How We Work: An Interview with Kate Ruggeri

May 9, 2014 · Print This Article

Guest post by A.Martinez

Kate Ruggeri is a Chicago-based artist, DJ, and curator who has shown at Roots & Culture (Chicago), Green Gallery East (Milwaukee), Western Exhibitions (Chicago), and Important Projects (Oakland). She is one of those people who exudes a humble cool, yet is enthusiastic about all she’s committed to, and excited about life and the people and things in it. After a handful of years of staying in touch from afar, I wanted to connect more closely to ask Kate some questions about her life and her work before she moves to New Haven in July to pursue her MFA at Yale.

A.Martinez: Were art and making art important to you from a young age?

Kate Ruggeri: Oh, yeah. Totally. My parents were always really encouraging. In elementary school I started taking drawing classes outside of school. I won a few poster contests. I used to do this thing every year called The Olympics of The Visual Arts, which is a New York State program. Pretty much you assemble a team, work on a year long project, and then compete against other teams. When I got a little older I got really into dark room photography. You know, carrying a camera around all the time and developing film in your bathroom. My mom and I took figure drawing classes together. A lot of colleges have art classes for kids during the summer, so I was always doing that too.

Kate in her studio

Kate in her studio

Martinez: How long have you kept a journal? And what does this practice of journaling do for you and your art practice?

Ruggeri: Since elementary school. I think my first one has a little lock on it. I never really stopped. It’s actually super important, to clear your head, to drain it. I try to write every day. I feel very scattered if I don’t. For art making, it’s good for me to work through ideas and to understand impulses I have. Often I make something and I’m not sure why I made that decision or was drawn to that form. Writing brings everything to the surface. It brings clarity. Studio work is one way of thinking and writing is how I detangle everything. Not just artwise, but life wise. It’s all the same, of course.

Martinez: How long have you had your own studio space? What does it look like?

Ruggeri: After school I had a tiny studio in a building across from Moonshine on Division. It’s been torn down since. I’ve been in the spot I’m at now for a little over a year. It’s a co-op at Damen and Fulton. I moved in there after my old spot on Elston burned down. We have an entire floor that is divided amongst us. My studio’s a mess. I see other people’s studios sometimes, and they have a turntable and little plants and it’s very cozy. My place is like a construction zone. I like that better. It lets me focus on the work.

Martinez: What is a typical day in the studio like for you?

Ruggeri: Nights are better. I like working when no one is around. You can play music loud. I believe in a witching hour. It really depends, though. I usually am working on one sculpture and 4-5 paintings at the same time. If I just finished something big or just installed a show, I draw and watch movies at home. I don’t really have a routine. Ben Medansky once described his ceramic studio as being around a million crying babies. That’s how I feel in there. I work a lot in series, so I just treat 6 pieces at the same time, and then have some experiments going. Right now I have some exercise balls I’ve been sort of doodling on. Then I’ll carve on these wood paintings until my hand hurts. Then I’ll cut some wood shapes out to paint. Or dump plaster on something. It’s a mix of working on very planned pieces and experiments. Everything always changes though.

"Tree Gremlin" 2012

“Tree Gremlin” 2012

Martinez: How do you begin a painting?

Ruggeri: Putting something down, anything! I break it in. I try not to think about it too much and just get the ball rolling. Usually it’s a good color.

Martinez: You work in both 2D and 3D- how does a piece become one or the other?

Ruggeri: When I was in school I used to trip myself up with that question. I can say now that they’re all paintings. I’m a painter that has sculptural impulses. I try to feed both ways of making. I try to be democratic about it. The larger sculptures can be exhausting to make, so there is often a down period of just painting and drawing before starting one again. Material, color, and mark making can drive a piece to be 3D or 2D. Finding a good object. Seeing a particularly inspiring show of painting or sculpture.

"They Have To Cut Out Part Of My Heart And Rebuild It With New Valves And Shit" 2014

“They Have To Cut Out Part Of My Heart And Rebuild It With New Valves And Shit” 2014

Martinez: What artists inspire you?

Ruggeri: Philip Guston, Mike Kelley, Matisse, Picasso, Claes Oldenberg, Cy Twombly, Franz West, Rauschenberg, Joan Miro, Giacometti, Sterling Ruby, William J. O’Brien, Jonathan Meese,  Mary Heilmann, Huma Bhabha, Gerhard Richter, Howard Fonda

Martinez: You have a pretty extensive record collection and DJ monthly at Danny’s. Do you feel there’s a connection between your music endeavors and your art-making?

Ruggeri: Yes. It feels very connected.

Martinez: What musicians inspire you?

Ruggeri: Parliament/Funkadelic, Dead Moon, Congos, Minutemen, Bad Brains, Robert Wyatt, Brian Eno, Miles Davis, Captain Beefheart, Sparks, Beach Boys, Lee Scratch Perry, Roxy Music, De La Soul, Neil Young, Patrick Cowley, Big Star

"Ghost Curtain Call" 2013

“Ghost Curtain Call” 2013

Martinez: What do you typically listen to while in the studio working?

Ruggeri: It’s different every time, chosen for the day and mood. But Nas “Illmatic” gets played a lot. J.Dilla, Shuggie Otis, Pastor T.L. Barrett, Skip Spence, Velvet Underground. Mixes from friends. Jorge Ben, Milton Nascimento, Witch, Amanaz are all good…

Martinez: Do you do collaborations with other artists?

Ruggeri: Sure, I’ve done it a few times. Right now I’m working on a collaboration with Alex Valentine. He gave me these plates to draw on, and then we’ll print them together on newsprint, and then use them to paper mache a sculpture. It’s great because Alex is primarily a printmaker and I know barely anything about the process. I love the idea of making a sculpture made out of drawing. A perfect hybrid.

Martinez: In 2012, you co-curated a show, “Quarterly Site 11: Line-of-Site“,  at Western Exhibitions. How did you land this opportunity? What was the experience like for you? And do you think you’ll curate more shows in the future?

Ruggeri: Jamilee Polson Lacy asked me to do it. She’s been doing these curatorial series for a while now, asking artists to curate a show at a different gallery. It was great. I got to work with Alicia Chester and Karolina Gnatowski. It’s fun to be on the other side of things, and it gave me an opportunity to create a show entirely different from my practice. I really wanted to see a show of top notch performance work. Curating is a lot of work, but I would love to do it again. I think the trick is when you start to think, “Why isn’t ___ kind of work being shown? Why hasn’t someone curated a show about ____?” is when you should get on curating a show. I’m starting to feel that, but I would need the right time and space.

Martinez: You and I actually met while undergrads at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. What is something that has stuck with you from your education and experience there about being a painter, artist, or person?

Ruggeri: Something that always stuck with me is remembering how I felt there: supported, invigorated, and that changing the world was definitely possible. It’s good to protect that enthusiasm, even when you’re working 9 to 5 and feel too tired to go to the studio.

"Dollar Sign" 2012

“Dollar Sign” 2012

Martinez: How has your experience at Ox-Bow School of Art as student and then again as a fellow affect your art? How long were you there total?

Ruggeri: Ox-Bow. Oh, man. I first went in 2007 as a student, and pretty much tried to take as many classes there as I could. If you got work study, you just had to pay for the credits, which I needed anyway. I went three consecutive Summers and one Winter. The Summer of 2010 was great, I took a class with Jose Lerma called “Expanded Painting, Expanded Sculpture.” Not hard to see it was a big influence on me. I was really lucky to receive a Joan Mitchell Fellowship this past Fall and I was an artist-in-residence for 5 weeks. As a student, classes meet everyday. I also had to wake up every morning to clean toilets for work study. This time, as a resident, it was like being at a beautiful retreat. There were only other residents, I had my own studio, and I got to structure my own day. It was incredible.

Martinez: Congratulations on your acceptance to the MFA Painting program at Yale!  What are you most excited about in starting this program in the fall?

Ruggeri: Thanks! I’m most excited about a fresh start. And making better art.

Martinez: What do you think are some interesting things happening around the city of Chicago art-wise?

Ruggeri: Ryan Travis Christian has a show up at Western Exhibitions that I need to get over to. William J. O’Brien at the MCA. Isa Genzken at the MCA. Alexander Valentine has a show at 3433 coming up.

Martinez: What are you currently working on?

Ruggeri: I’m finishing up a re-make of a sculpture I lost in the fire. It’s a harp. I just wrapped up these brooches I made for the Three Walls Gala coming up in June. Starting some new paintings. I keep thinking I need to stop because I’m moving, but I have some projects I want to do before I leave. I have an ongoing series of fake album covers, and I have a photo shoot coming up for the next installment.

"Rainbo Series" 2013

“Rainbo Series” 2013

Martinez: Your recent show, “Tropical Depression” at LVL3 just closed May 4th. Do you have any other openings coming up?

Ruggeri: No, thankfully! I’m moving to New Haven end of July. I’m trying to tie up loose ends.

Martinez: Is there a piece of advice, art related or not that you think of often?

Ruggeri: Say yes to all opportunities offered to you. Avoid excessive thinking about the past and future.

To find out more about Kate, her artwork and her upcoming shows go to 

All photos courtesy of the artist.


A.Martinez is a freelance art and music organizer living in Chicago, IL. She is currently working on a performing arts summer festival called The Living Loop, and will release her first book of poetry this summer.


Top 5 Weekend Picks! (4/25-4/27)

April 24, 2014 · Print This Article

1. It is Now a Matter of Learning Hope at Threewalls


Work by Irina Botea.

Threewalls is located at 119 N. Peoria St. #2C. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.

2. 100 100s on the One and a Half at the Chicago Cultural Center


Work by Shane Huffman.

The Chicago Cultural Center is located at 78 E. Washington St. Reception Friday, 5:30-7:30pm.

3. Fujui Wang at Antena


Performance by Fujui Wang.

Antena is located at 1755 S. Laflin St. Performance Saturday, 7-10pm.

4. Check Please at Western Exhibitions


Work by Ryan Travis Christian.

Western Exhibitions is located at 845 W Washington Blvd. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.

5. Weling at Document


Work by Thomas Killian Roach.

Document is located at 845 W. Washington Blvd. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.

Off the Wall, Through the Surface, and Around the Painting: A Conversation with Zoe Nelson

January 20, 2014 · Print This Article

By Kevin Blake

Abstract painting is coming off the walls. It is evolving. Zoe Nelson talks with Bad at Sports about her engagement and participation in the evolution of abstraction, which appears in her work, to be a deconstruction of traditional painting parameters. Through a physical dismantling of the images’ supports, Nelson blurs the boundaries between painting and sculpture, creating perpetually shifting spatial dynamics.


The Chase, 2013 oil on canvas, metal, holes 16″ x 12″

Kevin Blake: Chicago artist Sophia Leiby recently turned me onto an essay in the Brooklyn Rail, Worlds With Us by Katy Siegel, in which she suggests, “In terms of art, unthinking the opposition between representation and abstraction is particularly vital to understanding art objects and practices afresh.” I’m wondering how you have arrived at abstraction. It seems to me that artists arrive at abstraction out of some sort of necessity that is the resultant of a struggle with conceptual as well as formal frameworks. As I was looking through your archives on your website, I could see a departure from representation, and it occurred to me that this was a relatively common evolution for abstract painters. Abstraction does not seem like something you just set out to do one day. I’m wondering if abstraction, for you, has been a product or a solution to struggling with the idea of representation and abstraction as polar opposites.


Zoe Nelson: When I started grad school at Columbia University in 2007, I was working on a series of portraits of friends with their demons. Imagining what my friends’ (and my own) demons might look like if they were externalized allowed me to begin to think about the entire space of the canvas as a loaded psychological space, with all parts of the canvas (foreground, background, demon, person etc) having the potential to be equally descriptive of the psychological state of the person. It was at this point that a shift occurred and I started to become more interested in the potential of the “background” or psychological space around the person than in the portrait. As a challenge to myself, I decided to try to remove the figure from the work, while continuing to make an interesting painting. I’d say that my first conscious plunge into abstraction occurred with this initial act of negation–the negation of the figure. Absence and negation continue to be strong conceptual and formal frameworks for my work, as you can see in my current body of cut-out paintings. What is cut-out or not depicted in my work is often defined by- and defines- the form and content of the painting.

Going back to your Katy Siegel quote, I would agree on the importance of deconstructing a binary understanding of abstraction and representation in painting. I arrived at abstraction through representation, and in some ways one could say that I am currently working through abstraction to arrive at a type of active, moving representation: a representation of liminal psychological spaces and shifting states of being.


KB: Literally cutting sections out of the painting seems like an almost radical action against representation–in the sense of negating recognizable imagery–and simultaneously, it might be seen as a way of evoking a discussion about the state of being represented. Opening the canvas to view the guts of a painting, so to speak, allows the viewer to look past the painted surface and into the physical space behind it, calling attention to its objecthood. In your recent show at Western Exhibitions, some of the paintings protrude from the wall rather than hanging flush on it, further interrupting the spatial dynamic while creating a dialogue with it. Can you talk about the paintings existing in the third dimension and how do these issues perpetuate this idea about abstraction and representation being more of a consequence of one another rather than visually articulated opposites?


Installation View Western Exhibitions,
Image courtesy of Western Exhibitions, photograph by James Prinz


ZN: As I cut into the canvas, I uncover parts of the stretcher bar support, which inevitably opens up a whole chain of questions regarding the relationship between support, canvas and the physical space behind and around the paintings. Each painting deals with this relationship in a different way, I believe, and the double-sided paintings evolved as a natural extension of the work becoming more sculptural. When the frame is exposed, all of the sudden there are edges and different physical planes to consider, and the next logical step was to consider the “back” of the painting as well. Through privileging all sides of the painting, I hope to destabilize the hierarchy of front over back, and hanging the work perpendicular to the wall is a playful invitation for the viewer to walk around the paintings and take part in this process.

The paintings and installation at Western look completely different depending on where you stand in the room, and these shifting states are integral to the form and content of the series. If multiple people are in the room, you might see a hand or head or shoulder through the cuts in a painting, and these people (or body parts) momentarily become a part of the work as well. Blurring the lines between artist, painting, and viewer in this way is conceptually exciting for me, and I think circles back around to how the current work still references back to my initial interests in representing the body and psychological states of being, albeit in a performative way, and while operating within a realm of abstraction.


Installation View Western Exhibitions
Image courtesy of Western Exhibitions, photograph by James Prinz

KB: The first time you cut a painting, was it due to what you perceived to be a mistake? Looking at the evolution of your work, I sense a strong influence of painter Amy Sillman whose work seems to depend on the occurrence of mistakes and even more so on the corrective production emerging from those mistakes. Does your work engage with that dialogue?

ZN: Whenever I move to a new location, or even a new studio, I find that my practice often shifts with the move. After graduate school, I spent a year working on a series of process paintings about the idea of unwinding. It wasn’t until a year later, when I moved to Chicago, that I was able to take the project a step further and actually start to undo the surface of the painting through cutting into the canvas.

Although my initial cuts into the canvas were not exactly a mistake, they did stem from a place of anxiety and fear. When I moved to Chicago in 2010, I didn’t know the city at all, barely knew the art community, and only had a couple of names of friends of friends to contact. Everything around me seemed unstable, unknown and overwhelming that year, and the studio was the one place that I was able to channel all of that anxiety and fear into artistic risk-taking.

I worked with Amy Sillman in grad school, and she continues to be a huge influence for me–both her work and in the smart discourse that she engages in around her practice and painting. I’ve noticed in my own practice that if I have an idea for a painting, and I execute that idea really quickly, the work often doesn’t hold up a few days later. I think this failure ties back to the importance of the mistake: perhaps the reason that these paintings often don’t hold up, is because that struggle–of making, identifying, and working-through the mistake–hasn’t yet occurred. When the work falls short like that, there is often a part of the painting that has seduced me, and it’s only through literally cutting out or removing the seductive part that I am able to rework the painting as a whole, rather than as a showcase for one special element.

I think that the importance of the mistake also ties into the importance of feeling and intuition. Amy Sillman has an awesome zine, the O-G v3, in which she challenges the hierarchy of mind over body when discussing and making paintings. At the end of the zine, Amy advocates for the conceptual possibilities of painting specifically through “the radical merging of mind and body!” While it is often easier to talk about formal or conceptual concerns in painting rather than trying to find a smart way to talk about intuition, I am of the mindset that the two are not mutually exclusive. In my practice, intuition, feeling, mistakes, and elusiveness are just as important to the process of painting as the formal painterly concerns that I am also responding to.


KB: When I listen to other artists talk about their work, I always look for a takeaway-something useful to apply to my own practice or in this case regurgitate as a means of preserving the idea in my frontal lobe. I recently listened to artist Cesare Pietroiusti speak in Boston, and of the many things I retained from his talk, he said something profound that resonates in relation to our conversation. He said, “when there is discomfort, fear, and anxiety-go there.” It seems you have intuitively done just that and this impulse has yielded some positive results. Have you been able to abandon these themes as you have gotten settled into Chicago and more so into the community? Or do they continue to be the driving force of your work?


ZN: Anxiety and discomfort continue to be strong themes in my work, though the driving force (or one driving force–there are definitely many) has become the work itself. I have grown to love living and working in Chicago, and have met fantastic artists and worked with great galleries here, such as Roots & Culture, Lloyd Dobler, and most recently Western Exhibitions. I think that anxiety, fear, and crisis are all incredibly powerful emotions (or psychological states), and they hold an equally powerful potential for risk-taking in an art practice. That said, I also think that it can be hard to issue rigor and restraint in a place of real anxiety or crisis, as everything has such urgency and there is a lack of control. Thankfully, I am more settled now and I find that the work is organically building on itself. Each painting opens up a new set of questions and formal challenges, which lead to new decisions and new paintings. Right now I am in the exciting place where I have a number of ideas for new paintings and specific installations, and am juggling these different trajectories in my practice. I am able to continue to explore themes of anxiety and crisis while mitigating those states with humor, play, and pleasure in the work. Of course waves of anxiety, failure, and fear play a part in this process, and no matter how thoroughly I conceptualize a painting before I start it, the beginning almost always feels like a shot in the dark.


KB: The end result being a complete departure from the pre-conceptualized form makes me think about conflicting loyalties. You have loyalties to your methods which allow all the nuances and intuitive moments to take place within the process of making a painting, and being loyal to yourself in these allowances is an important if not essential part of your practice. However, you also have a loyalty to what you might still do, or what the painting might still become, which always seems to be connected to the pre-conceptualized form. How do you negotiate conflicting loyalties in this sense? Are your sketches or ideas of a final product just a jumping point or do you struggle to maintain those forms throughout the process of making a painting?


ZN: When I start a new painting, I usually try to either identify a psychological state, or a feeling attached to a specific moment, that I want to articulate. I then respond to this initial idea by imposing a set of formal parameters on the work, which also define the subject matter. For example, the painting “Skype Breakdown” started with an idea to make a painting about frustration, blocked communication, and distortion. I made the painting (and most of the work up at Western) this past fall, while I was at a wonderful six-week residency called the Lighthouse Works. The residency was on a small island off of NY with spotty internet connection, and after looking at my partner’s frozen and pixilated face on the computer screen for the umpteenth time, I decided to channel my frustration (and objective interest in the abstracted image on my screen) into a painting. Using the idea of arrested communication and distortion as a starting off point, I began the painting by first making mask-like cuts into the top layer of canvas. Any discernible figure or face is cut-out and totally abstracted, and this act of negation also becomes subject matter.  Circling back to you initial question about juggling pre-conceived concepts with method and intuition, I’d say that I try to stay true to the initial motivation and abstract idea behind a painting, while being open to chance, intuition, and the unknown in the process of making a painting.

Skype Breakdown, 2013 oil on canvas, holes 34″ x 30″


KB: Speaking of making new paintings, what are you currently working on, and do you have any upcoming exhibitions we should know about?

ZN: I am working on a few different projects at the moment, including a nascent but exciting collaborative project with a composer, and paintings for a couple of installation ideas. Just a few days ago I was asked to take part in an artists lecture series called “Artists Now” at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee next spring, which should be a lot of fun, and I am working on an exhibition proposal for the fall of 2014 at the moment. Having the show at Western has allowed me to take some time to reflect on the work, and see the paintings in a different context. I am particularly excited to hole-up in my studio as the show comes to a close, and make some new work!


TOP 5 LISTS for 2013

January 6, 2014 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Britton Bertran

I didn’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.  Nonetheless, here are some lists of what I did see, what I didn’t, some predictions and some things I’m anticipating.  I know we all have a love/hate with these kinds of lists, but this should be pretty easy to digest.  Click on those links.

Exhibitions I saw:

  1. Amalia Pica at the MCA
  2. Fragment: Sampling the Modern at the Elmhurst Art Museum
  3. Wendy White at Andrew Rafacz
  4. Andrew Holmquist at Carrie Secrist Gallery
  5. David Salle: Ghost Paintings at The Arts Club of Chicago

Best Spaces:

  1. Queer Thoughts
  2. Roots & Culture
  3. Western Exhibitions
  4. LVL3
  5. PLHK

“Emerging” artists:

  1. Matthew Schlagbaum
  2. Kate Ruggeri
  3. Allison Wade
  4. Alice Tippit
  5. Danny Giles

WTF moments:

  1. Vivian Maier
  2. EXPO Chicago
  3. AIC’s Modern Wing’s closed 3rd floor
  4. The Way of the Shovel at the MCA
  5. Chicago Sculpture International’s Sculpture on the Boulevards
Mike Andrews at The Suburban

Mike Andrews at The Suburban

Exhibitions/Events I didn’t see:

  1. RH Quaytman at the Renaissance Society
  2. Medium Cool
  3. Steve McQueen at the AIC
  4. Matt Nichols at Corbett vs. Dempsey
  5. Mike Andrews at The Suburban

Anticipating in 2014:

  1. The Whitney Biennial
  2. William J. O’Brien at the MCA
  3. Christopher Wool at the AIC
  4. Christopher Williams at the AIC
  5. A new permanent space for Threewalls

2014 Predictions:

  1. The Whitney Biennial fails in the eyes of critics
  2. A major commercial gallery in Chicago will close, another will open
  3. A storied institution will lose it’s curator
  4. A galvanizing work of public art will really piss people off
  5. A better year than 2013

HAPPY 2014!

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.  

Circa 2005: Is 2013 to early to get teary-eyed about 2005?

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.

Gallery at 1001 N. Winchester, Summer 2005

Gallery at 1001 N. Winchester, Summer 2005

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 or and this new fandangled thing called a podcast had people sitting with their bulky desktops and REALLY listening.

Catalog cover for Versus, January 2006

Catalog cover for Versus, January 2006

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.

A West Town Gallery Network pamphlet, designed by Deb Sokolow, 2006

A West Town Gallery Network pamphlet, designed by Deb Sokolow, 2006

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.

Closing/Moving Benefit, 2006

Closing/Moving Benefit, 2006

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.

Roy Rogers and Joe "40,000" Murphy

Roy Rogers and Joe “40,000” Murphy

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.