Interview on art21blog

June 9, 2010

posted by Caroline Picard

I was lucky enough to get interviewed by Meg Onli over vacation and the interview posted! So. I thought I’d post the beginnings of it below. You can read the whole thing in its entirety by going here.

The Green Lantern | Caroline Picard

June 8th, 2010
by Meg Onli Bad at Sports

During the golden age of comic books, All-American Comics debuted Alan Scott as the Green Lantern in 1940. At the time, Scott was a railroad engineer who, when in possession of a ring had multiple powers. In Chicago, The Green Lantern is a gallery and press that exhibits and publishes emerging artists and writers. Although Founding Director Caroline Picard lacks the ability to walk through walls and read minds, she has acquired the ability to balance artmaking, running a gallery space and press, writing, and co-producing a podcast about literature.

Meg Onli: The Green Lantern operates both as a gallery and as a publisher. Did you initially see yourself having an exhibition space that also published books or did it begin as one idea that sort of grew into a larger project? Do the two projects ever cross?

Caroline Picard: Yes, actually. I’d been thinking about running a print project for years before The Green Lantern took shape in Chicago. I’d also been exposed to different gallery environments — as an undergrad, I happened into a Baltimore warehouse that had been converted into a gallery where a bunch of artists lived. And then, of course, I worked at threewalls and frequented unusal exhibition spaces here. My impression of those spaces conspired so that when I happened into the loft at 1511 N. Milwaukee Avenue, the idea of opening a gallery/press hit me all at once. The space, the press, and the gallery became a single idea at the same instant, despite being vague notions before. Having said that, my interests in writing and visual work stem from the same place. Because I’m interested in how ideas and mediums influence one another, I like drawing connections between those mediums. It’s the same with public programming. I hosted live music events, performances, screenings, lectures. I started thinking of the space as a gateway for independent and emerging art practice — practices that were not often accessed outside of more traditional, specialized venues.

MO: In the past year, The Green Lantern closed its exhibition space. There has been some discussion about the sustainability of apartment galleries if the city of Chicago continues to regulate how they are operated. What are your future plans for The Green Lantern’s gallery presence?

CP: I love this subject. I find it incredibly interesting that there is an inherent, legal conflict between the apartment gallery and the city. While the conflict seems unnecessary (and silly), it points to the way in which apartment galleries defy traditional models of business classification. The city’s laws are accidentally prohibitive of apartment spaces. The city prosecutes them because it needs money and some dude walking around wants to make his ticket quota to keep his job. To change the laws would mean navigating a bureaucratic mess of red tape. While I think it would benefit everyone to create legal avenues for idiosyncratic, non-commercial exhibition practices, I nevertheless appreciate the way that this relatively self-sustaining community defies civil categories. There is a mix of domestic and public space in which the public party becomes an intimate one. There is very little (if any) money earned from these ventures and as such, the apartment gallery illicits confusion and disbelief. When I talked to people at City Hall it was sort of like, “If it quacks like a gallery and looks like a gallery, what do you mean it’s not a gallery?” or, “You don’t sell artwork? But in these pictures, there is art on the wall. What do you mean there isn’t any revenue?” What I find most interesting, however, is that the community that attends those spaces understands how to relate to them.

posted by Caroline Picard

From Newcity’s 411 section:

You can read the whole piece by going here.

It’s a gallery! It’s a performance space! It’s a bookstore! It’s a café! The revived Green Lantern Gallery, temporarily housed at Chicago and Maplewood in Ukrainian Village, permanent location TBD, is aiming to be Chicago’s answer to Gertrude Stein’s living room. It’s an expanded vision of the original Green Lantern Gallery, which director Caroline Picard once ran out of her apartment. When the city shut it down due to an ordinance against such ventures, it left Picard with a choice: go big or go home (no pun intended). She’s going big. The new dream is a joint collaboration with featherproof books, another independent press interested in books that cross the boundaries between visual art and literature. “It’s like a high-school mega crush,” featherproof’s Zach Dodson says of the relationship between the presses. Picard recounts their fateful meeting at the NEXT art fair as a “marathon… of gossip and story-swapping and big-bang idea speculation.”

From Phonebook 2008-2009

April 16, 2010

posted and written by Caroline Picard

This was published a few years ago in PHONEBOOK, (published jointly by threewalls & the green lantern press) an index/archive of “alternative” art practice across the country. I’m revisiting all this stuff at the moment as I work to put together some thoughts on the next incarnation of The Green Lantern.

APOLOGIA

Last fall I met a Canadian fellow in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I was in the middle of a meditation retreat and he happened to be there for the same. A few of us in the group woke up early one day, before the sunrise, to hike up one of the peaks. We wanted to get to the top in time to see the sun kiss the flanks of the surrounding mountains. We woke up in the middle of the dark and made our way through the woods, tripping now and again on stray roots in the ground. Aside from our footsteps everything was terribly still, the dark a thick cloak of ink around everything. While I could feel my companions close, I could not make out their faces. One woman was wearing a white sweatshirt and aside from the tiny flashlight orbs, trained on the ground, she was the thing to follow. Her shirt a ghost.

At a certain point on the hike, I realized that Henry regularly referred to a woman in his life. Jill, her name was. She lived in New York. He lived Vancouver. He didn’t call her his girlfriend. He only called her by name. And yet she frequented enough of his stories, as a sideline, not the subject, that the intimacy of their relationship became clear.

Finally at breakfast another one of the hikers, Mike, asked about her.
“Who is Jill? Is she your girlfriend? She sounds important.”
“That’s funny that,” he said. The way he spoke, his words were flecked with a European inflection, what I at first assumed was part of the Canadian way. “We spent forever trying to work out what to call ourselves. We tried everything. We weren’t happy with any of them. Girlfriend/boyfriend. Lover. Friend. My parents are Dutch immigrants, so we even tried some other words, amore, leipschen. Cabbage. Each thing seemed too limited, too entrenched in a system of expectations and roles and obligations. Obligations that were imposed by society, as part of the definition of those terms.
“Each name seemed to come with a job description, and yet we felt ourselves distinct. The joy of our relationship has come from the sense that we have a non-traditional bond. It felt important to represent that. And finally we decided to create a name for ourselves, a title we each agreed to.”

You can imagine, of course, at this point in the conversation the whole table was waiting, the knives and forks suspended for a moment; steam from tea rising, a few peculiar smiles on the faces of his audience. Many of them wore wedding bands.
“We came up with Companeres Amores. It seems to best fit how we feel about one another.”

To my mind, it is additionally perfect because the name belies certain awkwardness, acknowledging the need to appropriate another language, reaching outside of one tradition to another, in order to transplant another set of terms that might function as a blank slate. It wouldn’t do to make up a name from gibberish, for in doing so one runs the risk of denying a certain degree of importance in the relationship being named. Instead one looks for name that carries with it enough meaning, a meaning that is nevertheless ambiguous, so that the power of defining meaning clearly is in the hands of the founding members.

After the release of last year’s PHONEBOOK, I heard concerns, nothing directly, but maybe in the way that these communities operate, through a chain of conversations that traveled like a brush fire through the community. One group started talking about the problem with the title “Alternative Art space,” and whether or not they felt comfortable being represented under that moniker. Members of that conversation ended up at a bar, perhaps, a few weeks later and the subject came up again, and so on. The obvious failings of the term came to light within the same community our index is trying to represent.

I believe that in this way, in discovering the limitations of this or that, we might discover, collectively, through dialogue, more common ground. Through these conversations we might reach toward a clarity of vision, something that will both further define the unique and peculiar manifestations of each space, while also demonstrating something common: an impulse, one or several goals, a questioning of culture as it is. While developing that dialogue, mapping out intentions and choices, we may actually empower ourselves as well. In my mind, the most important thing to recognize is that there will never be one name that incorporates each space. If anything each space is like it’s own family, operating like a tribe within each city. At the same time, there is at least one thing that we all share: that is, we are creating different kinds of cultural venues, providing new and idiosyncratic personalities in the midst of an increasingly homogenous cultural landscape.

Nevertheless, I think it’s important that we don’t let our differences prevent collaboration. If we are to celebrate community, personality and culture outside of the mainstream, if we really want to influence the world in which we live, we must embrace and celebrate one another as much as we do ourselves.

In some sense this is an apologia. Apologizing up front for the invariable ways in which PHONEBOOK will fall short of a complete and perfect categorical index. We don’t even scratch the surface. I’m sure about that. Furthermore we are celebrating a myriad of practices, and imagining that one term would sufficiently sum everything up would do us a disservice. It is precisely because the venues listed here provide different colors, emphasese and aesthetics that they accomplish so mean so much to the communities involved.

I’m additionally sure that, despite our best efforts, PHONEBOOK 2008/2009 will make other blunders, an issue not addressed that perhaps misrepresents one or another of the organizations listed. In anticipation of those instances, I would invite everyone to send us an email, write a letter or even just talk to your peers. We want to hear them. Those moments are opportunities for better understanding.

Like Henry and Jill, a number of these organizations, if not all, are working to redefine their relationship in society. There is a great power in naming things. I would argue that, through the naming things, we define our world, isolating traits that seem most prominent and then, through the exercise of that name, those traits seem to best embody the thing itself. Whether one calls the world ugly, or beautiful, for instance, affects the way one sees that same world. More importantly though, names reflect the way we think about things, and way one thinks about his or her community, its extent, its bounds, will influence the impact it might have. We have kept the name Alternative Art space on the list. Some spaces use it. It is also a name recognized by the greater public, one with perhaps less access to these watering holes. It is important to give that public a chance to see these spaces, for it is likely that more opportunities to experience divergent cultural media will have a long standing impact on the world we live in.

OTHER NAMES
companeres amores
lover
palace
project space
project
progressive institution
center for development of contemporary aesthetics
cultural center
gallery
apartment gallery
exhibition venue
homeslice
the underground
clique
DIY
neighborhood space
rumpous room
anarchist collective
collective
play room
sweetheart
garage gallery
nookie
art practice
watering hole
bedroom
closet
bitch
ass hat
community space
family
babe
house project

posted by Caroline Picard

This was published a few weeks ago in the weekend redeye…..Go here to read the whole thing.

Roommates turn Logan Square apartment into art gallery

user-pic
Mike Hines on 11.06.09 | 7 comments // |
art.jpgArt Institute graduate students Katherine Pill, 26 (right), and Francesca Wilmott, 24, operate the Concertina Gallery out of their own apartment. Brian J. Morowczynski for RedEye

By Ryan Smith
For RedEye

Most curators don’t make a habit of sleeping next to their exhibits, but Katherine Pill and Francesca Wilmott wake up to their art every morning.

When the roommates take a few steps out of their bedrooms and beyond the kitchen of their second-floor apartment, they enter a living and dining room virtually devoid of furniture.

Where a table and chairs might normally sit, a few colorful, spherical objects are carefully arranged on the hardwood floor. And on the wall, where you might normally find framed family photos, there hang a volcano made of denim and a computer-generated image of faceless sheep floating in a dream world.

posted and written by Caroline Picard

It only just occured to me that probably one of the reasons I’ve been so negligent with blog posts is because I’ve been working on these longer pieces of writing. This one in particular, I toiled over a little. Here is the latest and almost-almost last draft. (there are a number of footnotes that didn’t translate in my copy/paste, so i’ll likely post them as their own posts over the next couple of days. the footnotes refer to private/personal experiences and examples that flesh out, albeit obliquely, the following essay)

on the matter of public vs private space

“ ‘Oh, you have a roommate?’
“ ‘Yeah, she’s actually here right now, but she’s sick….Don’t do that—she’s trying to sleep.’
“I heard them but pretended to remain asleep by keeping my eyes closed; [closing your eyes] is what passed for privacy then. My ‘room’ was in a corner of the kitchen on the other side of a folding screen. If you were tall enough, you could see me from either side at any time. The above exchange took place during the installation of a show when I happened to have a cold. I lived at the Green Lantern from 9/06 to 8/07. Recently out of college, I moved to Chicago to get my bearings. I had just spent two years living in the French countryside with no heat, no car, no Internet, no noise, no zines, no sushi, no shows, no jargon. When I moved in, I had never owned a computer. Suddenly I was in the middle of an art scene.”

“Any Chicagoan who’s hip to the jive knows that an apartment gallery poses a unique set of problems. Someone actually lives there—sleeps and cooks and poos there—and yet the obligatory neutral space of the gallery must remain white-walled, spacious, antiseptic. At the GL in the earlier days, the gallery was clean, airy, spare, while on just the other side of a makeshift wall was a seething and barely-controlled chaos. A visiting friend once described the living space as ‘under a great deal of pressure,’ like the lack of density in the gallery half had to be balanced by ultra-density in the living half. This density consisted of, among other things, a large mounted buck complete with antlers, a five foot plaster statue of a fat man with an umbrella, a bong made out of steak shellacked to a milk carton, a taxidermied rooster, two large Chinese screens, many works of art in various stages of undress, two living cats…enough plates and stemware to host a diplomatic gala, a sink doubling as a bookshelf, a home-made up-ended ‘bar,’ an enormous vintage fridge, a miniature vintage stove, an easel, double-stacked books, innumerable trinkets ranging from delicate Eastern figurines to an ancient can of spam, an old-fasioned sandwich press, two dictaphones, one enormous toaster (not in use) and a tiny one (in use). People liked throwing around comparisons to Alice in Wonderland, but that was legit. The fact that the two-foot high pepper-mill was three times as tall as the delicate tea-pot, for instance, made me wonder if I’d accidentally swallowed a pill. And keep in mind that I’ve listed perhaps a sixteenth of the contents of those two or three improvised rooms. I haven’t even mentioned the huge quantities of building supplies, the aluminium ladder, the planks and tools and cans of paint…”

This book is filled with the evidence of relationships. It is a book of conversations, including conversations about conversations and, sometimes, conversations about conversations about conversations. Each perspective constitutes one piece of an artist-run community reflecting on its endeavors. While it is important to archive these conversations for the community to which it speaks, it is also important to examine the consequences of such a culture in the context of a larger world—a world unfamilar with the pattern of organizations described herein. Particularly if the conversations outlined here claim to cultivate new models for achievement, one must consider what the artist-run community looks like from the outside, from the vantage of a stranger.
What, indeed, is transgressive about artist-run exhibition spaces? Certainly those contained in this book will have their theories and while some of these organizations were constructed as political experiements, a number of them won’t characterize their activity as political at all, saying instead that running a space is done for personal/professional experience, or as an experiment, or a labor of love. And yet. Regardless of stated intentions, all action is political.  Such an opinion comes from within a community where the practice of running an apartment gallery is fairly common.  In order to categorize such activities as transgressive or political, one must label them somehow. In doing so, necessary comparisons must be made to the world at large. Generalizations must be made about what the world at large consists of, what expectations it places upon members of its society and, ultimately, how its constituents measure themselves.
When compared to the world we watch on television, the practice of apartment galleries seems absurd.  Compared to the stories told via sitcoms and commercials, all young women want to get married, everyone wants to be famous and all clothes look brand new. Obviously the average viewer is literate enough to know that television is a fictionalized hyper-reality. Nevertheless as a primary source of cultural consumption, the average viewer does not likely recognize the more subtle conventions that support the more prominent story lines. One does not watch typically watch television with a rigourous, critical appetite. A home, for instance, means something specific. As a cultural symbol it provides the framework for countless many sticoms—a framework based on common expectations of what a home should supply to its occupants. The viewer won’t likley concieve of their living room as a potentially public place, a place for cultural distribution. Building a public environment of cultural creativity in one’s home challenges traditional boundaries between public and private spheres just as it encourages intimacy between the art object and its epicyclic community. In such a community, relationships become as important as the work on display and validation occurs through the communal support of such spaces.
The collusion of public and private space, mixed with a living contemporary art and the communities that support it, is transgressive in and of itself. Such a recipe breaks down the societal expectations of public activity. Furthermore apartment galleries agitate common definitions of “home” and “domestic space.” The people who inhabit apartment galleries organize thier homes according to the possible descent of an unknown body of people: the public. Meanwhile the public modifies their expectation of public space such that they are sensitive to the generosity of their hosts. A code of behavior has manifested between the host and the public. That code, while organic in its inception, facilitates the relationship between the audience, the art and thier administrative hosts. While not readily apparent,  Sarah Stickney witnessed that code as a newcomer only to embrace it as a resident.
In Chicago, the public consumption of visual art is not allowed by law to exist in intimate settings, (the house, the apartment, the garage, etc.,). The apartment gallery is essentially illegal. The illegality of these spaces occurs when they struggle for some shred of sustainability (i.e. through the selling of goods),  attempt to operate legally (by way of purchasing the necessary licenses and tearing through the ensuant red tape of beurocacy), or when they attempt to avail themselves to a larger audience, one not restricted to facebook friends.
Obviously that isn’t to say apartment galleries don’t happen, or (even) that the city doesn’t in some blind-eye-manner endorse cultural DIY activity; the city of Chicago seems to enjoy identifying itself with those practices.  Nevertheless, said practices are not technically allowed. Thus, while a private party is acceptable, a publicized, public exhibition is not—especially when money changes hands. The city maintains its ability to control the watering holes this community frequents; the city can shut apartment galleries down.

In our day and age 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. Artists often seek gallery representation, striving to achieve standing in the commercial market, such that they might support and (thus) justify their art making practice through the pursuit of public acclaim and monetary compensation. It makes sense. It is almost impossible to expect anything else. After all, how does an artist justify spending hours reading, thinking, painting, and writing in a studio while his or her significant other goes to work sixty 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 school clothes? It is perhaps impossible to strive through consumer culture, where legitimacy is typically measured by purchasable signs of success—cars, televisions, clothes etc., making objects that are neither compensated by monetary sums nor attributed with an inherent non-market value.  Indeed, on such a quest the consumer landscape becomes a veritable wilderness.
It is thus essential to creat new methods of public validation. Exhibitions are one way to take a potentially monkish studio practice and drop it into the public sphere in which an audience can respond. Apartment galleries, while affording meagre monetary relief, at least appeal to different values, values determined by the community in attendance. Within such a community an artist with little to no interest in (or access to), the commercial world can relate to an audience comprised of other artists, art enthusiasts and, sometimes, naives. Further, they can contextualize their efforts to their family, the same spouses or parents that might support them. The apartment gallery provides a different criteria for validation and empowers small groups of individuals to cultivate unique and potentially iconoclastic aesthetics.
Meanwhile, 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 owned by the same parent companies. Most people listen to the same music, read the same books and, therefore, refer to the same common body of knowledge. Contemporary America has a common vocabulary of cultural symbols which comprise the dreams of the invidual. It is possible, for instance, that Tom Cruise made over a million cameos in dreams across the country last night. While the peculiar context for his manifestation varied, he is nevertheless saddled with very similar assocations, associations that stem from the celebrity of his public persona. As the mechanism of such a society continues, as the material for our thoughts sets, it will be harder and harder to transcend ourselves and the ideas that we take for granted. It will be harder and harder, therefore, to have new ideas, moments of inspiration, and innovation.
I believe that small hubs like the apartment gallery, the small record label, the small press, the underground movie theater: 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.
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.

posted and written by Caroline Picard

buttress

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.

Sandwich Boarding

February 24, 2009

posted by caroline picard

NewCity wrote a little something about the business license situation, which is much appreciated. You can see what they wrote by going here.

I’ve got a second court date this Friday to look into the matter — what I anticipate will result in some kind of conclusive action. At that time I’ll be sending out a larger, longer email with details and whatever else, so stay tuned. In the meantime I continue to talk to people at City Hall- so. On va voir.

Okay, so the last bit I’ll post from my essay–I try to add some drama to the critical claims of my rather creative essay by problematizing apartment galleries, informed by my participation in the local art community.  I am cognizant of the potential pitfalls of my engagement with the very artworld I feel at odds with at times…still, exploring such issues are important to me, insofar as I’m a marginally socially engaged artist.

green-lantern-gallery-2008-23

Though in some instances apartment galleries seem to accelerate their own demise, others can achieve sustainability.  Through continued positive reception of art exhibitions by an art-viewing public, an apartment gallery’s profile may rise, and through the expansion of its audience and exposure to art administrators (who wield the power of gatekeepers of the art world), an apartment gallery that was previously perceived as “alternative” can exchange that label for that of the “avant-garde,” thereby taking a legitimized place in the art world.  An example of an apartment gallery that has risen to a position of greater visibility and power in Chicago’s art world is Green Lantern Gallery & Press.
Green Lantern Gallery & Press started out as an apartment gallery and is now a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in the Wicker park neighborhood of Chicago.  It is divided in half; the street-side front is the exhibition space, and the back end was originally the living space of Caroline Picard, who started the apartment gallery in 2005.   Green Lantern went from hosting monthly art exhibitions to publishing literature and incorporating music and performance events.  In 2007 it started a monthly literary reading series, broadcast on the Internet as a widely available podcast.  As a result of the growth of the organization, Picard moved out of the space in the summer of 2008; during that time the space was renovated:  the gallery walls were pushed farther back, and the apartment portion was hidden more effectively.  The former apartment portion of the space now functions as a common area and office space.
Green Lantern was able to evade the common fate of apartment galleries’ demise in the face of gentrification by undergoing a rebirth as a non-profit organization and receiving state grants.  Though it initially presented itself as an alternative to established institutions, it has now gained a position of power within the local art world, through engaging a large and diverse audience via various mediums.  This raises the question: once an alternative art space like Green Lantern becomes a “legitimate” venue in the art world, does it become complicit in perpetuating the same issues of socioeconomic inequality in the art world, wherein artistic experience (education and exposure) is deemed necessary for the viewing of art–and adjudicates quality and success?  This tension is crystallized in Green Lantern’s recent release of the second annual national directory of alternative art spaces, PHONEBOOK.   In addition to providing a guide of alternative art spaces and potentially opening insular alternative art communities, PHONEBOOK can also be seen as a means of positioning alternative art spaces for cooption into the mainstream art world.
Perhaps this is an indication of the blurring distinctions between “alternative” culture and the “mainstream” art world.  So-called “alternative” art spaces have the potential to bridge communities and influence shifts in institutional hierarchies within the art world, which brings contention to the perceived distinction of apartment galleries as “alternative.”  The history of alternative discourses of dissention suggests that these discourses will continue to reinvent themselves concurrent with the cyclical reforms of institutional powers.  Thus, this process of reinvention belies the ideological flaws of an individual alternative art space at a particular moment.
Alternative or mainstream, non-commercial or commercial, the display of art remains a social and economic practice rooted in capitalist society.  Isolationist practices that reject the spectator and commerce also reject art’s social agency.  Apartment galleries play a role in the development of new art markets and socio-political-cultural markets alike.  Apartment galleries contribute to the greater art world, insofar as they exist within the same economic systems of the display, patronage, and commodification of art.

–Young Joon

320x320saic-logo_1208103719

This is another little snippet from my essay on apartment galleries.  I’ve chosen to exclude the names of certain local spaces and institutions “*****,” as indicated in the essay:

***** attracts a community that largely consists of students from ***** Institute of Chicago, recapitulating the same social groups and dynamics at play within the school.  ***** is one of many art spaces scattered around Chicago that act as satellite spaces for the city’s larger cultural institutions.  Much like the spectators for museums and most commercial galleries that display works with values confirmed by the normative blessing of the institutions, spectators of spaces like ***** derive sanctioned validation from an accredited source, because of its connections to cultural institutions and the conventional professionalism of the spaces.  Even though a large number of participants in alternative culture often reject the accreditation of the institutions, a community united around dissent still creates insular networks that revolve around alternative art spaces, becoming hegemonies within the constraints of alternative culture.  These networks perpetuate the insular circulation of cultural capital within a community, and aid and abet the reinforcement of social class distinctions and artistic hierarchies, similar to the functions of institutions within the art world.
An increase of an apartment gallery’s contributions to a community’s culture or the space’s supposed aura of “cool,” raises the neighborhood’s profile.  Those who are interested in locating themselves in the culture of individuality associated with artistic production seek out these spaces, and patronize their neighborhoods.  Historically, communities oriented around cultural consumption are drawn to neighborhoods tied to the notion of artistic mythos, and cause coffee shops, restaurants, and other commercial sites to spring up nearby, accelerating gentrification of the neighborhood.  The Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago exemplifies how music and artistic development impels gentrification of a neighborhood, and attracts large-scale real estate development and commerce.
When the process of gentrification engrosses a neighborhood, this typically leads to the demise of the apartment gallery or its relocation to another neighborhood, due to the increase of rent, and the coinciding migration of its original audience and other supportive art spaces in the neighborhood. Their existence is organic, regenerating like cells of a larger body.  This cycle takes place repeatedly, from neighborhood to neighborhood.  Such is the nature of apartment galleries: the life of one apartment gallery may be ephemeral, but others continue to sprout up elsewhere.

The last part of the essay, which I’ll post next is about Green Lantern.

–Young Joon

Apartment Galleries #1

December 10, 2008

Uyyy, I’ve been writing a long ass essay for my application to a MA program on the socioeconomics of the apartment gallery and its relation to the institutions of the art world…

I’ve decided to post snippets of this essay, which appropriates chunks of other thinkers’ ideas, in three installments on this dear blog; remember kids, Green Lantern was once an Apartment Gallery!

Young Joon

The democratic forum for free opinion in postwar America expanded to discussions amongst citizens—of art objects that didn’t do anything, and weren’t worth anything, but which were perceived to embody values they held dear enough to argue about and invest in.  This led to what art critic Dave Hickey termed the “Secular Reformation—a return of the Word at the expense of the flesh and a new jihad against idolaters, now guilty of ‘commodification.’”  That is to say, this birthed the modern art world (the social system centered around artistic production and commerce).  Institutions such as The Museum of Modern Art in New York and The Art Institute of Chicago held power in the art world, and promoted tenets on behalf of an ongoing “critique of representation.” As Hickey observes, This drove contemporary art to functioning much like religious art had in the past—promoting social divisions, official policy, and commerce.

Apartment galleries and a plethora of independent art spaces, which now thrive in Chicago, seek to demonstrate against standards of the art world and advocate their own vision of power and beauty; they rose from the alternative discourse of embodied dissent.  Yet, though apartment galleries exist under the rubric of alternative culture, they can still reinforce socioeconomic divisions and reinstitute art world hegemonies: they often perform insularity similar to that which takes place within the art world.  In fact, alternative art spaces often feed into the practices of the very institutions that these spaces initially functioned to criticize—such is the paradox of alternative discourses.

An apartment gallery is a residential apartment that includes an art gallery, with boundaries that are defined by the resident/gallerist.   Artists often start these spaces seeking sustainable modes for displaying their work.  Apartment galleries are often in violation of legal codes and other official statutes.  They are transient, vulnerable to the limits of leases and increases in rent.  Their presence is an act of assertion over a space in which one has very little real control but very much perceived agency.  These are a collective enterprise —a fluctuating network of complex relationships amongst art spaces and negotiations between the tangible dichotomies of artist/community, private/public, alternative/mainstream, and art/domesticity.

Apartment galleries provide alternative models for artistic success, insofar as the most common measure of success within the art world is indoctrination into the cultural institution.  The art institution gives value and meaning to a given artwork, since artworks are created through the subjective experience of the artist.  Without the aura of importance bestowed upon an artwork by the institution, the greater public would be unaware of the work’s significance.  Thus the institution provides an external, authoritative mechanism to substantiate an artwork’s contribution via the general public’s realization of the objective value of an artwork within the larger cultural market.

Cultural institutions perform a distancing act of sorts between social classes despite their pretense of democratic universalism, by stating their positions regarding what art is and how it is to be viewed.  The institutional model for viewing artwork (currently concordant with Kantian aesthetic theory—whereby a certain level of cultural competence is required for the proper experience of art) implies the notion that the less educated—typically those of a lower class—lack the academic qualifications and exposure to aesthetic experiences requisite for properly experiencing art.  The art expert gains cultural capital , through his/her reliance on the institution of art-historical training as the necessary means of gaining the tools for appreciating works of art.  This can be seen as a way by which class inequalities are perpetrated and perpetuated.

Artistic experience functions differently in apartment galleries.  By introducing aesthetic ideas to their neighborhood, they can potentially incite a cultural dialogue with members of their local community.  The presence of an apartment gallery within a residential neighborhood is inherently political; the resident has adopted a position of social agency within a community during a time of increasing widespread isolationism.  Due to the apartment gallery’s close proximity to one’s home, art is introduced into the practice of one’s everyday life.  This can cause one to feel any number of different emotions and thoughts. Be it pride, wonder, antagonism or intrusion, such reactions exemplify art’s social agency. However, the full social potential of an apartment gallery depends on the apartment gallerist and how he/she engages the local community.

lilyespacia

In the case of my apartment gallery, la espacia, the neighborhood is vital to the praxis of the gallery’s inception.    la espacia is located in a street-level apartment of a 2-flat in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, a community predominantly inhabited by working-class Mexican families that made their homes here generations prior to my settling in it.  My entrance into the neighborhood, along with that of the growing number of art students who live in surrounding blocks, and the emergence of an artists’ book store in an old storefront about a block away, are indicative of the gentrification that has begun in the neighborhood.  I chose the three double-pane windows that face the sidewalk as the main mode of reception for art exhibitions because I felt that was the way I could reach the largest and most diverse audience.  I hang artwork on a wall on casters, which I built.  During the day, the wall is kept to one side of the dining room to let light in.  At night the wall is rolled against the window and front lit so that the public can view it.  I conceived this as a sort of site-specific installation wherein conventions of public commercial displays (store window displays, billboards), along with administrative, preparatory, and curatorial practices, became essential elements of this project, and by extension, my artistic practice: the apartment gallery as art studio.
What are the implications of an apartment gallery that is open to the public, but essentially serves the gallerist, him/herself?  Do apartment galleries merely cultivate the personal status, lifestyle and the acquisition of social and cultural capital by the gallerist and artist?  The apartment gallerist explores these and other issues through real-time lived-in experience.
To be continued…