Walk past Bronzeville’s Gallery Guichard on any given night and it’s likely that your eyes will be drawn to the bright colors illuminated inside its windows. The sight is enough to catch anyone’s interest, which is what happened to Tempestt Hazel, a student at Columbia College who is now the assistant gallery manager. She became curious about the gallery after passing it on her way to and from school. “You can’t help but be drawn inside,” she said.
Once in, you may not want to leave. The inviting hues emanating from the windows are even more striking inside. Works by Charlotte Riley-Webb and Louis Delsarte, two artists based in Atlanta, currently brighten the gallery’s second and third floors. These are just two of the nationally and internationally renowned artists of the African diaspora (the movement of Africans and their descendants throughout the world) that have been displayed at Gallery Guichard. Local talent lines the walls of the first story.
According to its mission statement, Gallery Guichard aims to “continue to expose the art community to the art of the African diaspora.” The lack of venues for the exhibition of this genre prompted artist and director Andre Guichard to begin the eight-year long process that led to the gallery’s creation. The first step was learning how to build relationships with collectors, whom he sees as central to the fulfillment of the gallery’s mission. He also gained experience as a curator, working at a gallery at River West and later at the South Shore Cultural Center. When he met his wife, Frances Guichard, and business partner, Stephen Mitchell, they began to put their ideas into writing, and eventually transformed them into reality in August 2005.
Gallery Guichard is housed in the landmark Supreme Life building at 3521 S. King Drive, where the first black insurance agency was founded in 1919. Andre Guichard had been considering another location in Pilsen before Frances pointed out that this was “an ideal location–a place where something special was going to happen, where something special had happened before.” The location also furthers Andre Guichard’s goal of contributing to the much-hailed “rebirth of Bronzeville,” a revival of cultural life (and real estate values) that hearkens back to the neighborhood’s glory days in the early twentieth century.
Guichard emphasizes that the gallery is only part of a larger community movement to promote art of the African diaspora. “Our bricks and mortar are collectors,” he said. He sees the role of collectors as “ever-changing,” expanding from the simple purchase of artwork towards more meaningful activism. This includes displaying pieces from the collections, as Stephen Mitchell is currently doing in the exhibit “Living in Color” at Macy’s on State Street. Or it can mean writing a book, such as Daniel T. Parker’s “African Art: The Diaspora and Beyond.” Either way, collectors have the ability to use their connections and influence to move art of this genre into the mainstream.
Nonetheless, Guichard says, the gallery does play a critical role in “expanding the genre of art to a wider base, and becoming a critical component of the whole Chicago art landscape.” He believes that with such a transformation, “Chicago could surpass New York culturally. It has an equally wide cultural fabric. Bronzeville art is no different than the art in Chelsea or Soho.” He ought to know, having spent the past two weekends in New York with Frances, exhibiting work at the National Black Fine Art Show and the Albany Art Museum.
By promoting art of African diaspora, Guichard hopes to “help individuals see the broadness, beauty, and talent of their whole culture, and recreate the sense of self-worth and community that was stripped from them.” Seeing the partnerships formed around art may encourage people to come together in the same way around other issues, Guichard said. “If you come from a history that is rich and strong, whatever you do, you do with the same strength.”
Gallery Guichard, 3521 S. Martin Luther King Dr. (773)373-8000. www.galleryguichard.com