Art Letter

May 2005 Archives

The art world is changing. Not just in Chicago, but across the globe. The significance and role of museums is in transition and so is the function and strategy of art galleries.

I visited 5 artful endeavors this past week. Corbett vs. Dempsey has been in business for a year and has carved a unique niche for itself.  With rare exceptions they show solely Chicago art made between 1940 and 1970. It's glorious. Located upstairs from Dusty Groove, a record emporium specializing in vinyl. There is an obvious synergy.

This is a gallery, not only a point of view, but a view as well. Whereas most galleries would drywall over the phalanx of windows facing north from their 1120 North Ashland second floor space Jim Dempsey and John Corbett allow us to over look the city in which almost all the art they show was made.  It feels appropriate. Looking at once at old paintings and then glancing out the window one feels transported, imbued with authenticity.

Most art made in the decades they span is smaller than most present day art and as such does not need long, large spaces to exhibit it. Corbett vs. Dempsey employees several freestanding, 2-sided, wood paneled kiosks that can be moved around and punctuate the space admirably. Each show can have a unique installation and leaves us with a sense of wonder and discovery.

The art is strong and I thoroughly enjoyed the paintings and drawings of Walter Hahn who was there. No exhibited pieces were created after 1960. I was drawn to a 1950 portrait of H.C. Westermann when Westermann was a classmate of Hahn's. How fun - an artist we revere today once posed as part of his curriculum. 

The issues are relevant. Today's Chicago artist faces similar and parallel issues to those confronted by his ancestors. Too many issues in fact remain the same. I spoke with another artist the gallery works with; Robert Amft who talked about the large wonderful studio he had for 18 years with a rent of $65 per month.  Eighty-eight years young and thoroughly vibrant he said that one day his landlord raised the rent and Amft loaded up all his belongs on top of his car and moved away.

The issues for artists today are all too similar.  Galleries like Corbett vs. Dempsey are making a difference. They love the art the show and they care about the artists who made it and their place in history. They are educating us to a treasure in our midst and trying to keep it from scattering too widely.

Open only two days a week they are out beating the bushes the other days of the week, tracking down material and preserving our heritage. Though the gallery totally deserves our support and purchases these guys are thrilled to share their enthusiasm, to educate and facilitate even if all we're interested in is knowledge.  I'm going back soon.  Maybe I'll see you there.

I've liked Hejfina since it opened 7 months ago. Hejfina certainly is not an art gallery in any traditional sense. Heiji Choy is global and cosmopolitan, classy, considerate and caring. She came to Chicago by choice, is humble about her vast experiences and is eager to make her mark on Chicago culture. She describes her vision as a lifestyle boutique, but it is more than that.  Mixing exquisite clothing with books on architect, well thought out and executed furniture and challenging, interesting art, she seeks out collaborations with others who can help her advance her vision, and theirs. Heiji is brave and highly regarded. She has legions of fans and supporters. Her business is thriving. 

She is all about Culture.  Mixing and matching, balancing and changing, Comfortable and creative, blending.  Blending art with clothes. Architecture with furniture.  It takes her unique panache to pull it off. I like it.

She's an educator, honing people's taste, developing their aesthetics, willing to take patrons to other stores, galleries and museums to augment their visual, cultural experience. She's enthusiastic and gives more than she gets. She doesn't need to be in charge, or to assume control. She's about quality, innovation and substance. Various local, perhaps hip Chicago artists' art circulate through her space, sometimes in collaboration with equally hip galleries like
Monique Meloche; sometimes on their own. She encourages artists like Dzine to make clothes. This is a special endeavor.  Everything she touches becomes more accessible by association with her, demystified by proximity.  There is a quiet capable excitement to her, her vision, and her store.

On the Southside is another young endeavor, breaking ground in a focused and specialized direction. Dubhe Carreno and her eponymous gallery present gorgeous, seductive, well-considered ceramic sculptures. 

What makes Carreno's bright Pilsen gallery the success it is is her passion, her enthusiasm for splendid objects, her eye and her understanding of the art. Lots of galleries exhibit excellent art. Few galleries become an artform unto themselves. Dubhe Carreno Gallery is just that - a work of art - a consummate experience, the same way a walk in the woods is more than looking at a tree.

Ceramics are presented here, divergently.  Sometimes traditional, usually contemporary, rarely, but occasionally more craft than art, I've responded positively to every show I've seen here. I like Carreno's aesthetic and her program.

There is a custom in Chicago that exists no where else I know of (but it must be somewhere else besides here) of apartment galleries, where usually young art people of vision are so excited by the art they see that they just have to present some themselves. Short on assets they hang changing shows in their living room and invite the public in one or two days a week. The spaces in Pilsen, of which Dubhe Carreno's is one, are predominantly live/work spaces. There are numerous similar arrangements in Carreno's neighborhood - all labors of love, where the business owners live in, behind or above their commercial offerings.  All are committed and enthusiastic. Dubhe Carreno is just the best, the most visionary and the leader among a slew of admirable contenders all worthy of our attention. There are maps of the area listing the scores of art offerings, at least two open houses a year and one can easily spend several hours here on a Saturday discovering a really rich trove amongst Chicago's cultural panoply.

As one moves out from the tall buildings at Chicago's core the homes get larger, usually, the yards less restrained, and those who would be prone to exhibiting art in their living room have more choices, like showing art in their garage, which is where Oak Park's Suburban began years ago.  With success came remodeling. I love it.

Let me quote from an October '03 Art in America article: Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam are both consummate multitaskers of the kind that are ascendant in today's art world. In addition to teaching full time and maintaining independent studio practices, each regularly contributes to art magazines while sharing the curatorial management of The Suburban, an alternative exhibition space adjacent to their home in Oak Park, III.

See? This is how the art world is changing. Art can been found in all sorts of new and unexpected contexts.  We've got to stay on our toes. Grabner and Killam remodeled their back yard spaces, yielding 3 rooms, none larger than 10 x 15 feet and present focused, quality, small exhibits.  One of the spaces belongs to Shane Campbell. Formerly called Boom, the space now carries his name.

These spaces are all about the art.  I kind of wish they'd have wall labels, and help me understand more readily what's going on, but I'm sure that after a few more visits it'll all become obvious.  Open but a few hours a week - noon to 5 on Saturdays, it's their openings on a Friday evening that are where one of the most vibrant Chicago scenes occurs. Good art, a lawn, some beer and a forever young art crowd might just make Oak Park the center of the emergiscenti art scene.

I sense a ton of excitement burgeoning on the Chicago art scene. I feel like we are on the threshold of major developments, an exploding community, cooperation, shared visions, talent, purposes and landscape altering progress.

I'll have more to say - soon.

Paul Klein