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Art Letter (4/06/07)

Iíve been focusing recently on what distinguishes Chicago from other art centers and how the traits of a city influences the art that is made and shown in them.

New York and Los Angeles have different histories than we do.  Theyíre much more interested in stardom than we are. The shallow veneer they pursue often demotes substance in favor of careerism - the overwhelming desire or urge to advance oneís own career or status at the expense of personal interests or social growth.

Weíre not like that. Chicago has an artworld based on work.  And our artists tend to view themselves as workers of the cultural field, no loftier or entitled than construction workers.  We value process and ability much more than hyperbole. A work ethic instead of mercurial pursuit of success.

Iím intrigued by how the history many of us and many artists have lost touch with or never even know nevertheless influences and shapes the art that is made here. Chicago has long been a blue collar town. This is a place where people came to work - the the Stockyards, the Exchanges, in commerce and in art.

Thereís a great show at
Corbett vs Dempsey that illustrates this point beautifully. Titled Bold Saboteurs; Collage & Construction in Chicago, the exhibit presents about 50 years of fabulous art cobbled together in Chicago. Yes, the show is all about wonderful artists who use(d) found materials to make art, but it also presents art that is of substance, often made from detritus, by people who were compelled to make art because they had to and not because art-making served as a vehicle for a more monied life, or attention, or fame.  The art is not calculated or vapid and it doesnít need to be explained by artspeak on wall labels.  It is about the work.

Maybe itís a Midwestern trait. Maybe itís associated with farming, working the earth, using oneís hands and the rewards for a good dayís work. Maybe itís about an honest relationship between an artist and his or her audience.  Or maybe itís just about being honest with oneself.

Look at the remarkable pieces by
Ralph Arnold, Morris Barazani, Lillian Rammel, Tony Fitzpatrick, Jim Faulkner. Ray Yoshida and H.C. Westermann for starters.

Itís all about the art.  And while I suspect they artists are all more influenced by their lives in Chicago than the noise of the artworld, they were not ignorant.  They and we know whatís going on. We just pursue our lives a bit differently.

Two days ago I heard the
Martís Chris Kennedy speak about Chicago being a meritocracy, a city where art has the power to influence the lives of the citizenry, a city that can work together to recreate an art fair the way it should be, a city where art can augment the economic engine. On one hand, this is radical thinking, different from how the preponderance of the artworld operates, and at the same time a direct extension of what it means to make art in Chicago.

In 1980
Robert Nickle wrote:

    I sometimes wonder why I feel a compatibility to street scrap. I thought about it and remember trips to the city dump when I was a kid. There were spectacular things. I used to go with my dad.

And 27 years later Tony Fitzpatrick writes:

    I make my living as an artist. Truth be told the artworld has never been my home.  I donít care about Ďisms,í theory, or any of the other artworld crap that is the coin of the realm. I make art out of the stuff that most people throw away or drop into a drawer. No place in the contemporary artworld is there even a whiff of working class people - itís mostly about fashion.

There are myriad groups working to make a difference.  It is entirely possible that what is going on in Chicago today will alter the way art business is done globally and forever influence how and why people buy art

Talk about a work ethic. Take a gander at
Barbara Koenenís work at Polvo, also opening tonight in a small group show with CarianaCarianne, Kim Frieders, Jaime Mendoza and Miguel Cortez. Koenen makes her art by dropping the likes of paprika, poppy seeds, turmeric, ginger, fennel and ground coffee in the patterns of Afghan war rugs.  One sneeze and itís gone. Itís about the work, not the money and certainly not the glory.

Look at the endless work
Ed Marzewski (Edmar) who hosts Version and Lumpen Magazine. Tonight they are having a silent auction fully stocked with wonderful work by Chicago artists giving of themselves so you can ďstealĒ some quality and Version can be a success again this year.

And consider what
ThreeWalls has done in the short time theyíve been in existence, bringing artists from for and wide to Chicago for a one month residency to create and exhibit the art they made while here.  ThreeWalls has moved to a new and larger space on the same floor theyíve occuipied all along. And in a few months the former space will be reincarnated as ThreeWallsSOLO to present by Chicago artists that is being insufficiently seen in our existing support structure. All Good.  Consider what Director Shannon Stratton said just over a month ago:

    In a culture that's so completely saturated with stuff to buy, we're losing an important part of art: artist's practice. We're definitely providing a different place, a different way to look at art here that is concerned with studio time, research and process over product.

Tonight ThreeWalls is opening a new exhibit in 3 parts, each one week long, titled Placing, in which the  curators of the 3 shows (Ruba Katrib, Catherine Forster of LiveBox and Kat Parker and Katie Rashid of Duchess) present videos that comment on the artworld and its self-indulgent artifice.

Itís beginning to feel like a gentle revolution here.  Add all of the above to the tireless, non-remunerated, artist led, efforts of
Sharkforum and Bad at Sports and you start to see a very real, very dynamic, very significant, stunning trend.

Personally, I encourage you strongly to become a part of it. Look for quality.  Look for substance. Avoid vapid crap.  Look for art thatíll stick with you for years instead of minutes. And then buy it. Buy with your heart, your values and your head.  Your values, not anyone elseís. And ignore trends. Buy because it resonates for you.  Your actions will support and shape art in Chicago. Thatís important.

Thank you very much,
Paul Klein