On a freezing Saturday afternoon a crowd, including myself, crammed into moniquemeloche gallery to see artist, writer, gallerist and professor Michelle Grabner talk to Dan Gunn about and amidst his work. This was the second of four installments in the “Winter Experiment 2011”, an ambitious month-long program that invites a young artist to present their work in the gallery and, on the weekends, converse with an “art world participant” in a public setting. These events are recorded, later to be broadcast by Bad at Sports, the Chicago-based art podcast. The Grabner/Gunn conversation is tentatively scheduled to debut on Bad at Sports in early May.
The first artist to participate in “Winter Experiment” was Ebony G. Patterson, who in addition to presenting work in the gallery created an installation in the gallery’s window that will be on display through March. Patterson, a Jamaican artist living in Lexington, KY, of all places, had a conversation on January 15th with Tumelo Mosaka, Contemporary Art Curator at the Krannert Art Museum. Future artists include Ben Fain, who will be in conversation with Shannon Stratton of threewalls, and Anna Shteynshleyger, paired with Andreas Waldburg-Wolfegg, an arts patron. Aside from Patterson, the artists are all based in Chicago and other than Shteynshleyger, who with a recent solo show at the Renaissance Society can hardly be called “emerging,” the artists are at various stages of the beginning of their careers.
“Emerging artist” is such a wonderful term, by the way. It’s the insider word for “aspiring artist” and always begs the question, Emerging from what? Art school? Why, obscurity of course.
This is just what “Winter Experiment” aims to do, help artists “emerge.” A particularly interesting aspect of this project is that the gallery represents none of these artists. Galleries often have “first dates” with artists they are interested in working with. It’s a little like a blind date set up on the internet, both parties test the situation out, and it often leads to future projects and maybe even representation. Usually this is done as a group show in the summer, a small installation in a project space or by taking the prospective artist’s work to a fair. But here Meloche has chosen to not only show some work by artists new to the gallery, but more importantly, stage a public discussion around the work. For emerging artists, or any artist indeed, such an opportunity is as important, if not more so, than having an opportunity to get your foot in the door by showing a few pieces.
Trickster Mechanism 1, 2011. Fabric, wood, acrylic paint, and mirrored acrylic. 83" x 42". Image courtesy of moniquemeloche gallery.
Establishing a critical dialogue is key to the production and reception of an artist’s work. A project space “first date” is nice on an artist’s resume, and a review of it helps to fill up the gallery’s three ring binder, but presenting a discussion around an artist’s work is of unique value. Obviously, a critical dialogue can arise through reviews and essays. That is my main reason for writing about art: it allows me to engage an exhibition or artwork in a specific way that contributes to a larger discourse about art and culture in general. But a live conversation has immediacy. A formalized discussion such as at the “Winter Experiment” offers the chance for the discourse surrounding an artist’s work to organically develop.
This is why it seems so generous for a gallery to do this sort of thing with artists they don’t represent. From agallery’s point of view, you would want to help move along the narrative and historicization of artists you show as a way to build value. Since the setting is a gallery, this has to be considered any way. It’s also interesting that this is a program put on by a gallery and not an institution. In fact, along with the casual salons that other galleries like 65GRAND have set up in conjunction with their exhibitions, it seems like galleries are taking a leading role in fostering a living conversation about emerging art in this city. Aside from the accompanying artist talk that goes with a “12x12” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, or the open critiques at the Hyde Park Art Center, there are not really any opportunities for emerging artists in Chicago to experience a public debate about their work. Programs like the “Winter Experiment” seem like one possible solution, or at least a step in the right direction, toward alleviating the problem of Chicago’s need for a serious and sustained dialogue about contemporary art.
On the subject of Chicago and its place in the world, Gunn offered this useful point during his talk, “What kind of conversation is Chicago having that’s worthwhile to [those] outside of the city?” Gunn suggested that we have to generate a vibrant dialogue with unique content; instead, “we talk too much about structure.” If more galleries and established spaces follow this cue and stage events such as these, the hope of a vital and productive discourse in Chicago might not seem so far-fetched.
-Erik Wenzel, Senior ArtSlant Staff Writer