Art on the South Side isn’t easy and it isn’t glamorous. Chicago isn’t New York, and there is no Wicker Park on the South Side. But art gives us more than glamour. In a 2008 interview, Nat Soti of the Chicago Art Department gave us a beautiful summary of Chicago art.
“Art matters because at its core, art does not matter. That’s what I love about it. Our lives are full of things that “matter,” be it our jobs, our family and friends, the things going on in our city, not to mention the country and the world. Art is an oasis. It is the open and empty space we can fill with whatever we want. Chicago’s artistic culture is infused with a spirit of “it does not matter.” It is a city in which artists can feel free to explore, develop, and find their artistic voices while testing that voice in the arena of a great city. And while we lament that our artists often leave Chicago for greener pastures, I know that these same artists take pride in saying they are from Chicago–even going so far as to still call it home. I’d like to think that, like home, it is that place of comfort. It is that place you can always return to. To create art that does not matter. It’s not that Chicago needs art. Art needs Chicago.”
We present this special visual arts issue not to suggest a single definition of what art on the South Side means, but to demonstrate how impossible it is to find one, and how fascinating it can be to keep looking. We hope that our selection of interviews and gallery profiles shows how many different possibilities there are for art on the South Side, and how important those possibilities are to communities across the South Side and to the people who live in them.
No Coast Collective
On the corner of 17th and Laflin, No Coast Collective bridges Chicago’s art and underground music scenes, tiptoeing around conventional notions of what a gallery is or does. Besides hosting concerts, printmaking workshops, and classes, as well as a small shop selling local crafts, zines, and t-shirts, the small storefront gallery also functions as studio space for the collective’s group of six core artists: Aay Preston-Myint, Alex Valentine, Andrea Fritisch, Dan Dunbar, Reba Rakstad, and Young Joon Kwak. Their recently initiated series of one-artist-one-month exhibitions, installed around racks and tables of merchandise, gives the sense that different disciplines and media can and should interact.
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays the store and gallery are open to the public, and screen printing facilities are available to rent by the week. Lock-in workshops and other classes are scheduled periodically.
In the sea of Pilsen’s rapidly evolving art scene, No Coast remains a collaborative operation that would not be conceived of in the same way outside of the South Side of Chicago. Young Joon Kwak explains: “We foster a community largely comprised of South Siders, and we’re proud to provide a platform for the awesome works by artists within this community.” No Coast Collective, 1500 W. 17th St. (312)850-2338. no-coast.org (Sarah Mendelsohn)
Nonchalantly nestled next to a laundromat across from Harper Court, DOVA Temporary serves as an open, three-dimensional blank canvas, an artistic wormhole that introduces the works of University of Chicago undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni to the everyday bustle of its Hyde Park storefront. The UofC Department of Visual Arts (DOVA) chose this urban location specifically, convinced that the space would be able to fulfill their mission, as stated on their website, of establishing a “point of interaction and engagement between the Hyde Park community and the Arts on campus.”
DOVA Temporary also invites artists not affiliated with the UofC, and it often features musicians, whose sound helps to unpack some of the headiness of the exhibitions and inspire gallery goers. The gallery provides South Siders with the opportunity to experience a new perspective, and create a portal for UofC students where their art can be made accessible to a broader public.
DOVA Temporary, 5228 S. Harper Ave. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5pm. lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/dovatemp (Ayn Woodward)
Knock Knock Gallery
Tucked away in the quiet residential neighborhood of McKinley Park, Knock Knock Gallery is geographically isolated from the rest of the South Side arts scene — perhaps by design. Consisting simply of a set of stairs, a second floor landing, and a closet, the space is far removed from the expected vision of art presentation.
The gallery, the brainchild of Harley Young, was and is inspired by other unconventional art spaces that have popped up across Chicago in recent years. But unlike many similar spaces, Knock Knock Gallery has exhibited unusual longevity, and is now in its third year of existence.
Every month, Young turns his front entranceway over to a different Chicago area artist–almost all of whom are associated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, of which Young himself is an alumnus–who interprets and transforms the space into a unique display of art. The only requirement is that the installation be tailored to the gallery, in order to encourage the active participation of the audience as they interact with the space. The building itself is a renovated funeral home, and its austere white walls, nondescript carpeting, and old wheelchair lift running the length of the stairs make for quite the blank template.
Because of the relative freedom allowed to the artists, the gallery has hosted a wide range of pieces, from performance installations to 2D image-based shows to collage-style utilizations of the space. Unfortunately, Young doesn’t see the gallery existing beyond August, when he will be moving away from Chicago, so the chance to see this uncommon and inviting space will soon be gone. Knock Knock Gallery, 3658 S. Wolcott #2F. (719)651-7623. knockknockgallery.wordpress.com (Isaac Dalke)
South Side Community Art Center
The South Side Community Art Center is more than a forum for presenting art. A product of the Great Depression and the Works Progress Administration, the center has a 70-year history of fostering art on the South Side. The space is a gathering place for many local artists to meet and discuss their work, as well as a venue for many of those same artists to reach a wider audience.
Located in a 19th century Bronzeville mansion, the small rooms and intimate layout of the center stand as a reminder that the structure was built to be a home, not an art space. But this lends itself to the eclectic and inclusive nature of the center. The art on display represents a wide range of styles and media, extending from linocuts to collages to oil paintings. The range of artists is impressive as well. Works from a few high profile artists, such as Archibald Motley Jr., Margaret Burroughs, and Elizabeth Catlett, appear in the center’s permanent collection. Also on display are a handful of artists from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and around the South Side, who might not garner as much name recognition, but whose work is no less striking. The center provides an excellent place to view some of Chicago’s many talented developing artists alongside some of its most prominent historical figures, backed by a thriving community with a strong devotion to nurturing the arts. South Side Community Art Center, 3831 S. Michigan Ave. (773)373-1026. southsidecommunityartcenter.com (Isaac Dalke)
Established at the end of 2009, Roxaboxen Exhibitions has made a name for itself as both an outstanding space of artistic comingling and collaboration as well as a nexus for community events and recreation. Weekly yoga and intermittent karaoke and movie nights have become staples of the young collective’s rapidly growing presence in Pilsen, and in greater Chicagoland. In addition to these diversions, the collective has also quickly made its mark within Chicago’s multifarious music scene. Iconic Chicago noise-core titans Cacaw and Mayor Daley have both recently performed in the gallery’s basement-turned-venue, filling it to capacity, and proving it to be an excellent space for future shows.
Yet despite its many interdisciplinary endeavors, Roxaboxen has not compromised the quality of its gallery space. The members’ commitment to “displaying work of awesome artists [they] encounter” has been exemplified by their most recent exhibition of prints and sculpture by Hannah Israelsohn entitled “On Pilgrimage.”
Only five months after its conception, Roxaboxen has established itself in both local music and visual art circles, and has provided a steady stream of film, yoga, and karaoke to its patrons. Roxaboxen Exhibitions, 2130 21st. St. roxaboxenminicastle.com (Alec Mitrovich)
Chicago Urban Art Society
On a bright Saturday morning, among the vacant lots, construction sites, and vast warehouses of Bridgeport, on the third floor of the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center (CMSC), artist Peter Kepha led a motley crew of artists, students, and novices in an introductory workshop in screen-printing. The process, in which paint is sieved through a porous membrane onto a surface, generally a sheet of paper or board under the screen, is today being used to crank out neat, monochromatic bicycles or imprints of “I HEART CHI”. Kepha and his sister, Lauren Pacheco, are the artistic and administrative heads, respectively, of the Chicago Urban Art Society, an arts organizations and studio that produces public art, punk- and hip-hop inspired pieces, and now, screen prints. Their most popular print is a cool, simple take on the Chicago city flag, the sky blue parts dripping under Kepha’s design.
Kepha has an installation running until May 1st at the Beer Run Gallery in Pilsen (a collection of bird-themed works titled, appropriately, “Flock You”), and Pacheco will be opening a new gallery in Pilsen after the closing of the couple’s successful 32nd & Urban gallery.
Until then, home base remains the eclectic space of CMSC, where there’s a gaggle of artists, a custom bike maker, and a sustainable tilapia farm/hydroponic herb garden in the basement. Despite its location amid a sea of warehouses, the Chicago Urban Arts Society has been able to draw in people from the neighborhood through mailing lists. But bit by bit, Bridgeport and Morgan St. are becoming thriving areas for art. As Ada, a young South Sider working in construction, said, “I used to take painting as a kid at the Chinese American Service League–they used to offer classes. Now, our [construction] office is up on Morgan, and it’s really interesting to see how these spaces down here are being turned into art spaces.” According to building owner John Edel, that should be the case for the foreseeable future: CMSC is located in a city-designated industrial zone, meaning there will be no condos to compete with for space or rent revenues–good news for all potential screen printers.
Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center: bubblydynamics.com Chicago Urban Art Society: chicagourbanartsociety.org (Ruben Montiel)
Zhou B Art Center
The expansive Zhou B Art Center, housed in a renovated commercial building on 35th and Morgan, exhibits work by artists from a wide range of backgrounds, working in a host of mediums, affirming that the diversity that once led Bridgeport to be called “The United Nations of Chicago” is still alive and well.
The Zhou B. Art Center Gallery, which occupies the first floor of the building, promotes and displays the work of brothers Shan Zuo and Da Huang Zhou, two Chinese-born, Chicago-based artists. Their paintings, on canvas and wood and traditional Chinese sails, fill the otherwise bare concrete rooms with color and energy. Some works hang from pipes, others drape down to the ground, but all employ traditional Chinese motifs and color schemes in dialogue with more abstract shapes and designs. Chinese characters clash with human shapes; rich blues offset dominating reds. Their sculptures are equally complex. Made of dyed wood and metal and slashed with chainsaws, they resemble totem poles. The art is massive, and engrossing, and preconceptions fall away inside the space of the gallery.
Gallery director Oskar Friedl points out that the art center is also meant as a community space. Freidl’s goal is to make Bridgeport and the Near South Side the epicenter of Chicago art, “what Wicker Park promised to be in the 80s,” by using the huge commercial building to display everything from paintings and sculptures to performances and installation art. The center holds private events and community gatherings set in the massive galleries. Besides the Zhou Brothers’ work, three more galleries exhibit artists from Chicago and around the world.
Zhou B. Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St. Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm. Saturday, noon-5pm. (773)523-0200. zbartcenter.org (Michaeljit Sandhu)
In both the art he makes and the gallery he manages, Marco Logsdon tries to encourage people to slow down, to stop, and to think. Logsdon 1909 is more than a gallery–it is a space that makes people, according to Logsdon, “contemplate the complexity of what is being done in the name of art.”
Logsdon first opened his Pilsen gallery as a way to showcase his own work. Since 2006 he has been showing the work of other artists as well. Open to all mediums, he looks for “a variety of contemporary works where the artist shows a definite skill.” One of the reasons he chose to open his gallery on the South Side–aside from finding “a great space at a great price”–was that “there are lots of great artists with very high standards of realization and presentation. So many artists keep producing incredible work.”
Another quality that Logsdon values in the South Side art community is its supportive community, which promotes the kind of dynamism that he values in art. He works closely with the Chicago Art Department and Rooms to “keep the area interesting and changing.”
Logsdon 1909 showcases work that compliments the spirit of both the owner and the community. If you find yourself in the neighborhood of 1909 South Halsted Street, slow down, stop, think.
Logsdon 1909, 1909 S. Halsted St. Saturday noon-5pm, or by appointment. (312)666-8966. logsdon1909.com (Ileshaa Khatau)