“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”Â (Proverb attributed to Native Americans, tribe unkown.)
Late February, I attended the College Art Association conference in Los Angeles, where I ran into my friend Jenny Kendler.Â She told me about an event she was involved with, â€œIn A Landscape Where Nothing Officially Exists,â€ at UnSpace Ground, which as I was to discover was situated in the outdoor plaza in front of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where CAA was taking place.Â Street vendors were selling baggies of sliced mango dipped in lemon juice, cayenne, and sugar, and I managed to buy one before security ran the vendors off, and my friends and I munched mango as the event unfolded.Â (In the photo below, you can just make me out, in my fancy new sunglasses, chatting with artist Conrad Freiburg, in the upper right.)
For this event, eight artists and one biologist collaborated to create 35 art works representing endangered species living in southern California.Â In order to spread awareness of the endangered status of these organisms, viewers were invited to sign up to take custody of a work of art, in exchange for a commitment to learn and care about the species represented, and to reproduce or represent the artwork online.Â This article is my fulfillment of the pledge that I took on that day.
The format ran something like a silent auction, with viewers selecting the work and species they wanted to care for, and signing up on form.Â As the event unfolded, Jenny announced each species, artwork, and its new caretaker, auctioneer-style.Â Both Stephanie Burke and I took custody of pieces by Jenny Kendler, a friend of ours whose work we have admired for a long time.Â Kendlerâ€™s work frequently addresses issues of ecology and conservation, but what Iâ€™ve always appreciated about its soft, quiet beauty, which has always reminded me of the animated film The Last Unicorn.Â This delicate aesthetic carries through her drawings and paintings, her sculptures, and makes an important subject palatable, avoiding any possibility of being called shrill or preachy.Â It is pretty with a purpose.
Kendlerâ€™s contributions to â€œIn A Landscape Where Nothing Officially Existsâ€ were rendered in graphite and watercolor on little circles of paper, which were then mounted on vintage ribbons, like one might get for â€œBest Pigâ€ at the county fair.Â They are similar to, although I believe separate from, an installation called â€œSelection:Â 23 Endangered Species,â€ executed in the same medium and also mounted on ribbons. Stephanie took custody of Muntzâ€™s Onion, and I went for the Southern California Steelhead Trout.
Steelhead are a unique type of rainbow trout, which are classified along with salmon, char, and other trout as salmonids.Â Unlike other rainbow trout, steelhead, like salmon, are anadromous, spending most of their adult lives in the ocean but spawning in freshwater streams and rivers. The Southern California Steelhead Trout is an â€œevolutionarily significant unitâ€ (ESU) of the coastal steelhead/rainbow trout, Oncorhyncus mykiss iridius.Â Since the end of the last glacial period, some 12,000 years ago, steelhead of the southern ESU have evolved several unique characteristics uniquely adapted to the semi-arid climate of Southern California.Â Compared with northern populations, southern steelhead have the ability to tolerate warmer water, the juveniles grow faster and migrate to the ocean more quickly, and they may â€œstrayâ€ more frequently from the exact river or stream of their birth when returning to spawn.
Southern California steelhead face two major threats to their survival.Â Water diversion and extraction cause many streams to dry up for much of the year, much more frequently than previously.Â Secondly, various barriers can prevent the fish from returning to their spawning ground:Â dams obviously from a major obstacle but flat, concrete-lined channels and narrow culverts can also create high-velocity â€œwind tunnelsâ€ of water which the fish are unable to pass.Â The loss of riparian vegetation, the introduction of non-native predatory fish and amphibians, the filling and destruction of estuaries, and pollution from industrial and agricultural runoff have added to the difficulties.
The steelhead was listed under the Endangered Species Act in August 1997, and various populations listed as threatened or endangered.Â However, the listing excluded any area upstream of an impassible manmade barrier, leaving most of the vital spawning grounds unprotected, and inaccessible.Â Organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity, the Audubon Society, the Friends of the LA River (FOLAR), and the California Coastal Conservancy have fought to revive southern Californiaâ€™s steelhead populations.Â Efforts have included the redesign of channels to slow water flow, provision for means for fish to get around barriers, restoring riparian vegetation, and eliminating invasive predators.
There have been some major setbacks, for example in late January 2011, when the California Coastal Conservancy abandoned its efforts at reviving the San Mateo Creek population, in part because of hindrances presented by USMC Camp Pendleton.Â There have been successes as well.Â The Environmental Defense Center of Santa Barbara worked with city planners and the Army Corps of Engineers to redesign the concrete channel framing Mission Creek, slowing its flow, and adding step pools and rock weirs to allow fish to migrate upstream.Â The Matilija Coalition in Ventura County has been working to remove a dam, modify bridge structures, and restore shade trees along the Ventura River.
The best news is also the most recent.Â In January 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration completed its roadmap to recovery for steelhead in southern California.Â For the fewer than 500 steelhead remaining in southern California, this plan outlines the best chance of survival.Â But the NOAA warns:Â â€œRecovery Plans published by NOAAâ€™s Fisheries Services are guidance documents, not regulatory documents, and their implementation depends on the voluntary cooperation of multiple stakeholders at the local, regional, state, and national levels.â€
The information in this article comes from the following sources, which should be consulted for additional information on the status of the southern California steelhead, and what still needs to be done:
I recently attended the College Art Association conference in Los Angeles. Before leaved, I asked my fellow alumni from the Hoffberger School of Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art whether any of them planned on attending. (MICA hosts a reception for its alumni at the conference.) One of the responses, from alum Raymond Majerski (Hoffberger 2003), was typical of the understandable frustration many job seeking MFAs feel towards the conference: â€œHundreds of black-clothed people wringing their hands for two teaching jobs? I’ll pass.â€
It is a perfectly common and reasonable response, especially when one considers the standard format for employers interviewing at CAA. You apply for the job, and they ask you to indicate on your cover letter â€œwhether you plan on attending the College Art Association conference, as that is where we will be conducting interviews,â€ or something similar. It sounds innocent enough, until you think about it: it rougly translates as â€œDo you plan on paying your own airfare, lodging, and other costs, to attend a conference at which we may or may not choose to interview you?â€ Those of us with terminal degrees in art are seeking to sell our skills, and unfortunately, itâ€™s a buyerâ€™s market. Fair or not, itâ€™s the way things are, for the same reason that you collect your paycheck after completing two weeksâ€™ work, but you pay your rent before you spend a month living there.
Itâ€™s easy enough to become embittered by the process. I certainly felt a pang of resentment as I typed out those cover letters, saying at the time something to the effect of, â€œI am happy to travel to the College Art Association Conference for an interview scheduled well in advance, but will not otherwise be attending.â€ None of those applications resulted in an interview, and as I walked through the Interview Hall, seeing those same institutions conducting interviews with, what did Commodus say in Gladiator? â€œWhich wiser, older man is to take my place?â€Â Certainly I felt some jealousy.
I made the decision to attend the conference even after I had become fairly certain that I wasnâ€™t going to be interviewed there. There is a lot more to the conference than the job search. This was my third time attending, and I made the decision to attend based on the panel sessions I saw the last two times (New York 2007, Chicago 2010). The CAA panel sessions cover a wide range of topics pertinent to contemporary art, art history, career development for artists, pedagogy, and related topics. Some highlights:
We headed to â€œPerceptions and Assumptions: Whiteness,â€ hosted by the National Alliance of Artists from Historical Black Colleges and Universities. We came in partway through a presentation on â€œrace movies,â€ which were basically films made by and for African Americans at a time when they were largely denied starring roles in mainstream (white) cinema. Because movie theaters were segregated at that time, at least in some areas, these movies were either shown in theaters catering specifically to black audiences, or in mainstream theaters at special midnight showings for black audiences, called â€œmidnight rambles.â€ Midnight Rambles is also the title of a documentary film on the subject. The last presenter presented images from the exhibition, “Perceptions of Whiteness: New Works by the National Alliance of Artists from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” Both of these presentations were welcome exposures to pieces of visual culture of which I would have been otherwise unaware.
I headed over to see â€œNative American Surrealisms.â€ I had to find out the answer to a riddle inherent to the title of one of the presenters: â€œThe Opposite of Snake.â€ It turns out, the opposite of snake is bird. Also, the opposite of one is ten, and the opposite of water is ice. These were the revelations of a narrative from the childhood of Cherokee artist Jimmie Durham, as retold in this presentation by Mary Modeen from the University of Dundee. As I watched the presentation, I realized that Iâ€™d seen a piece of Durhamâ€™s recently, at the MCA Chicago. I hadnâ€™t been previously familiar with Durhamâ€™s work, but his Self-Portrait (1986) is included in the exhibition â€œThis Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s.â€ Like all of his work, it displays an absurdist wit and a sharp-edged sense of humor. Itâ€™s included in the section â€œGender Trouble,â€ perhaps because of the rainbow phallus captioned, â€œIndian penises are unusually large and colorful.â€ Like the kid said in Goonies, â€œThat was my favorite part.â€
I went to â€œWhat Makes a Competitive Candidate?â€ Unfortunately, I spent too much time at lunch, and missed the first presenter (Scott Contreras-Koterbay from East Tennessee State University), but from what I heard he had some good advice. Iâ€™m going to look him up and see if I canâ€™t get a copy of his paper or notes. Dennis Y. Ichiyama from Purdue University talked about some of the challenges youâ€™ll face once you get that full time job: useful, Iâ€™m sure, but one of those â€œletâ€™s cross that bridge when we get to itâ€ things for me. Linda Neely from Lander University was more straightforward to the topic, and gave some basic suggestions for job seekers. They were pretty common sense (have a good cover letter, etc.) but solid advice, especially for those just starting out their search. Lastly, Sam Yates, listed as an â€œindependent artistâ€ but actually a teacher with experience at a variety of institutions, gave his take. He gave some good, if also common sense, advice, like: Donâ€™t get too chatty in your cover letter, and if you do, make sure your chat is accurate: for example, the disastrous cover letter, perhaps and perhaps not hypothetical, attributing things about Kentucky to Tennessee, and another mis-locating a university from Nashville to Knoxville. He also stressed how disastrous a single typo can be in a cover letter or resume. The Q&A session that followed revealed a lot about the hopes of the aspiring college art teachers whoâ€™ve come to the conference hoping for their first teaching job. â€œIs it really necessary to do an adjunct job before getting a full time job?â€ (The panelists agreed that yes, thatâ€™s usually the way it happens, but I know of exceptions.) â€œIf a job specifies a minimum of a certain number of years of experience, is it even worth applying if youâ€™re short of that?â€ (The panelists, Ichiyama in particular, were emphatic that you shouldnâ€™t waste the selection committees time applying if you donâ€™t meet the minimum qualifications, but again, I know of at least one case in which an applicant with only two years experience got hired for a job when the posting said you needed four.) â€œArenâ€™t adjunct jobs basically just word-of-mouth? Or can an unsolicited letter of interest work?â€ (The consensus was that yes, they were usually word of mouth, but Koterbay mentioned that heâ€™d gotten his first adjunct job via an unsolicited letter of interest, and I myself got my first adjunct job by walking into the art departmentâ€™s office, packet in hand, and asking to meet with the department head.)
My favorite panel session, though, was â€œYour Labels Make Me Feel Stupid.â€ This session was amazingly well-attended; people were standing or sitting against the walls, although predominantly because of an insipid tendency for audience members to sit in the seats on the outside of each row, forcing subsequent sitters to shuffle awkwardly past, a la Fight Club: â€œNow a question of etiquette as I pass: do I give you the crotch, or the ass?â€ Many professionals opt out of the ass-crotch dilemma and stand awkwardly in the back until their legs get tired, at which point those under 30 sit on the floor for â€œstory time,â€ while those over 30 finally mutter â€œExcuse meâ€ while grinding their nethers into the fashionably bespectacled faces of those who sat first but didnâ€™t think to move to the middle of the rowâ€¦or, perhaps, love the scent of art historian ass. This crowding at least spoke to the popularity of the topicâ€¦wait, museum labeling practices? No, not the popularity of the topic: the importance of giving your panel session a clever title.
Clever titles aside, though, the session was really good. â€œSpace, Seam, Scenario: The Many Operations of the Museum Label,â€ presented by Laura H. Hollengreen, Georgia Institute of Technology, contrasted the National Gallery of Austria in Vienna with the Donald Judd museum in Marfa, Texas. In Vienna, each painting in a room has a wall label discussing a different aspect of that painting. So for example, one painting might have its provenance discussed (but nothing about technique, or subject matter, or artistâ€™s biography), while the next might have an explanation of the life of the artist (but nothing about the other topics). On the other hand, in Juddâ€™s museum, there is no wall text whatsoever, allowing the monolithic aluminum sculptures to speak for themselves against the silent backdrop of the desert. Both solutions were presented as viable antidotes to the formulaic â€œname, date, title, short paragraph about the work and the artistâ€ format common to most museums.
Kim Beil, of University of California, Irvine, presented “Countercheck Your Crude Impressions”: Interpretive Texts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1872-1912. This was basically a description of this museumâ€™s accompanying catalog and guidebook, the latter of which was presented as a narrative in which a Virgil-like friend guides the Dante-analog protagonist through the exhibition, explaining it all the way along. Elitist undertones (the protagonist had been to Europe and fraternized with the Queenâ€™s gardeners!) belied the founding statement of the museum as a place for people of all classes to be improved by culture.
Things really started getting hot with Kate Green, University of Texas at Austin, discussing â€œNazi Wall Text: The 1937 â€˜Degenerate Art Showâ€™.â€ For those unfamiliar with the exhibition, it presented the work of early Modernists alongside that of mental patients and â€œprimitiveâ€ cultures, as evidence of its inferiority, foreignness, and Jewish and Communist influences, all of which the Nazis sought to contrast with the pure, Neoclassical, and oddly homoerotic Socialist Realism they championed in a simultaneous exhibition in an adjacent (and much more opulent) building. The Degenerate exhibition is infamous for the sloppy, propagandistic curation, which sought not to present the work in its best light, but in its worst. Itâ€™s easy to condemn the Nazis for co-opting art in service of their ideology, but, Green asks us, is this because we object to the intellectual dishonesty of their argument, or merely because we disagree with their premise of Aryan superiority and German nationalism? Itâ€™s a thought that gives me pause when I reflect on recent and powerful exhibitions with a strong message, such as â€œThis Will Have Been: Art, Love, And Politics in the 1980sâ€ at the MCA Chicago.
Leo G. Mazow, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville presented â€œâ€˜Holy Rollersâ€™ and the Dual Nature of Labeling, â€œ in the wake of some minor controversy following an exhibition of Thomas Hart Bentonâ€™s work. Benton depicted members of Pentecostal Christian churches, whom he (Benton) called â€œHoly Rollers,â€ a term now widely considered pejorative. In some accompanying text, Mazow failed to indicate that he was using Bentonâ€™s preferred term for his subjects, despite the negative connotations now (and perhaps then) associated with it. Mazow was adequately contrite, and the audience laughed sympathetically at the appropriate moments. It functioned for me largely as anecdotal evidence for the importance of being careful with oneâ€™s choice of words, particularly when dealing collectively with a population who could be offended by those words.
Last, and most salient to my interests, was Jennifer Tyburczy of Rice University, discussing â€œWarning: Explicit Display in Museums.â€ She gave numerous examples of the kind of â€œyou might not like what you seeâ€ cautionary signage which often accompanies exhibitions or otherwise potentially offensive subject matter. The presentationsâ€™ point, or at least what I got out of it, was this: Cautionary signage does indeed allow parents to steer clear of a Mapplethorpe exhibition when theyâ€™re not ready to explain to their children in tow what fisting is. â€œYou see Timmy and Sally, sometimes when two people love each other very muchâ€¦â€ But, at the same time, it validates that viewerâ€™s conception of that artwork as offensive. In the case of Mapplethorpe, this may not be much of a problem. But when the Old Masterâ€™s nude paintings of women carry no warning labels (despite John Bergerâ€™s analysis of their problematic history in Ways of Seeing, as well as the Guerilla Girlsâ€™ campaign re: the same), but an exhibition including images of transgendered nudes does, then the museum implicitly agrees that (or at least fails to question why) a nude non-transgendered women is inoffensive to a reasonable person, but a nude transgendered man or woman may be offensive to a reasonable person. Ditto a photograph of two men kissing, or of two women kissing. Similarly, if a religious icon carries no warning that it may be offensive to atheists, but a piece critiquing religion does carry a warning label, then the religious point of view is upheld as normative or at least meriting special consideration. These issues should come to mind when, in the future, we see exhibitions that carry warning labels, and also when we see those that donâ€™tâ€¦and we might ask why, or why not.
These panel sessions were the main reason Steph and I attended the conference, but they werenâ€™t the only reason. The conference was a great excuse to get out of Chicago during the winter (the weather in LA was great), and to put real life on hold for a few days. It was also a great chance to check out the art scene in a new city. On Thursday, we checked out the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angelesâ€™ â€œNaked Hollywood: Weegee In Los Angeles,â€ and â€œKenneth Anger: Icons.â€ Stephâ€™s a big Weegee fan; Iâ€™d never heard of him.
After a pretty brisk circuit of the museum, we headed down to the Westin Bonaventure hotel for a reception for alumni of the Maryland Institute College of Art. Meeting up with old friends is another, often-neglected aspect of CAA. Faculty member Barry Nemett was there, and he remembered me and my work, which was cool, and I met some people who turned out to be friends of friends in that pleasant, â€œwhat a small world it isâ€ kind of way. We also ran into Jenny Kendler, a Chicago artist whose work weâ€™ve curated as part of the Chicago Artistâ€™s Coalition BOLT residency (and who hosts our portfolio websites through her company, Other Peopleâ€™s Pixels). The next night we headed over to the Velaslavasay Panorama, for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago alumni reception. Steph and Jenny both got their MFAs from SAIC, so they were there, as was our friend Oli Rodriguez. Then, as a very pleasant surprise, we ran into our friend Conrad Freiburg (BFA SAIC 2000), and a fellow Hoffberger MFA who had gone to SAIC for undergrad, Katherine Rohrbacher.
Saturday we visited Conradâ€™s studio, he played us some tunes on his ukulele, and got some burritos, then headed out to see the art openings in Culver City and Santa Monica. We hear a lot about LAâ€™s art scene, as being the sort of parallel equal to New York, consigning Chicago to a bronze medal third place, at least in terms of reputation. In practice, what we saw seemed fine, equal maybe to a good night in Chicago, but nothing to be intimidated by. Blum & Poe was showing â€œRequiem For The Sun: The Art of Mono-Ha,â€ a lot of monumental, resource-intensive looking sculptures. Carter & Citizen, friends of Conradâ€™s, were showing my favorite work of the night: â€œDmitry Strakovsky: The Way We Tell Stories That Tell The Way.â€ Due to some zoning restrictions regarding the side of the street they were on, they were also the only gallery able to serve alcoholic beverages, so while everybody else was handing out grape juice and peanuts, they had beer. Luis de Jesus, the one LA gallery whose name I was familiar with, was showing â€œTilt Shift LA: New Queer Perspectives on The Western Edge,â€ a group show that was very solid, albeit appearing (at least superficially, to me) to have been made by artists who happen to identify as queer, rather than of artworks specifically addressing queerness. The last gallery we hit, Honor Fraser, was showing large monochromatic paintings by Rosson Crow, â€œBallyhoo Hullabaloo Haboob.â€ As we were leaving, Conrad pointed out to me that Dustin Hoffman was standing in the window of the gallery, talking to someone. I turned, looked, and realized that seeing him standing there, a celebrity, but in an art gallery, was the perfect ending to my trip to LA.
The next, 101st College Art Association Conference will take place in New York, from Wednesday, February 13th to Saturday, February 16th, 2013. I plan on attendingâ€¦interviews or no. I hope to see you there.
Sometimes, I like to drink bourbon, and have Grooveshark play for me every version of Working Class Hero that it can find.Â There are quite a lot of them.Â By the end of my second bourbon, my writing goes from a reasonable essay on some topic or another to a seething manifesto about how weâ€™re all living in Orwellâ€™s future which consists of nothing but a boot stepping on a human face, forever.Â One particular point that has been getting my dander up at times like these lately has been the semi-recent ending of the UBS 12×12 program at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
The 12×12 was singular as a gateway for artists who were trying to keep â€œemergingâ€ from becoming a lifelong prefix to their title as â€œartist.â€Â It carried a certain prestige that came with the MCA name, and looked like solid gold on a resume.Â At least, it sure seemed that way to those of us who were recently out of grad school and yet to have our first solo show in a â€œreal gallery.â€Â Getting in was tricky, since you couldnâ€™t apply:Â recommendations were made in part by previous 12×12 artists.Â This had the result of it being very much a who-you-know proposition, and SAIC alumni were pretty heavily overrepresented in its roster.Â Nevertheless, and as naive as it sounds in hindsight, it seemed like the kind of thing that could really launch your career.Â And, letâ€™s be honestâ€¦I wanted one.
That never happened, of course, and the program ended with Ann Toebbe in October 2011.Â The end of the 12×12 followed the arrival of Michael Darling as new Chief Curator of the MCA, and many blame (or credit) Darling with killing the program.Â Associate Curator Tricia Van Eck left shortly thereafter, and she had been a strong advocate for keeping the program intact.Â In an interview I did with her for Chicago Art Magazine, Tricia gave her reasons for defending the program:
â€œWhile I was fully aware of the problems of the short turnaround of the UBS 12 x 12 New Artists/New Work show, I voiced strong interest in the show remaining. It was a model for institutions across the country and provided a great opportunity for artists to show work and have it seen by local, national, and international audiences as well as curators, dealers, and collectors. I am sure this will remain in the new model, although obviously to less artists each year.â€
The â€œnew modelâ€ Tricia refers to was referred to for a while, informally, as the â€œ4×4,â€ probably because it was intended to be a quarterly series.Â Now called â€œChicago Works,â€ the program started in November 2011 with Scott Reeder.Â Next up are Laura Letinsky (opens February 7) and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung (opens May 1).Â All three names should be familiar to anyone who follows the local art scene, as they have all exhibited extensively in Chicago, and galleries represent all three.Â They certainly stand far more established than the artists who participated in the 12×12 program, many of whom were fresh out of their MFA programs and had limited exhibition records.Â Few had gallery representation.Â For these artists, the 12×12 could represent a first step towards launching their careers, towards getting gallery representation, or moving their careers forward in other ways.Â At least, again, thatâ€™s how it seemed to us as the time, as we hoped for that invitation.
But the program ended, and the Chicago Works series is proving itself to be an entirely different kind of animal:Â admirably dedicated to promoting Chicago artists, but out of reach for artists who have yet to establish themselves.Â So I wondered, what would come to take its place?Â Was another institution prepared to host this debutanteâ€™s ball, or something like it?
The closest parallel to the 12×12 that I could think of was the ThreeWalls Solo program.Â Unlike the 12×12, admission is by application, but it seems to fill a similar niche in terms of the resume level of the artists exhibited.Â Iâ€™ve attended many of their openings, most memorably Amy Mayfield, now represented by Zolla Lieberman Gallery.Â The artists shown tend to be very early in their careers, but of a particular strength and ambition.Â The ThreeWalls Solo program remains a great opportunity for emerging Chicago artists to have a debut solo exhibition in the heart of the West Loop.
Another stellar exhibition opportunity for relatively unknown artists in Chicago is Tony Fitzpatrickâ€™s Firecat Projects.Â Firecat Projects is the building that used to be Tonyâ€™s studio, converted into an exhibition space where Tony shows work by artists who he feels deserve more attention than theyâ€™ve been getting.Â It’s a great opportunity for artists looking for an exhibition in Chicago, especially considering that that Firecat doesn’t take a commission on work sold, nor do they take any fees from the artists.Â Tony Fitpatrick is just the kind of decent goddamned human being who, upon realizing heâ€™s made it to the top of the mountain, turns around and reaches back to offer his helping hand to the fellow behind him.Â Itâ€™s the art world equivalent of holding the elevator for someone, and we need more people like Tony, who are willing to do this.
Other application-based exhibition opportunities exist at the Hyde Park Art Center and the Chicago Cultural Center.Â Both institutions are well-known, openings tend to be quite well-attended and reviewed, and Iâ€™ve seen some very good shows at both of them.Â The large, primary exhibition spaces tend to be given to curated, themed group exhibitions, sometimes traveling from other locations or collections, but they sometimes show lesser-known Chicago artists, often in the smaller galleries, and these shows can move an artistâ€™s career forward.Â For example, painter Darrell Robertsâ€™ exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center led directly to his representation by Thomas McCormick.
As far as museums are concerned, though, the MCAâ€™s 12×12 program was unique in its dedication to showing emerging Chicago artists.Â Certainly the Art Institute of Chicago hasnâ€™t shown any initiative in this direction.Â The spacious new Modern Wing could easily accommodate a dedicated space for emerging artists, several times the size of the 12×12 room, without making a noticeable dent in the amount of their permanent collection they would be able to exhibit.Â I would love to see a program like this at AIC but Iâ€™m not holding my breath.
Chicagoâ€™s smaller museums may offer some hope.Â The relatively new Elmhurst Art Museum, curated by Aaron Ott, former gallery director at David Weinberg Gallery, has shown from its first few shows to have a commitment to exhibiting Chicago artists, some near the beginning of their careers or at least on the front end of the mid-career stage.
The DePaul Art Museum, in its brand new building, has also opened with a strong showing of local artists.Â The new spaceâ€™s inaugural exhibition, Re:Chicago, features exclusively Chicago artists, though not necessarily emerging. Â The artists in this exhibition were chosen by members of Chicagoâ€™s art community, and include artists from the past two centuries as well as living artists both established and fairly new, although even the youngest and newest could hardly be called â€œemerging.â€ Juan Angel Chavez (in Re:Chicago) and Jason Lazarus (Highlights From The Permanent Collection) are young and living; go to enough openings and youâ€™re sure to run into them, maybe hang out and drink a beer with them.Â Theyâ€™re people we know, but their careers are already well underway.Â Both are represented by galleries (Chavez by Linda Warren; Lazarus by Andrew Rafacz), and both have shown in significant museums before.Â Angel Otero (Re:Chicago) is younger (MFA 2009) but already heâ€™s had a solo exhibitionÂ at Kavi Gupta and been reviewed in ArtForum.Â These are all nice guys (Lazarus and Chavez I know personally, and theyâ€™re nice guys, and Iâ€™ve heard nothing but good things about Otero) who do good work, but theyâ€™re hardly emerging.Â Theyâ€™re emerged.Â They have already been vetted by whatever powers we have vested in Chicagoâ€™s cultural institutions, and while their inclusion in DPAMâ€™s exhibitions can only help their careers, itâ€™s hardly likely to open any doors for them that arenâ€™t already open.Â (But hey, congrats guys!)
While I routinely mourn the loss of the 12×12 program, and yearn to see something take its place, it may be that this occurs, as After Image may do, by including newer artists in regular exhibitions, not by specific programs which compartmentalize and segregate emerging artists into dedicated programs like the 12×12. Although a significant feather in the cap of any artist given one, the 12×12 could also be seen as a sort of ghetto within the museum, for artists who had been accepted only into the foyer and given the equivalent of the â€œProspect cut,â€ a vest given to a would-be member of the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club from the television series of that name, while a probationary member not yet granted full membership in the club.Â It may be a sort of naÃ¯ve optimism (something of which I am rarely accused) that leads me to hope that, perhaps, the DePaul Art Museum and others like it will do the art world one better than the 12×12 ever did, by inviting emerging artists to mingle with the more experienced, rather than segregating them out, keeping them waiting in the foyer until ultimately seating them at the kids table.
Some more potential exists in the upcoming exhibition â€œAfter Image,â€ scheduled for September 13 to November 18, 2012.Â This exhibition will feature artists who â€œhave all either studied with, were influenced by, or share influences withâ€ the Chicago Imagists.Â When I asked Louise Lincoln about whether they had any plans for exhibiting work by emerging artists, she told me that the museum had no specific plans for anything like what the 12×12 was, but that After Image would feature a good number of emerging artists, many of them from Chicago. Â It may be that DPAM will serve as conduit for the work of emerging Chicago artists by including them, frequently and mindfully, into regular themed group exhibitions such as After Image.Â We can only hope that DPAM continues in this direction, and perhaps, if its not too much to ask, that some of the bigger players in town follow their example.