Last Thursday, the DePaul Art Museum unveiled its environmentally-conscious exhibition, “Climate of Uncertainty”, a glorious coincidence for the unseasonably warm opening gallery weekend in Chicago. At 56 degrees in the middle of January, global warming was responsible for two major components of Friday’s bustling openings: endless chattering about the temperature outside, and crowds that rivaled the masses of the September season openers.
“I had planned these exhibitions for blizzard conditions,” explained dealer Aron Packer of the West Loop’s Packer Schopf Gallery, as I elbowed my way through the crowd. Andrea Stanislav’s excessive sculptures full of rhinestones, glitter and taxidermied animals filled Packer’s 3,000 square-foot space along with three other exhibitions by Lauren Levato, Bruce Riley, and Deborah Baker. At a time of the year when Chicago galleries typically have to fight for foot-traffic, the overcompensation plus the anomalous weather equalled an overwhelming turnout for everyone.
William Lieberman of Zolla/Lieberman Gallery was likely of the same mind when he scheduled two of his big-guns, Vera Klement and William Conger, in his cavernous River North space. With two established artists with such selling power and local clout, it was basically a guarantee that collectors and prominent Chicago artists would be in attendance. Amidst the crowd were famed collectors of Midwest art, Anne and Mark Seibert; and rising artists like Michael Rea, who was probably not the only young artist fondly recounting his time at Northwestern studying with Conger, a living legend of old-school abstraction.
The 14 other exhibition receptions in River North kept the momentum going, while the West Loop was slower with only a handful of openings. The non-profit Chicago Artists’ Coalition used to struggle with programming of notably uneven quality, but a revamp of the organization resulted in vast improvement throughout 2012, and they’ve hit a high note with this exhibition, “Exchange: Chicago-Detroit.” “For a show of non-local artists, this was a tremendous turnout,” said Director of Exhibitions, Cortney Lederer. One particularly prominent artwork, Graem White’s modified ping-pong table, “Venue for Advanced Conflict Resolution (Battle of the Gods)”, had gallery-goers sending ping-pong balls flying everywhere. It created a fun vibe. Toeing the fine line of ruin porn are strong photos by Scott Hocking, documenting the artist’s site-specific installations in the urban landscape; work that has made him the face of post-industrial Detroit.
Perhaps those benefitting the most from the advantageous weather were the galleries stationed outside of the art districts, where visitors might not normally be inclined to venture during Chicago’s typically frigid winters. Thomas Masters Gallery opened “Drips + Grids” by Melody Saraniti, an exhibition of abstract paintings taking on these Expressionist tropes with the artist’s signature calculated mark-making. After a massive fire leveled the building that contained her studio and the studios of several other Chicago artists, Kate Ruggeri produced a full solo exhibition at Ebersmoore Gallery; a collection of gestural works on paper accompany a faceless, life-sized figure whose spindly form is wrapped with various cast-off fabrics covered with neon green paint. The Mission, known for being one of the only spaces dedicated to bringing contemporary art from abroad to Chicago, impressed with Dutch artist Jeroen Nelemans’ re-imaginings of Dutch landscape and heritage using fluorescent bulbs, light boxes and inkjet prints.
After 5 ½ hours of gallery hopping, I wound up at Johalla Projects, located in the Hubbard Street Lofts building far off the beaten path in a still industrial part of town. Kindly keeping open hours long past the scheduled 10 pm, Johalla was the last stop for most as the galleries in the other districts closed for the night. Peering over the shoulders of the crowd, one could just glimpse a clearly exhausted woman moving gracefully in front of a projection screen flanked by a pair of young men manning a drum kit and a table full of machines. Out in the hall, spectators wondered aloud, “What is this? What’s she doing?” when someone piped up, “She’s doing a weather forecast.” It seemed perfectly fitting.