Guest Post by Britton Bertran
I didnâ€™t get out to see a lot art in Chicago this year as I was too happily busy being a Dad to the best little boy in the world. Â Nonetheless, here are some lists of what I did see, what I didnâ€™t, some predictions and some things Iâ€™m anticipating.Â I know we all have a love/hate with these kinds of lists, but this should be pretty easy to digest.Â Click on those links.
Exhibitions I saw:
- Amalia Pica at the MCA
- Fragment: Sampling the Modern at the Elmhurst Art Museum
- Wendy White at Andrew Rafacz
- Andrew Holmquist at Carrie Secrist Gallery
- David Salle: Ghost Paintings at The Arts Club of Chicago
- Vivian Maier
- EXPO Chicago
- AICâ€™s Modern Wingâ€™s closed 3rd floor
- The Way of the Shovel at the MCA
- Chicago Sculpture Internationalâ€™s Sculpture on the Boulevards
Exhibitions/Events I didnâ€™t see:
- RH Quaytman at the Renaissance Society
- Medium Cool
- Steve McQueen at the AIC
- Matt Nichols at Corbett vs. Dempsey
- Mike Andrews at The Suburban
Anticipating in 2014:
- The Whitney Biennial
- William J. Oâ€™Brien at the MCA
- Christopher Wool at the AIC
- Christopher Williams at the AIC
- A new permanent space for Threewalls
- The Whitney Biennial fails in the eyes of critics
- A major commercial gallery in Chicago will close, another will open
- A storied institution will lose itâ€™s curator
- A galvanizing work of public art will really piss people off
- A better year than 2013
Bio: 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. Â
We are in the midst of a Vivian Maier moment. She has concurrent shows around the world. Three lovely coffee table books, one a year since 2011. Thereâ€™s a forthcoming documentary out about her, Finding Vivian Maier. Then thereâ€™s the Chicago History Museum lecture coming up on April 16 called â€œThe Reinvention of Vivian Maier.â€ And all of this since her death, or more rightly, because of her death.
Since I first saw the exhibit Finding Vivian Maier at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2011, I have had mixed feelings about Maierâ€™s work. It is undoubtedly compelling. The images are beautiful and the photographer so clearly loves city life. I pretty much never miss a street photography show. Last yearâ€™s Film and Photo in New York with Helen Levitt and Robert Frank among others, as well as Dawoud Beyâ€™s Harlem USA, both at The Art Institute of Chicago, were riveting examples of urban photography. But they were different from Finding Vivian Maier. These photographers created work specifically for exhibition. They not only consented to their work being exhibited, they also had a say in the body of work from which the curators had to select. Even if this say came only in the form of editing out images the individual artists didnâ€™t prefer. Vivian Maier didnâ€™t have this opportunity. Her oeuvre of over 100,000 negatives I am assuming are relatively unedited by her, and they are certainly not edited for exhibition.
Vivian Maier Street Photographer is beautiful. Glossy, nice-sized pages that encourage getting lost in the images. Although all of the images contained are of public space, there is an intimacy to Maierâ€™s work that makes me want to curl up on the sofa alone and spend some time with them. This irony of looking at these public images in private does not seem to be lost on the book. While some images are shown on opposing pages, others are allowed a blank page to give the reader time and space to consider the photo.
The book is organized roughly into three sections. The first are the city photos everyone lovesâ€”people, buildings, urbanity. Toward the end, there is a cluster of photos of animals dead in the street. These are juxtaposed against images of people sleeping, passed out, dirty children. It is impossible not to read this as â€œOh look how these dead city animals resemble our tossed aside urban people.â€ It is here that the book becomes interesting in another way. I couldnâ€™t help but wonder if Maier would have edited the book in this fashion. There are no titles to images. No dates. This is not the fault of the editor and rescuer of Maierâ€™s work, John Maloof. I spent a lot of time on his website and it is clear that while some of her images are dated, most are not. How does one curate over 100,00 photos? With so much to chose from, is it even possible to allow the work to tell itâ€™s own story? And what story would that be? The story Maier wanted to tell with her photographs? The story of Vivian Maier? Maybe itâ€™s the story of John Maloof, whose life is now inextricably bound to hers.
After the Acknowledgments, there are more photos, Maierâ€™s self-portraits. These are moving and unsettling. All I could think about was what this impossibly private person might think of all this. Looking at her pictures of other people seemed fine, but looking at pictures of Maier herself felt prurient and unseemly. But that is part of what the world loves about Vivian Maier, she is the fantasy of the undiscovered artist. The person who made work just for herself and then after her death is discovered to be a genius. Itâ€™s like every undergraduate art studentâ€™s fantasy come true.
This is a lovely book to spend time with and is more thought provoking than I had expected. I highly recommend it.
Vivian Maier Street Photographer, edited by John Maloof
Hardcover, 144 pages
Powerhouse Books, $39.95
February 24, 2011 · Print This Article
Guest post by Julia V. Hendrickson
Notes on a Conversation.
Withâ€”John Corbett and Jim Dempsey (Founders and owners of Corbett vs. Dempsey)
Inâ€”the gallery, on the third floor, 1120 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago, IL
Commencedâ€”on Thursday, February 17th, 2011, 10:15â€“11:20am
I am beginning this piece with a disclaimer: Iâ€™m writing about Corbett vs. Dempsey, and I work at Corbett vs. Dempsey. I work there, and I do so because itâ€™s a place that I am excited to walk in to in the morning. Itâ€™s a place where I can be challenged, where I can always learn something new, and Iâ€™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.
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 didnâ€™t do all of these other things, because you wouldnâ€™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 donâ€™t relate specifically to the gallery?
JD: â€œThe Film Center has always been a great place to stay connected with students at the Art Institute who are all my box office workers. Itâ€™s also a great place to tune in, it constantly gives me a great film education, and itâ€™s got an important mission. Iâ€™ve been a part of it for a long time, and Iâ€™ve always been proud of my association with it.â€
JH: You see a lot of interesting people at the Film Centerâ€”didnâ€™t you often run into Vivian Maier?
JD: â€œYes, 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. Iâ€™d see her roaming around the streets and never gave a thought to her, and then these photos came outâ€”Iâ€™d been following this discovery for the last few years, and saw some early self-portraits of her. It wasnâ€™t until I saw a later self-portrait of her on Chicago Tonight, and they played a cassette tapeâ€”she used to talk into cassette tapesâ€”they played a clip and it was undeniably her voice. And I thought, â€˜Youâ€™ve got to be careful who you judge,â€™ because this woman spent a lifetime out on the streets making obviously beautiful work and nobody knew about it.â€
JH: John, what else have you been up to?
JC: â€œI 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. [â€¦] 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 cultureâ€”the idea of records as documents, as physical objects, the geekiness of record culture, stockpiling timeâ€”things that are all really interesting to me in terms of the way that people treat music.â€
JH: Arenâ€™t you working with J.C. Gabel on a couple of projects?
JC: â€œJ.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 heâ€™s been shopping around for a while, and never got a satisfactory home for, but I think heâ€™s going to put it out in his first four books on Hat & Beard. Itâ€™s actually something I found. Itâ€™s a manuscript by an anonymous author from Chicago from 1931 or so: a dictionary of Chicago gangsters. Itâ€™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. Itâ€™s basically me editing and introducing this found document, [â€¦] bought at a second-hand store that was going out of business, [â€¦] probably seven years ago.â€
â€œI 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.â€
JH: John, I wondered if youâ€™d thought about how your experiences learning here at the gallery have influenced your teaching at SAIC.
JC: â€œI 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 theyâ€™ve argued, rather than doing primary research and coming up with their own conclusions. If they were doing more of that, weâ€™d end up with much richer, less narrow set of people that weâ€™re talking about, just very basically. You start talking to art historians about people who fall not so far from the tree, and they donâ€™t know who the hell youâ€™re talking about. And thatâ€™s even true in specialist niches. Iâ€™m not knocking art historians, but Iâ€™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 Iâ€™m teaching at an art school in Chicago and that those [Chicago] people donâ€™t get talked about, I couldnâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 donâ€™t feel like Iâ€™m as inclined to do that. Now I feel like what I do [at the gallery] is just part of what I do.â€
JH: You two are collaborators together, and I think thatâ€™s a really unique thing about the way that you exist in the art world, because itâ€™s still a very masculine-centered world. Probably itâ€™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 youâ€™re not â€˜monolithic mavericks,â€™ running an institution that is one name only; youâ€™re doing it together, and I think it tempers the phallocentric nature of the business.
JD: â€œSome of the best moments are when I think I have a good idea and Iâ€™m talked out of it, or vice versa, and Iâ€™m happy to completely give up something that I thought was good. Every year Iâ€™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.â€
JC: â€œYou bring up the gender issue, and itâ€™s something thatâ€™s important to us. Itâ€™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 itâ€™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 thatâ€™s in the middle, [â€¦] itâ€™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].â€
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 youâ€™ve learned over the years about running a business in the art world. Was there a point that you remember thinking, â€˜Oh. Weâ€™re a gallery now.â€™?
JC: â€œNeither of us was a business person, but we both were older when we got involved in it. We werenâ€™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. â€œ
JD: â€œAnd 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 itâ€™s a good strategy for any type of business.â€
JC: â€œWe 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 createâ€”to use a flogged-to-death termâ€”â€˜communityâ€™ around a set of objects and ideas.
JH: In a 2006 Bad at Sports podcast, Jim, you described the gallery as a place where â€œwe hang the work and tell the stories.â€Â Is that still the case? What stories have you told recently?
JD: â€œThat 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 [â€¦] and we donâ€™t necessarily need to have people get to know us and our personalities before they get our jokes or the mission of the gallery.â€
JC: â€œWhatever we do, both Jim and I work by looking at context and thinking about if there is a narrative. [â€¦] We have a baseline interest in the history of Chicago and how the things that weâ€™re doing can relate to Chicago. I think weâ€™ve become less reliant on that as an exclusive how-do-you-do.â€
â€œAlso, 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 weâ€™ve got these film connections. It has ended up being really useful and really interesting.â€
â€œA 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 weâ€™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 McPheeâ€™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.â€
JD: â€œI think one interesting thingâ€”Iâ€™ve been so deep in [preparing for shows] that I sort of felt that I know every aspect of that processâ€”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 itâ€™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.â€
JC: â€œWe 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.â€
If youâ€™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 Saulâ€™s paintings and drawings (1120 N. Ashland, 3rd floor).
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.