultural Center, this unknown great photographer, she used to come to the Film Center all the time. She would come [to] the old space, at the Columbus building and I remember her from the way she dressed and her accent. She was an odd bird, and she would definitely come to receptions and occasionally pocket a few things from the food table for later, but she was always interesting to talk to. Occasionally she would have a vintage camera around her neck, and I just thought of her as a crazy old lady. I’d see her roaming around the streets and never gave a thought to her, and then these photos came out—I’d been following this discovery for the last few years, and saw some early self-portraits of her. It wasn’t until I saw a later self-portrait of her on Chicago Tonight, and they played a cassette tape—she used to talk into cassette tapes—they played a clip and it was undeniably her voice. And I thought, ‘You’ve got to be careful who you judge,’ because this woman spent a lifetime out on the streets making obviously beautiful work and nobody knew about it.”

JH: John, what else have you been up to?

JC: “I write a column in Downbeat magazine called ‘Vinyl Freak’ looking at LPs and other vinyl items that have never been reissued on CD. It gives me a forum to talk about record culture and there is a press that is interested in it. […] The book would be collected columns, and six or seven essays specifically on record culture. So they would be case studies, and the essays would be in-depth meditations on one aspect or another of vinyl culture—the idea of records as documents, as physical objects, the geekiness of record culture, stockpiling time—things that are all really interesting to me in terms of the way that people treat music.”

JH: Aren’t you working with J.C. Gabel on a couple of projects?

JC: “J.C. Gabel, who was one of the primary figures behind Stop Smiling magazine for fifteen years or so, he has a new imprint called Hat & Beard, which very nicely takes its title from an Eric Dolphy composition. He has a book project of mine that he’s been shopping around for a while, and never got a satisfactory home for, but I think he’s going to put it out in his first four books on Hat & Beard. It’s actually something I found. It’s a manuscript by an anonymous author from Chicago from 1931 or so: a dictionary of Chicago gangsters. It’s written in this really fantastic sort of film noir style, the manuscript itself is hand-typewritten with marginal notes and edits, and the whole project is called Bullets for Dead Hoods. It’s basically me editing and introducing this found document, […] bought at a second-hand store that was going out of business, […] probably seven years ago.”

[…]

“I also teach one class a semester at SAIC, and I find that really rewarding. It provides me with a way to automatically be in touch with a younger artistic world, so I see where people are and what kinds of problems and thoughts they have.”

JH: John, I wondered if you’d thought about how your experiences learning here at the gallery have influenced your teaching at SAIC.

JC: “I think that the early years that I was [at the gallery], I ended up very much being a Chicago booster in my teaching. I found it affecting things. I am generally appalled at the way that art history works. I think the way that historiography works is very problematic. It works too much like the normal gallery world works, the way that it accumulates. The way that what we end up with is the sum total of people reading one another and crafting arguments based on what they’ve argued, rather than doing primary research and coming up with their own conclusions. If they were doing more of that, we’d end up with much richer, less narrow set of people that we’re talking about, just very basically. You start talking to art historians about people who fall not so far from the tree, and they don’t know who the hell you’re talking about. And that’s even true in specialist niches. I’m not knocking art historians, but I’m saying this is an artifact of the way that academics works.

When I was first here and realizing what a wealth of people there are in Chicago, that I’m teaching at an art school in Chicago and that those [Chicago] people don’t get talked about, I couldn’t contain myself. I would say the first four or five years that I was doing this and doing that, a lot of the energy I had, teaching-wise went into teaching classes, the basics of which were about region. Or trying to infiltrate some of the standing art history with a little bit of a sense of outrage that there wasn’t more interest in a wider canon. One that would include as common knowledge what was going on, not only in Chicago, but in San Francisco, in LA, in London, in all of these major centers. Chicago is one of the major cities in the United States and just had no profile on a national scene: it just seemed ridiculous.

Now I feel like that is all part of who I am and what I do and I feel much less inclined to get on a soapbox about it. I just did, but in my teaching I don’t feel like I’m as inclined to do that. Now I feel like what I do [at the gallery] is just part of what I do.”

JH: You two are collaborators together, and I think that’s a really unique thing about the way that you exist in the art world, because it’s still a very masculine-centered world. Probably it’s a lot easier for two men to run a gallery, rather than if you were two women doing it. But what I appreciate is that you’re not ‘monolithic mavericks,’ running an institution that is one name only; you’re doing it together, and I think it tempers the phallocentric nature of the business.

JD: “Some of the best moments are when I think I have a good idea and I’m talked out of it, or vice versa, and I’m happy to completely give up something that I thought was good. Every year I’ve learned that the more I let go of those things and not take ownership of them, that ultimately it makes for a better process.”

JC: “You bring up the gender issue, and it’s something that’s important to us. It’s important to us to keep up a diverse program. [In terms of collaborating], the problem with a lot of not-for-profits is that it’s decision by committee. The problem with a lot of monolithic situations is that no one ever really questions, interrogates the decision-maker. If you can find a place that’s in the middle, […] it’s a trusting environment, a charmed circle, and I see it as a place where we can experiment all together and kick things around that we could never come up with [independently].”

JH: I like the idea of you two starting a business with virtually no gallery experience, and I wonder if you could talk about some important things that you’ve learned over the years about running a business in the art world. Was there a point that you remember thinking, ‘Oh. We’re a gallery now.’?

JC: “Neither of us was a business person, but we both were older when we got involved in it. We weren’t inexperienced, and neither of us was inexperienced at dealing with managing people and managing events. So that part of it we kind of had under our belts. “

JD: “And we came at it from a free and improvised music background and art house cinema background. So we knew the challenges of people paying attention to what you were doing. Those kind of muscles were already in great shape. And we continued to do other things while we worked on this. Things that took the pressure of paying bills slightly off and we could really just work on presentation and not think about the economics of it. Ultimately it’s a good strategy for any type of business.”

[…]

JC: “We try to make decisions not always based on the bottom line, but really thinking about things as cumulative and long-term. All of the things that we do, they create a sense of goodwill. They create—to use a flogged-to-death term—‘community’ around a set of objects and ideas.

JH: In a 2006 Bad at Sports podcast, Jim, you described the gallery as a place where “we hang the work and tell the stories.”  Is that still the case? What stories have you told recently?

JD: “That seems to have shifted slightly. Early on it was a combination of setting the stage and telling the stories. I think the stage somehow now is already addressed. There can be riskier things that can happen on the stage […] and we don’t necessarily need to have people get to know us and our personalities before they get our jokes or the mission of the gallery.”

JC: “Whatever we do, both Jim and I work by looking at context and thinking about if there is a narrative. […] We have a baseline interest in the history of Chicago and how the things that we’re doing can relate to Chicago. I think we’ve become less reliant on that as an exclusive how-do-you-do.”

[…]

“Also, the things that we do are different from what a lot of other gallerists do, which has ended up being a plus for us in some ways. Anything that sets you apart is attractive. The fact that we have musical connections here and we do musical events here, it is a novelty for some people in the art world. Very often the art world gets stuck about 1979 in terms of its musical interests. We end up bringing in some contemporary musicians, and we’ve got these film connections. It has ended up being really useful and really interesting.”

[…]

“A really exciting story to tell, one that was unknown to almost everybody, including its participants in a way, is the secret history of the relationship between Christopher Wool and Joe McPhee. That was really something that came out of conversations. Literally just sitting down and talking, and realizing that Joe McPhee was not only somebody that we’d had this long-term relationship with, and adoration and support of (I re-issued four of his records on the Unheard Music series, in fact the first record we had on that series was Joe McPhee’s Nation Time), realizing that was also something shared by Christopher. Then developing the entire program of having that exhibition around that story. What was gratifying was to realize that was no longer the side show to the whole thing, it ended up being really central to it, giving a title [Sound on Sound], this real centerpiece. It was really a magical thing for all of us involved. That whole experience of having the performance here, with the work, it created something much more than just having the work, or just having the performance, as great as those things would have been.”

JD: “I think one interesting thing—I’ve been so deep in [preparing for shows] that I sort of felt that I know every aspect of that process—but Michelle Grabner wrote a nice review of the [Wool] show, and she started it off with a quotation. As I was reading it I instantly thought it was Christopher Wool talking about his paintings, and of course she set it up that way, and afterwards it’s actually Joe McPhee talking about his music. It was exactly the same spirit that they had, making things, and the [same] struggle. That was a great moment for me, too, because it was a surprise and it really made me think that Joe and Christopher, in addition to being fans of each other, are speaking a similar language in how they make something and put it out there.”

JC: “We end up talking with a lot of musicians about art, and with a lot of artists about music. We get caught in the crossfire, which is really exciting.”

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If you’re interested in joining the conversation about art or music this weekend, on Saturday, February 26th at 2:00pm Brian Labycz will be playing the solo synthesizer at the gallery, amidst Peter Saul’s paintings and drawings (1120 N. Ashland, 3rd floor).

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ABOUT:

Julia V. Hendrickson is a native of eastern Ohio who lives and works as a visual artist, writer, and curator in Chicago, Illinois. In 2008 she graduated with a B.A. in Studio Art and a minor in English from The College of Wooster (Wooster, Ohio). Julia is currently the gallery manager at Corbett vs. Dempsey, as well as the office manager and design assistant for Ork Posters. She is a teaching assistant at the Marwen Foundation, an active member of the Chicago Printers Guild, and has taught at Spudnik Press. A freelance art critic and writer for Newcity, Julia also keeps a blog called The Enthusiast, a documentation of the daily things that inspire, intrigue, and inform. She is currently exhibiting at Anchor Graphics (Columbia College Chicago) in a solo show titled FANTASTIC STANZAS, on view through March 26th.