Art Letter

7/16/10 The Art of Bronzeville

Last month, my wife, Amy, and I did the grand 3rd Friday Night Tour of the Bronzeville Art District.  It was an outstanding evening and it's happening again tonight. Maybe I should refrain from being totally honest here, but I felt like I was in another country - and I loved it.

There are 6 stops on the tour. The museums, galleries and art centers are waiting for you.  One had the best chocolate chip cookies I've had this year.  There are 3 trolleys that run between pairs of institutions - so we opted to drive ourselves, using our navigator - otherwise, with the trolleys you would likely only take in 2, though feasibly you could get in a second set - but certainly not all 6.

I'm pretty sure we did not pick the most efficient route, but that's part of the fun - just like when we're in another city - a fair amount of exploring, discovery, awareness and reward - no cookie cutter, homogenized sameness from gallery to gallery like I often see.   We started at
Little Black Pearl. (One can draw a straight line, via Theaster Gates, from Little Black Pearl to the Whitney Biennial.)  Little Black Pearl has classes and beautiful exhibits, where the art is for sale and the prices are accessible.

Maybe we should have started at
The DuSable Museum, for an overview. This is a charming, underfunded museum that addresses the grand vision of African-American history and culture. Its done a good job with what it's got, but it's a big subject that deserves to be covered in depth. If only the DuSable Museum had more money!

We all know I go to a helluva lot of art exhibits in Chicago.  We know I am egalitarian and want art to be accessible. We know that I encourage people to broaden their horizons and seek culture where they normally wouldn't.  And I am guilty of insufficiently following my own advice.  The reason this tour is so wonderful is because there's so much to see, so much to experience and because I was so ignorant.  Inexcusably, this was my first visit to the DuSable Museum in the 30 years I've lived here. I'd been to 3 of the 6 venues before, but doing it all in one night got me in touch with a a part of town I've under-appreciated, an aesthetic as strong as any, but inadequately embraced by me, and  whole lot of wonderful, gracious people eager to share their culture and values with a growing audience.

Faie African Art Gallery was an unexpected gem.  I'm sorry, but I've only seen white people selling African art before.  Seems rather detached.  It's a much richer experience to have a Black woman who viscerally understands the culture and the art discuss it with you.  Worth a trip all by itself - and the cookies were exceptional.

Blanc Gallery is beautiful and in an attractive building. I'm not sure I have the place figured out. The space is nice. The art is good. Yet the feeling remains that the gallery is primarily rented out for functions and the art is secondary.  Blanc Gallery is still worth a quick visit because of the elegance of the facility and its outdoor courtyard.

I can count the very few Chicago cultural institutions that have been around for 70 years on one hand.
The South Side Community Art Center is one of them. It is proud, beautiful and very full of art. SSCAC conveys care; care to showcase its community and care to teach and inspire. Staying afloat is obviously tough here, but the value and love is palpable. Charles White, Gordon Parks and Archibald Motley are alumni.

There are many outstanding African-American artists exhibiting in Bronzeville. Many go on to significant careers, at about which point white people begin to appreciate them. But we are damned late.  It is stupid to wait for it to come to us when we can go right there. There is some great art at prices that are a digit less than they will be when they leap the white divide.

One of the most generous and affective leaders of Bronzeville is
André Guichard of Guichard Gallery. His constant encouragement to get me and everyone else to Bronzeville is paying off. I bet the tours were his idea and he deserves massive credit for weekly generating a video showcase of Bronzeville collectors. I believe he has identified 100 worthy participants.

Those of us in the artworld pretend to be open minded, up for new experiences, inclusive, and say we value art of all cultures. But maybe we aren't what we think we are. Artists of color are always looking at the white mainstream, yet invariably remain true to the life experiences in their art.  On the other hand, us white folks are pretty much ignorant. We stick to our path until it is a rut.

It's time our attitude and our behavior grows up - and participating in the Bronzeville Art District Tour - ever third Friday of the month, through October - is a very good way to start!

Thank you,
Paul Klein