Sunday, February 7, 2010

a tale of several cities

"Strip", oil on linen, (c) 2009, sioban lombardi

It’s been a while so here’s a long one. In a few months I will most likely move back to my hometown Chicago. Though I love Chicago, and cannot wait to once again cohabitate with my husband, I am suspect of opportunities in the Visual Arts that exist there. It’s not the fault of museums and gallerists, they are there, certainly in quality, if not number. With the School of the Art Institute at their helm, Chicago’s academic Institutions too represent heavy hitters in the visual arts. UIC and Columbia College are increasingly identified on the east coast, joining their learned elders, the University of Chicago and Northwestern. There are the Cooperatives such as the well known A.R.C. and start-ups like Margin. Finally, there are the labors of love such as the Chicago Artists Coalition that provide opportunities for any artist that wants to participate.

Still, local support for architecture, drama and improv comedy far outdistance support for the visual arts. Once upon a time, I think the last was around 1985; there was the Chicago and Vicinity Show. Exhibited at the Art Institute, it was a juried show taking place every two years - a sort of Biennial. It was a big deal. Then came the Chicago Show, which was mired in controversy due to lack of ethnic diversity. Now there is Art Chicago, which is just another art fair.

Today, while perusing the Chicago Gallery Guide’s website I counted approximately one hundred venues listed under galleries. Thirty-six of these are either museums, retail operations for functional art and/or crafts, auction houses or galleries representing work made prior to the mid-twentieth century. Granted, I was drinking from a tainted source, but there are more than 500 galleries in New York and probably as many individuals writing about art (7 of us love you Ken Johnson).That is what’s wrong in Chicago.

What is missing is critical interest. Compare the “on-line” front pages of 5 American Newspapers: The New York Times, Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle all list “Arts” on the front page Index. With the Los Angeles Times, you must first click on Entertainment (natch), but then a sub-index title for the Arts appears as a choice. With the Chicago Tribune, one must first click on Entertainment, then on Events. At the bottom of the “events” page there exists a section called “On the Town” where you may or may not find an article or review covering the Visual Arts in Chicago. As a matter of fact, last year the Chicago Tribune laid-off its sole art critic Alan Artner. He had been a fixture for decades, albeit an increasingly lonely one.

True, I am an elitist when it comes to the criticism and production of art, but not to the dissemination of information about it. I believe the character of a city is rendered more valuable by the quality and variance of the culture represented. That only happens when people are exposed to that culture. Thank God for new media and the little guy! Fortunately blogs and podcasts such as Bad at Sports and Chicago Art Magazine and small publications like New City continue to grow and provide a vibrant voice. I will read and reference them with enthusiasm. As newspapers go the way of the milkman, access to our cultural vehicles doesn’t have to. It may not be dropped off on your doorstep each morning, but you can get it anywhere. I encourage everyone to do so.

If you have a favorite blog/website related to art in your city - please let me know.


  1. i just have heard something about Chicago art production and exhibitions for the last 2 , 3 years , because of internet .

  2. Nicely said Sioban. I agree with everything. There are also some new apartment galleries that are very nice. One is Noble & Superior Projects:

    The CAM and Bad at Sports that you mentioned are also great.

    Welcome back to Chitown soon.


  3. sioban: thanks for the thougtful view of the chicago art scene. its gotten decidedly tighter here since you left. but i imagine its like that most everywhere over the past year.

    -andre (from margin)