A couple of weeks ago the New York Times ran a lengthy article profiling what writer Penelope Green described as “a new wave of gallerists who for a grab-bag of reasons-economic, philosophical and purely pragmatic-are turning their homes into art galleries” in New York City. Titled “Is it Art or Their Shoes?” the piece’s headline image featured Sarah Gavlak, one of the curators of such spaces, wearing a bright red mini-dress whilst sitting primly on her cream-colored bedspread, framed on either side by the artworks displayed on her bedroom walls.
Green goes on to note that Gavlak’s home is “stunningly spare”:
Ms. Gavlak’s personal effects are in one of two walk-in closets; artwork is in the other. Like a good saloniste, she eats breakfast on a tray in bed and then slides it underneath the dust ruffle. Her kitchen is as clean and uncluttered as that of a model apartment in a new condominium. (Home gallerists as a whole are not given to the display of random tchotchkes; further, they know how to hide their hair brushes and the Verizon bill).
This description made me laugh. Although no two apartment galleries are alike (therein lies the true beauty of the form), if you visit a domestic art space in Chicago you’re apt to see freely trafficking pets (and kids), overstuffed bookshelves, and cozy kitchens where something yummy-smelling always seems to be bubbling on the stove. Whereas Gavlak has transformed her entire home into an exactingly considered art installation (a tactic that I admittedly find compelling) many (though certainly not all) of the domestic art spaces I’ve visited in Chicago favor an alternative tactic: one that embraces the unabashedly lived-in. Read more
Editors’ Note: Liz Nielsen’s is the last post in our week-long series on Apartment Galleries in Chicago, all of which were originally written for Floor Length and Tux’s “Untitled Circus” event a few weeks ago. A number of essays on Chicago’s thriving domestic/apartment gallery art space scene were solicited from local writers/artists/curators involved in the running of such spaces, and we posted some of them here on Bad at Sports as a way to extend the discussion. I’ll be posting some summarizing thoughts on this series later on, along with links to where you can find a .pdf file containing additional essays on Chicago’s Apartment Galleries written for the Untitled Circus event. Please feel free to email us with your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you’d like to contact the folks at FLAT directly, you can email Erik at erik@ floorlengthandtux.com.
Guest Post by Liz Nielsen
A few thoughts
Erik Brown and Michael Thomas invited me to write down my thoughts regarding the recent spurt of apartment/domestic/project spaces in Chicago with the intent of pushing forth a few waves of constructive criticism that might consequently enable some of these spaces to re-calibrate their homegrown efforts. Now, I run my own space too, the Swimming Pool Project Space in Albany Park, and so I began by looking at my own reflection in the mirror and asking myself why I do what I do, and why I am where I am.
I am a Chicago artist. I have seen my reflection many times but this time I saw something, a stark reality, with more clarity than I had seen in the past. Louder than ever before I heard a resonating sentence echoing inside my head: If Chicago’s art scene is second or third tier then naturally it produces second or third tier artists.
But if Chicago’s art scene is second or third tier, does it follow that it would naturally produce second or third tier artists? I am better than that. I know that we are better than that.
So the question becomes: can Chicago raise the bar? Can it rise above the standards set by third tier expectations? Do we ourselves want honorable mentions, or gold medals? The artists who do make it into the top tier usually leave Chicago shortly before or immediately after their success starts to happen. So this leads me to wonder, if Chicago artists want to be gold medal-winners and recipients of national and international recognition, must we leave Chicago?
I’ve been running circles in my mind trying to figure out why we are where we are, and why we don’t, apparently, have the means to get the gold. We obviously have the energy. The innumerable independent spaces are one indication of this. I have come up with several reasons but there is one that I continually spiral back to, and that is that Chicago has very few “parent galleries”, relative to the number of artists. At risk of being cutesy, parent galleries are the commercial venues that give us artist children shelter, that help us with our homework, hang our work on the refrigerator, talk us up like crazy, send us to art camps/residencies, and above all help us grow into the artists that we are capable of becoming. As it stands, hundreds of art students are pumped out of our schools in Chicago every year – and these are great schools – only to be orphaned with nowhere to show, nowhere to go.
So we parent ourselves.
We build our own tree-houses and clubhouses in the backyard or in our living rooms. We start our own spaces and exhibit our own work. We share our own ideas and show our friends. But to a certain extent, the pragmatic facts of “being an orphan” wear us down: the fact that the challenge of making work increases when we’re also completely responsible for ourselves, for promoting our art, and paying the bills through other means. In the end, these tree-house projects, no matter how exciting and productive in certain instances, don’t bring in much money, and don’t get enough support from the city or its institutions, and eventually most of us run out of gas without even making it onto any sort of global art map. Read more
Guest Post by Jaime Groetsema
Brecht’s Modus Operandi for Writers and Truth-Seekers:
Another trial against apartment gallery documentiers
In the 1966 English translation of Galileo, an interpretation of Galileo Galilee’s life written by Bertolt Brecht in the form of a stage play, Galileo, an important Italian figure who is considered responsible for the development of modern science in the early 17th century, is for Brecht, just an example. Within the play, Brecht highlights the consistency to which Galileo is both challenged and forced to deny the validity of his own astronomical observations by authority figures within the church and those that support the church. But only in the face of his potential execution–he is literally shown the instruments of torture and death–does Galileo publicly renounce his ideas to those figures so that he might live and finish his final work, the Discorsi. In this work he describes two new valuable properties that influenced the creation of modern physics: the strength of materials and the motion of projected objects. The completed Discorsi was taken by an old student from Galileo when he was on house arrest in Italy towards the end of his life. The student, Andrea Sarti smuggled the book into the Netherlands where it could be printed without permission or approval. Read more
From Holland Cotter’s New York Times review of the New Museum’s The Generational: Younger Than Jesus:
“But my point is that beyond quibbles about choices of individual works, [Younger than Jesus] raises the question of whether any mainstream museum show designed to be a running update exclusively on the work of young artists can rise above being a pre-approved market survey. Removed from a larger generational context, can such a survey ever become a story, part of a larger history? (The same question applies to museum exhibitions that leave young artists out of the picture.) I’m asking. It’s a complicated subject. I don’t know the answer.”
I have one possible answer to Cotter’s question: look to exhibitions like Artists Run Chicago, which opened a little over a week ago at Hyde Park Art Center. Artists Run Chicago situates its 100+ works of art within a larger history, one that is as messy and complicated and compelling as any of the many terrific individual works that are on display.
Although the Hyde Park Art Center is definitely not a “mainstream museum,” nor is Artists Run Chicago a generational exhibition, the show does survey a generation of sorts: ten years in the life of Chicago’s alternative art scene as manifested in the countless exhibitions that have taken place in apartments, houses, and cheap storefronts and loft spaces across the city.
The minimum criteria for selection in “Younger than Jesus” was that an artist be under the age of 33. Britton Bertran and Allison Peters Quinn, the curators of Artists Run Chicago, looked not at the age or even the production history of individual artists but focused instead on the (recent) history of a particular kind of exhibition-making that Chicago artists arguably do better than anyone, anywhere, else.
Following a few self-imposed guidelines–in order to be invited to participate in the exhibition, for example, a space had to have been run by artists, to exist in the Chicagoland area, and it needed an exhibition track record of at least eight months between 1999 and 2009–Bertran and Quinn put together an exhibition that reflects the conditions of production within Chicago’s alternative art scene. That scene is itself an ad hoc, energetic, ever-shifting space of possibility and, let’s face it, struggle. It isn’t easy to run a space, even (and maybe especially) if it’s out of your own home and totally on your dime.
After viewing Artists Run Chicago, it’s hard not to start questioning some of the founding principles upon which sprawling group shows of emerging artists like Younger than Jesus are founded, starting with their tendency to frame artistic practice exclusively in terms of individualistic endeavor.
In this and other ways, Artists Run Chicago undermines simplistic notions of what constitutes a ‘generation.’ Is being part of a generation defined only by the year of your birth, or could it be alternatively circumscribed by who you hung out with and when, who your influences were? How long does a generation last? A decade? Or is as little as eight months enough–whatever time span is required for a group of people to make something that in turn spawns other things: namely, art. Sometimes the lifespan of a space is necessarily short, other times it lives long enough to become something of an elder statesman. Often, a space dies but germinates elsewhere in slightly different form.
Right now, Artists Run Chicago is blissfully short on documentation, which allows for treasure hunt-like wandering about the exhibition and sense of fresh discovery among viewers. For many people, a trip through the show is likely to provoke fond memories and personal anecdotes; for me, it was all new, and yet not once did I feel like an outsider, like someone peering through a window onto a scene that was purposefully cryptic or hipper-than-thou.
A show like this does need some explication, of course; I’m told an exhibition catalogue produced by Threewalls and Green Lantern Press is due in September will be published by Proximity magazine as a broadsheet with a map and timeline. It will include an essay by Dan Gunn along with interviews of the show’s participants. I’m looking forward to connecting what I’ve already seen ‘on the ground’ to everyone else’s stories, and to that larger history.
Minidutch director Lucia Fabio has always been particularly good at thinking through her gallery’s raison d’etre with every exhibition she presents. Each show at this Chicago-based alternative space not only offers a window into the thinking processes of the artists she features (minidutch tends to focus on works that are in-progress and/or in process, as in last month’s Dusty Bunnyfield vs. Molotovia Cottontail exhibition), but also explores different aspects of alternative exhibition making. As such, minidutch is something of a self-reflexive endeavor, one which provides open-ended exhibition opportunities for artists while at the same time bringing viewers’ focus back to the specific contexts in which that work is being considered. So it seems wholly fitting that Fabio’s current exhibition presents a miniaturized and highly condensed, through-the-rabbit-hole view of Chicago’s alternative gallery scene at the same time that that scene is undergoing a much larger-scale survey at the Hyde Park Art Center with the Britton Bertran and Allison Peters Quinn-curated Artists Run Chicago.
Last Saturday Fabio opened “Mini Fair,” which can be thought of as an eensy weensie, domestically-scaled counterpart to Artists Run Chicago. Fabio was joined by two other Chicago alternative galleries–The Swimming Pool Project Space and Floor Length and Tux (FLAT)–in creating miniature scale-model versions of their own spaces complete with diminutive artworks installed within.
What I find fascinating about the way the miniature is evoked here is how concisely these toy-sized spaces embody all of the qualities for which alternative galleries (in Chicago and elsewhere) are both praised and subtly derided: their smallness of scale; their scrappy, no budget, d.i.y. sensibility; their location within the space of the home and the domestic (and, by extension, ‘the feminine’).
I’m off to Hyde Park Art Center to see Artists Run Chicago. Below, a few images from “Mini Fair.” Look especially closely at the floor material in FLAT’s space — it’s kitty litter!