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Art Letter Review #2

I bought a hamburgerthe Pilsen Art Walk 2004, 

Mary Beyer

The annual Pilsen art walk is a great event for the city, arts community and local neighborhood.  As a resident of Pilsen, I have the distinct privilege of observing this event from a dual perspective: that of a resident and a member of the arts community.

I maintain that in our often utopian minds we’d like to think the combination of art lover and resident is a frequent occurrence in Pilsen. Indeed, in certain sections this combination exists.  But for the majority of Pilsen residents, who by now have most likely come to accept the inevitable gentrification of their area, it represents just that and in some ways increases the divide.  From what I understand, just as little as five years ago, Pilsen was a rough area.  Maybe my Brooklyn background has cushioned me, but I think it’s quiet and friendly (sometimes).  But I’ve only been here for two years and am part of the process that I’m about to criticize. 

Artists, driven by the quest for cheap rent, are usually the first brave souls to move into a tough run down area. Slowly studios multiply, young couples move in and a popular coffee chain usually pops up around the corner. I’m not pretending to be a Marxist, I like the Caribou coffee on Maxwell Street and I am ambivalent about it coming just a bit further south to 18th Street.  However the problem poised in Pilsen now is not about avoiding gentrification, because it’s too late, it’s about doing it right, and I have to say given the plethora of bad art I saw at the art walk, it’s going to be an exceptional individual (whose name will probably not be Podmajersky) to successfully carry this out in order to benefit artists as well as original neighborhood dwellers.

Taste, as Kant defined it, is a subjective judgment with an inability to be proven.  Therefore, you could argue the art in Pilsen is quality work, but I would assert that it lacks ingenuity and seriousness, I think it’s put there just to be put there with little thought as to its content and contribution to the canon. By far the main purveyor of this atrocity is the large space occupied by Charcoll, an artist run collective.  This isn’t the first time I’ve visited and I swear the “Death” show they have now looked exactly like the “Grotesques” show they had last month.  It is just bad, bad painting. Down the block at 1900 South Halsted, deemed an alternative space, I’m not sure what’s going on in there.  I believe each month a new renter puts up an exhibition but how can they all be bad and why do we need a black light to look at paintings? If this is alternative (which I think is a bad way to define art) I’ll take traditional. 

However not all of the art was putrid and the curated spaces were something to take note of.  The show at 4Art Inc. (of which I am usually not a fan) featuring 11 artists from COVA (The University of Chicago Committee on Visual Arts) was well put together.  I thought Kimberley Aubuchon’s co-curated show, CS: 34, featuring the best work from Pilsen was intriguing.  It was good to see the juxtaposition of artists such as Michelle Litvin with Marcos Raya. Aldo Castillo’s curated show “Eyes on Pilsen!” was strong, exhibiting works by Judith Geichman, Heather Lyon and Sandra Bermudez whose pieces featured close ups of juicy red and pink lips.

Another exceptional place was The Hamburger Gallery or House of Hamburger. Artist Derek Erdman uses roy g. biv colors on large pieces of corkboard where he depicts fifties style cartoon characters (think Dick Tracy and Archie).
My husband, who hates to pay full price for art, managed to get a coloring book by the artist thrown in with our purchase of one of his hamburger paintings.  Titled “It’s OK to be a Man” the masculinist coloring book stemmed from the artists reaction to a feminist coloring book touted at his workplace. He ironically reflects on the privileges of being accorded balls and takes pleasure in making fun of people with strong convictions, in this case male chauvinists. His style is simple but his comment is meaningful, satirical and subtle.     

Personally, what’s hard to grasp about the art walk is the mix it offers of jewelry and crafts as well as what would be deemed fine art.  I applaud Dubhe Carreno’s gallery and although I’m not a fan of ceramic art, it is a space with unique mission and sense of conviction in both the art it shows and the community. Pilsen has been home to many exceptional spaces but it seems once they gain recognition they move to the West Loop, for example, if I’m not mistaken this is the case with Bucket Rider and 1R. This could turn into a serious problem for Pilsen.  If it continues to operate as a testing ground instead of permanent home for art galleries the art we see now is as good as it is going to get and the neighborhood is worth so much more than neo-fauvist black light sloppy art works. 

Kasia Kay responds:

Dear Mr. Klein,

There are two BIG mistakes in the Art Letter Review #2- Pilsen Walk 2004 (by Mary Beyer).

It says:..."Aldo Castillo’s curated show “Eyes on Pilsen!” was strong, exhibiting works by Judith Geichman, Heather Lyon and Sandra Bermudez whose pieces featured close ups of juicy red and pink lips."

First of all works by Judith Geichman, Heather Lyon, and Sandra Bermudez are exhibited at New Context Gallery located at 1915 S. Halsted. The exhibition is titled "Holiday Art Salon"; it opened on November 12, 2004 and will end on January 15, 2005.

Secondly, it seems that Mary Beyer has mixed up two different exhibitions from the Chicago Arts District (Pilsen area): one mentioned above, and "Eyes on Pilsen" that took place in September. Aldo Castillo shared the space with New Context Gallery then and both galleries displayed on opposite walls of the space. New Context Gallery showed "Lips" by Sandra Bermudez, but there were no art works by Judith Geichman, or Heather Lyon included in that show.

I hope that above corrections to the text by M. Beyer will be made and posted on the Art Letter website. Thank you.

Best regards,
Kasia Kay

gallery founder & director