The Danger of Apartment Galleries

July 21, 2009

posted and written by Caroline Picard


becca ward installation from "buttress-buttress-buttress" at the soon-to-close minidutch

What is interesting about the form of the Apartment Gallery is that it is essentially illegal. At least in Chicago, the public consumption of visual art is not allowed in intimate settings, such as a house, an apartment, a garage. That isn’t to say it doesn’t happen, or (even) that the city doesn’t in some blind-eye-manner endorse cultural DIY activity; in fact the city of Chicago seems to enjoy identifying itself with those practices. Nevertheless, said practices are not technically allowed and therefore the city maintains its ability to control those same DIY activities. Ultimately, the city can shut them down.

You may or may not be aware, but lloyd dobler is presently undergoing business license issues. Reported anonymously to the city of Chicago, L.D. was served up with a ticket and a court date.

I don’t think the tension between self-motivated art practice and institutionalized civic life is accidental. Which admits an essential premise I’m beginning with: namely that within our civic context (and from a buerocratic point of view) apartment galleries are benign at best. At worst threatening. While I don’t believe in conspiracies, I believe that things take a natural course; there has always been tension between contemporary art practice and the contemporary status quo. In our day and age, however, much of the cultural production that takes place within the art world has been tamed and funneled into pre-existing power structures that support the larger mainstream umbrella.

Namely, artists seek validation through public acclaim, fame and monetary success. Artists seek our gallery represenation, striving to achieve standing in the commercial market, such that they might support and (thus) justify their art making practice. There is nothing wrong with such hankerings. On the contrary, it is almost impossible to imagine anything else. Afterall, how does an artist justify spending hours reading, thinking, painting, writing in a studio or at a desk while his or her significant other goes to work fourty hours a week in order to support both of them? And what if the artist has a child? How does the artist explain his or her non-commercial and largely interior processes when a kid needs milk money? It is perhaps impossible to strive through contemporary capitalism making objects that do not concern contemporary capitalism; indeed, on such a quest contemporary capitalism becomes a wilderness.

Unless of course there are apartment galleries. Which, while boasting no monetary compensation, appeal to different values, those based on the community in attendance. Within such a community an artist with little to no interest in the commercial world can relate to an audience comprised of other artists, art enthusiasts and, sometimes, before-unexposed ignorants. As such the apartment gallery provides a different criteria for validation. The apartment gallery therefore empowers the individual and small groups of individuals to cultivate their own aesthetics and areas of interest.

Most cultural activity is distributed via mainstream arteries that reach millions of people at once. The same television is watched, the same movies, the same news sources, most people listen to the same bad music (I realize that those of you who read this probably do have access to idiosyncratic, independant, small-run, DIY culture, but I think that we stand in the majority. Argue that point if you like…it seems to me most folks still listen to bad music radio). Therefore the vocabularly with which each of us might dream is very closely the same. And it seems to me, that when you are trying to keep a large population of peope organized it is much easier to organize them if they are more or less the same.

I believe that small hubs like the apartment gallery, the small record label, the small press, underground movie theaters, such venues generate and sustain micro-cultures that encourage unpredictable thoughts, ideas and enthusiasms. If anything, they might simply encourage people to believe once more in the capacity of the individual to influence the world.

To that end, and returning again to the idea of whether or not civic bodies like The City, for instance, actively stamp out independent cultural production: The Apartment Gallery poses the same threat as a house party, until its audience extends beyond the immediate circle of intimates. It was the sandwich board that called attention to the Green Lantern. Because of a sandwich board, the city noticed us and shut us down. Had we never placed a sandwich board on the street we never would have been seen. And yet, it was that same sandwich board which created an opportunity for such pedestrians who have never heard of an Apartment Gallery to come and experience a sub-section of culture. To my mind they were some of the most important visitors, and the people we ought to constantly reach out for.

It has been nice to have my house back. It has been nice to take a break from walking the line between the personal and the private. I’ve made a few meals and had some friends over. I’ve slept late and left various piles of clutter in various corners, where like a teenager, I suppose I’m proving my newly-extended personal domain. Nevertheless, I think the exploration of that tension between public and private, commercial and non, commercial and non-commercial regulated and non-regulated business is good and valuable. It’s worth always carving out our own identities, our own terms and communities and means of support.

And fyi (the culinary tip for the summer) putting bitters in your whip cream is fucking good.

2 Responses to “The Danger of Apartment Galleries”

  1. Young Says:

    Love this.

    “the apartment gallery, the small record label, the small press, underground movie theaters, such venues generate and sustain micro-cultures that encourage unpredictable thoughts, ideas and enthusiasms. If anything, they might simply encourage people to believe once more in the capacity of the individual to influence the world.”

    To those unprivileged with the cultural knowledge and experience that is most accessible in large cities, what does this mean? These spaces are foreign to mainstream audiences precisely because of their opposition to mainstream audiences, and are defined by their often-times sub-cultural/radical identities.

    This often leads to a lot of good art. Like you mention above– the importance of reaching mainstream audiences–there’s a need for gateways that cross cultural, socioeconomic divides. We need artists (for some, whose identity exists in the margins), to bridge that gap for themselves for their artistic practices to really have agency in affecting mainstream modes of representing, thinking, understanding…

  2. In my grandfathers’s time art, much less an apartment gallery, would have been the least of the concerns of Chicago’s ‘finest’. I hope no one in KC is paying any attention to what’s afoot in the Windy city. Otherwise, the first Friday street parties in the Crossroads could become a fundraiser for the city coffers via all sorts of ‘violations’. And we certainly don’t want anyone digging into YJ’s jam sessions…

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