Last month, in the midst of the crazy Expo Chicago extravaganza, I had the pleasure of going on a tour withÂ Gallery Weekend Chicago. GWC wasÂ founded by Chicago gallerist Monique Meloche in 2011 and offers annually a weekend of private gallery and museum tours. I went on the Sunday tour which took us down to the Washington Park and Hyde Park neighborhoods on the South Side and made stops at the Arts Incubator, the Smart Museum, the Renaissance Society, and the Logan Arts Center.
The Arts Incubator in Washington Park was the first stop of the day. This space, part of the University of Chicago’s Arts & Public Life Initiative, was conceptualized by Theaster Gates, who is now director of the project. The Incubator is home to an artist residency program, a community arts education program for teens, as well as an exhibition and performance space.
The Incubator currently hosts five resident artists. They have access to all of the facilities at the Logan Arts Center, where we headed later in the day, and have studio space at the Incubator. The Space Between, an exhibition of these artists’ work, was installed at both the Incubator and the Logan. The work addressed the social differences between these two spaces – one located in the University-centric Hyde Park, the other in the adjacent Washington Park neighborhood.
Despite the early hour of our arrival four of the five artists were kind enough to meet us at the Incubator to show us around their studios and the exhibtion: Avery Young, Cecil McDonald, Cauleen Smith, and Tomeka Reid. We were also joined by the curators Allison Glenn and Monika Szewczyk.
Cauleen Smith created two “space stations” for the exhibition – one in her studio at the Incubator and the other in the gallery at the Logan. The installation in her studio played off the aesthetic of a work space with filing cabinets, a work table and a temporary wall made from screens that she used to screenprint wallpaper for the other space station at the Logan. There were also shelves with plants and small artifacts that she made from materials found in the surrounding neighborhood: chunks of cement and fragments of a road sign.
Avery Young and Cecil McDonald have a shared studio space, the floor of which was laid out with Avery’s work for Groun(d), a solo show now up at the Incubator.
In the main exhibition space Avery Young, Tomeka Reid, and Cecil McDonald spoke to us about their work.
After going to the Smart Museum and the Renaissance Society (both of which have amazing shows up right now – Suicide Narcissus at the Renaissance Society blew me away.) we ended the day at the Logan where Monika Szewczyk showed usÂ the other half of The Space Between, featuring Cauleen Smith’s other space station, photographs by Cecil McDonald, assemblage works by Avery Young, and sound pieces by LeRoy Bach.
Monika also gave us a tour of building and, by the way, the view from the 10th floor is pretty phenomenal.
Bailey Romaine is an artist and bibliophile based in Chicago.
This past Monday, March 21st, photographer Michael L. Abramson died at the age of 62 after a long struggle with kidney cancer. The Chicago label Numero Group posted an obituary for Mr. Abramson, whose black and white photographs of 1970s era Chicago nightlife were part of Numero’s Grammy-nominated double album and bookÂ Light: On The South Side. In 2009 the New York Times’ “Lens” blog ran a lengthy showcase of Abramson’s photographs. There is something about the way Abramson photographed the press of bodies that makes everyone in his images look luscious and beautiful. He got right up close to his subjects – as a viewer, you feel like your own body is right in there too, smack in the middle of the action. Abramson’s family released a biography of the photographer after his death, which included this description of Abramson’s first encounters with the South Side clubs he would come to know intimately:
“A friend’s casual remark about the nightclub scene on the city’s South Side led Michael to visit, enjoy, and then photograph the people and nightlife. This decision established him as a serious artist, compared by more than one critic to Brassai, who photographed nocturnal Paris in the 1930s. At his first stop, Pepper’s Hideout, Abramson found himself the lone white guy in the club. Worried that he might make the other club visitors uncomfortable, he soon made for the door. As he left, a man yelled, “Hey, where ya’ going? Get back in here!” For the next two and half years Michael made frequent trips to Pepper’s and other South Side nightclubs. He spent his evenings snapping photograph after photograph – not of the musicians, but of patrons, many of them dressed to the nines, enjoying a night out on the town – and spent his days developing and printing the images.”
Do yourself a favor and spend some time this week looking at Abramson’s images, especially if you’re not already familiar with them. It’s clear the comparisons to Brassai are not at all specious.