September 24, 2013 · Print This Article
Guest Post by Britton Bertran
I was there in 2005 at the beginning of Bad at Sports (Episode 4!) and I hope I’m not there at the end. It was the year I opened my gallery, 40000. It was a good idea at the time. I was fed up with not seeing what I wanted to see and equally mesmerized by controlling my own destiny in a commercial sort of way. There were plenty of other interesting things happening and I figured – why the hell not.
The years 2005 and 2006 were ok years for Chicago Art. It seemed to be an upswing couple of years when apartment galleries and art interest were peaking. (These things come in waves – I’d put us in a upward motion now after reaching the bottom in 2011.) The MCA was showing interesting work (a Dan Flavin Retrospective, Deb Sokolow and William J. O’Brien had 12 x 12’s), blogs were percolating with critical activity (anyone remember panel-house.com or iconoduel.org?) and this new fandangled thing called a podcast had people sitting with their bulky desktops and REALLY listening.
I took a leap of art faith and quit my job, borrowed some money from my mom and with the help of a couple close friends including a now-deceased bartender from Phyllis’, rocked out a storefront space on Winchester and Augusta. A year and a half later, some guy bought the building and wanted to turn it in to a really small Italian restaurant. I moved the gallery in the summer of 2006 to the bustling 119 N. Peoria building (soon to be home to only one gallery in 2014.)
Like-minded nice folks like Corbett vs. Dempsey, The Green Lantern, 65GRAND, Fraction Workspace, Western Exhibitions, Lisa Boyle Gallery, Duchess and a couple of more spaces, were all blazing fiery paths outside the West Loop in WestTown (does anyone even know where this is now?). We even organized, set up a network, handed out flyer/maps and coordinated openings. It worked for the most part. I think.
There was no social media except for Friendster and then that thing called Myspace. My digital camera had something like 3 megapixels and took incredibly shitty pictures. It took a solid hour to update my clunky website. It was rough out there in a walking up the hill backwards in a snowstorm kind of way. But it was great. Lots of visitors – mostly artists – came, drank and stole beer during openings, I sold art here and there, got a few reviews in national art magazines, was invited to fancy pants museum openings, met not-so-nice individuals who essentially run the art world, shook hands with some artist heroes and even did the occasional art fair in and outside Chicago.
But mostly, having this gallery gave me some pretty solid insight into how artists work, what they think about and what really matters the most to them career-wise. Surprisingly, and thankfully for me, it wasn’t money. 40000 was definitely a failure in that regard and the main reason I closed in 2009. I was also unable, and did not want to, secure a sugar daddy/momma, which I slowly realized was the only way to sustainability. [A little secret – there is less than a handful of galleries in Chicago that don’t have one of these.]
I think it’s pretty telling that almost half of the original West Town Gallery Network is still in effect. Corbett vs. Dempsey just got admitted to the Main Fair of Art Basel Miami Beach (a big damn deal). Western Exhibitions is still cranking out shows with aplomb and has incredible dedication to it’s artists. 65GRAND (all caps no gaps, please) is run by one of the smartest and nicest gallerists in Chicago. Only one of these galleries is still in West Town – though it’s stretching it a bit. All of these spaces work so damn hard it’s difficult for me to even comprehend how they’re possibly doing it. Most of us are still here in Chicago, I think. Whether or not we are running galleries, we are all getting old, raising families, have “real” jobs, etcetera. I hope you won’t forget us.
The artists I worked with are for the most part pretty successful in their careers. One or two I never hear from, a couple of others I never want to hear from. Nonetheless, it gives me great pleasure to know that I have a place in Chicago art history. It’s funny though, I seriously often wonder what would have happened if I had at least a 10 megapixel camera back then.
A little addendum here: I was often asked, “What the hell does 40000 mean?” In fact a couple of months ago a collector emailed me out of the blue and straight up asked. So I told him. I named the gallery after Joe “40,000″ Murphy. “40,000” was a Chicago outsider artist and events usher in the 1950’s who either knew 40,000 famous people, or was renowned for saying “about…. 40,000 empty seats!” when asked how many people where coming to that day’s event. When people asked me, I made them guess. Nobody got it right.
Britton Bertran ran 40000 from 2005 to 2008. He currently is an Instructor at SAIC in the Arts Administration and Policy department and the Educational Programs Manager at Urban Gateways. An occasional guest-curator, he has organized exhibitions for the Hyde Park Art Center, the Loyola Museum of Art and several galleries. You can find him trying to be less cranky about the art world on twitter @br_tton. Stay tuned for a couple more guest posts where Britton will be discussing his tumblr-famous tumblr “Installator” and his take on what’s wrong with the Chicago art world circa 2013 – while thinking out loud about how to fix it.
Over on art21 I have an interview with Caroline Picard of The Green Lantern. During the interview Caroline sent me her latest video, Regarding the Death of One Barry Maguire, or Wherefrom Joseph Beuys. Below is the an excerpt from the video and a brief Q&A.
The latest video you have been working on, Regarding the Death of One Barry Maguire, or Wherefrom Joseph Beuys, is a narrated story of the two men. Could you talk about how the story came about? Did it initially begin as a short story and move into a video?
Yes, it did begin as a short story. It’s a story that seems to keep getting longer and longer. It began as an essay. I was interested in thinking about what I started calling ” the suburban shaman” in America. Basically I started noticing hipsters with dream-catcher t-shirts and feather earrings, and rope head bands and deer heads, moccasins. I started thinking about how it seemed like an extension of the already ironic surface-self, while also being an attempt, perhaps, to overcome irony. I started thinking about the “American Primitivism” approach to visual work–something I’d also started noticing around town, though the phrase isn’t mine. And then too with bands like Animal Collective and MGMT–there seemed to be this interest in the feral, tribal child. Appropriating a wildness via icons of spirituality seemed like a potentially authentic gesture that nevertheless collapsed at the same time. So the essay was going to connect this new trend with Beuys’ shamanic art practice. And then the essay became a story and then it developed other parts. It became a story about a patriarchal lineage. And about myth and our relationship to history. It begins with Bueys as a boy hunting a stag. He flies his bomber and crashes and I look at the story about the Tartars (which of course, he made up). Then I look at him as an artist, and his relationship to the bombed out city. At the beginning of the second part, you discover that Beuys did not get all of his spirit back after the plane crash and in fact a piece of his spirit entered a coyote. Then the coyote becomes a wherecoyote and bites a hippy. The hippy (Craig Maguire) discovers this while tripping. Craig Maguire has a son (Barry Maguire) and Barry Maguire goes to an artist residency where, by playing with a Ouija Board they meet the ghost of Joseph Beuys who has come to take the missing piece of his spirit back. There are other parts to the story as well, it’s starting to flesh out into more of a proper-novel, but it has been a really awesome opportunity for me to do research into different indigenous practices, to think about what it means to appropriate those practices (even if it’s just the signs of them, i.e. a dream catcher) and to, I suppose, continue exploring ways around or outside of the pulse of capitalist consumer society. Which these kids are trying to get away from by living in the woods. And of course, it’s not that simple. I liked using WWII as a beginning point because I feel like it has shaped so much of who we, as a world, are. It was also a great place to think about and compare the bombed out-city with suburbia, with the woods and a campfire. And then of course Barry Maguire falls into his own reflection and disappears.
The video is illustrated by a collage of still and moving images. It reminded me of Jaimie Baron’s essay Contemporary Documentary Film and “Archive Fever”: History, the Fragment, the Joke which frames the video spam letter + google image search = video entertainment as a contemporary archive. Do you have any thoughts about working from clips to create a whole? Although I recognized many of your sources they all blended rather well together.
Totally. I was really interested in that idea, actually. In some sense I feel like the text itself is a compilation of stories from elsewhere–Joseph Beuys, for instance, or the second patriarchal figure is based on a hippy/musicial called Craig Smith who changed his name to Maitreya Kali and got a spider tattooed on his face. A song from his band, Apache Indian plays in the background at one point. And then of course there is stuff from today. I thought using appropriated footage would reflect the way the story was compiled in one sense, while also reflecting on (hopefully) how the brain supports stories it hears with images that come from elsewhere. In other words the video is also a kind of psychological landscape of the story. We have so much access to so much material, constantly being flooded by outside imagery, I think that stuff must shape and feed our associations. While I was interested in overriding/dismissing any copyright issues, I am interested in so far as those images, once they are incoporated into one’s own imagination, seem to belong to that imaginative self. Because they provide evidence. Sometimes the visual landscape is intentionally skewed and incongruous with the visual film. The story constantly returns to this idea of the photograph–particularly the photograph that Bueys claims the Tartars took of him in front of his plane crash. Beuys used that photo as evidence that his mystical experience with the nomads was authentic. And yet it’s next to impossible that they ever took that photo. I was thinking about moving images in the same light….