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.

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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

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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.

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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…