Creative Control: Artist-run galleries honored at HPAC

As part of the “Artists Run Chicago” exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center, the proprietors of Deluxe Projects reflected on the experience of creating an artist-run space, hoping to pass their wisdom on to future generations. Their piece, “Instructions for Running a DIY Art Space,” starts like this:
1. Fall in love with art.
2. Go to a party, a bar, an opening, a lecture, etc.–anywhere where you can see art and find conversation. Get out of your studio.
3. Find other artists there who are as desperate as you are to explode into the world!

The manifesto continues, but you’ll have to visit the exhibition to read the rest. “Artists Run Chicago” features Deluxe Projects along with other influential artist-run spaces, both past and present. In homage to HPAC’s origins as an artist-run space, the program coincides with the center’s 70th anniversary celebration “70 Days for 70 Years.”

According to HPAC’s website, artist-run venues distinguish themselves from commercial and nonprofit galleries partly by their re-imagining of available spaces like “storefronts, sheds, apartments, lofts, industrial warehouses, garages and roving spaces” into new ones for showing and producing art. But most importantly, they are created and managed by artists. For instance, Second Bedroom, a currently operating artist-run space participating in the exhibition, is located in the “second bedroom” of a Bridgeport apartment. It’s also the home of Chris Smith, who lives somewhere in the “first bedroom.” Smith and his partner Irene Pérez created the space to encourage “risk-taking and experimentation as long as the intended project can operate without resulting in the loss of Chris Smith’s security deposit and/or an eviction from his apartment,” according to Second Bedroom’s website.

According to Britton Bertran, the co-curator of the HPAC exhibition, artist-run spaces are one of the most important and interesting features of Chicago’s art scene. An Art Insititute of Chicago alum and the former owner of the commercial gallery 40000, Bertran calls the exhibition on these spaces “a little chaotic…it’s meant to be that way…but very interesting to look at.” For starters, there’s Michael T. Rea’s giant wooden robot, called “A Prosthetic Suit for Stephen Hawking w/ Japanese Steel.” Looking like a beefed-up version of Iron Man and measuring over six feet tall, the piece was originally displayed in Bridgeport’s Co-Prosperity Sphere, an artist-run space home to the Lumpen collective. A few steps away you’ll see a full-scale recreation of the Surburban, a legendary artist-run space located in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. The Suburban was originally an eight-by-eight-foot cinderblock shed transformed into an exhibition space by owners Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam. Despite its physical constraints, the venue was an important space for displaying work by emerging artists. Physically identical to the original down to the shade of pale yellow paint, the HPAC replica will house mini-exhibitions by a different artist every week until the show ends, beginning with Brooklyn painter and Suburban alum David Coyle.

As Bertran promised, “Artists Run Chicago” provides a chaotic but ultimately compelling glimpse into the world of artist-run spaces. Though it’s a world fraught with legal and financial issues, it’s one that encourages artists to experiment, develop their own unique practice and form bonds with other members of the art community. In the end, it goes back to the final maxim of the Deluxe Projects manifesto:

12. Decide to keep the shows happening in whatever way possible. Find a direction, a focus, a reason to keep falling in love with art and artists.

Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. Monday-Thursday, 10am-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 10am-5pm; Sunday, noon-5pm. Through July 5. Free.