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Iamnaturetoosm Corbett2_copse Ingenthron2_natural_love Jones2_turquoise Jones2_relic Johnson_rat Johnson_store Rattigan_anthony Guertin_ironed_fabric
'rak'rüm (noun);
the back room of an art gallery
where artists and art lovers hang
I Am Nature Too, John CichonJohn Cichon, I Am Nature Too,
2007, performance view
© David Corbett
Copse, David CorbettDavid Corbett, Copse,
2007, collage and ink on paper, 9 x 11.5 in.
© David Corbett
Natural Love, David IngenthronDavid Ingenthron, Natural Love,
2007, acrylic and gesso on board, 12 x 12 in.
© the artist
Turquoise, Bob Jones (Chicago)Bob Jones (Chicago), Turquoise,
2007, oil and enamel on hand-made concrete rock
© the artist
relic, Bob Jones (Chicago)Bob Jones (Chicago), relic,
2007, plaster on stick
© the artist
Untitled, Daniel JohnsonDaniel Johnson, Untitled, 2006
© the artist
Untitled, Daniel JohnsonDaniel Johnson, Untitled, 2006
© the artist
Anthony, Gary RattiganGary Rattigan, Anthony,
2006, wood, nails, duct tape, twine, 58 x 13 x 7 in
© the artist
Ironed Fabric , Heather GuertinHeather Guertin, Ironed Fabric ,
2007, fabric, 65 x 51-1/4 in
© the artist
Double Frame / Torn Photo, Nicholas KnightNicholas Knight, Double Frame / Torn Photo,
2007, found frames, torn photograph, hanging hardware, pencil on wall, 71 x 51 in.
© the artist
Bill Gross is an artist in his own right, but has for the past several years focused his energy on being a full-time gallery director. As the Director of 65GRAND, Bill oversees an ambitious monthly gallery schedule exhibiting work from artists all over the United States as well as Chicago.[more]

Interview with 65GRAND

65GRAND is an alternative space in the West Town area of Chicago, situated nearby the West Loop gallery area. Spotlighted in Artforum earlier this year, I sat down with director Bill Gross to discuss the recent attention that alternative spaces have been getting. Over coffee, we dived into just what is it that makes today's alternative galleries so different, so appealing. Below is a transcript of our conversation.

Abraham Ritchie: Let’s just do a summer recap now that the exhibiting season is beginning again, what was a good show from the summer?

Bill Gross: The first one that I can think of was the Jeff Koons show at the Museum of Contemporary Art. A few pieces from their "Recent Acquistions" show stuck in my mind as well. A Kori Newkirk piece and a Walead Beshty photograph were two works I saw this summer that have really stayed in my mind. I also really enjoyed the artist's talk given by Mario Ybarra, Jr. and his installation that was up at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was so involved in my gallery renovation that I didn’t get out to galleries, there were some shows that I would have liked to see but I missed.

AR: Well also over the summer all the magazines go on hiatus too, with their “summer” editions. But one article in particular caught my eye in Artforum, Jessica Morgan’s article on the London alternative gallery scene, in particular Wolfgang Tillman’s gallery, as an artist-run space. Does this indicate to you that there is a real alternative system of artist-run spaces emerging on a world-wide scale? Or has this been going on all along?

BG: Periodically there are articles written about alternative spaces and Jessica Morgan’s article mentioned four or five including City Racing, which is a pretty well known space. I’ve never been to it, but I’m aware of it. Apartment galleries and alternative spaces pop up all over, it’s not really unique to London or Chicago. It’s definitely not a new phenomena, but I think wide spread recognition of it is. I was reading about Leo Castelli’s first wife. . .

AR: Ileana Sonnabend?

BG: Yes, they started their first gallery in an apartment. So I think for some people it’s a matter of practicality. You don’t need financial backers, you present the work that you want to present, you have no overhead. There’s the opportunity to learn the business without the risk. I do think that its changed a little bit in recent years though.

AR: So there is quite a history with alternative spaces becoming what is thought of as mainstream. What roles do alternative galleries play with regard to access to the arts, especially with regards to artists?

BG: Alternative galleries, or so-called “alternative spaces,” apartment galleries, or spaces that are away from the gallery centers, maybe there’s more acceptance of them currently in the art world is because they have replaced the alternative spaces from the ‘70s and ‘80s that were sponsored by the federal government and arts councils.  That support doesn’t exist anymore, as it did. There’s always going to be younger artists and a brand of art that doesn’t fit in the commercial gallery system.

So if there are no venues anymore for that kind of art, people are looking to alternative spaces and apartment galleries as places where this work can be presented. It’s the work of younger artists usually. Sometimes it is people who are just out of school and have an agenda, not necessarily first and foremost commercial. A lot of these spaces are giving people a chance to get their art out there into the world. It’s a type of vitality that doesn’t easily fit into a commercial gallery. I don’t like the word “alternative” because it’s not really, it’s all part of the same spectrum. It’s a similar opportunity, to show work, just for a different spectrum of artist.

AR: A really interesting aspect of alternative spaces to me has been the ambitious programs that a lot of these spaces have. 65GRAND and other spaces have very ambitious national programs showing artists from all over the US. Is it just now that people are starting to realize how integral these spaces are, especially in terms of showing artists that aren’t the most salable? Do you think it might be related to this time of economic flux when galleries are having a more difficult time?

BG: I don’t know if the interest in alternative spaces is related to an economic downturn; it’s certainly easier to survive with no overhead. I see galleries here in Chicago taking risks on artists all the time, sometimes it pays off and sometimes, sadly, it doesn’t , and we have seen some of these galleries not survive. I feel it’s very important to find artists that continue to push themselves and want to experiment. Those are the artists that I find it interesting to work with and that’s the art that I want to show.

But even in the last ten or twenty years the way that the art world operates has changed. It operates not only in the physical space but in art fairs, in magazines and on the internet. So my location, and even my particular space, is becoming unimportant. It’s becoming less important to have a gallery in a particular district as people are able to see exhibitions online, or in reviews, or at art fairs. I think that the actual space is becoming less critical. The program is always more important than the actual space.

AR: Since we’re on the topic of programs, you have Brian Kapernakas in an upcoming show, he’s a painter and you’re a painter and I think that’s a part of what makes your exhibitions so compelling. You talked before about showing people you think are pushing their art, so what draws you into his work?

BG: His work bounces between abstraction and a certain type of realism, sometimes in the same painting. An image might first seem abstract, like the painting Roast. It seems, from a cursory glance, to be an explosion of some sort, but when you spend a few minutes with it, you notice it’s marshmallows over a fire. He’s very interested in the line between abstraction and realism. There will be some actual objects in the shows that will be manipulated, some material from his home in Batavia, Illinois. It takes me some time to process and think about his work and that’s something that I enjoy, to be honest. I have an intuitive interest in his work, there’s something about it.

ArtSlant would like to thank Bill Gross for his assistance in making this interview possible.

--Abraham Ritchie


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