April 30, 2015
2015: Leaving Chicago
April 23, 2015: "Leaving Chicago" is a sort of exit interview. It's an interview conducted via e-mail in which a brief essay and a few questions are made available to a group of respondents. Every respondent receives the same prompt. But that prompt might be engaged in whatever manner befits the story to be told. Personal storytelling by art world participants is the primary concern of this enterprise. Why did you come? Why did you stay? Why did you leave? Why did you come back? What's your story?
In 2009, the Chicago Tribune eliminated forty-year veteran Alan Artner's position as full-time critic of visual art. Most obviously, that action was evidence of a contraction in the field of daily, print journalism. But of greater import for the Chicago art world might have been the consequent absence of Artner's living memory.
In 2010, Chuck Thurow retired from the city's oldest alternative exhibition space--the Hyde Park Art Center--having served as its executive director since 1998. Also, curator Dominic Molon left the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago for the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, in Missouri. And James N. Wood, director of the Art Institute of Chicago for 25 years, died.
2012 saw the passing of venerable gallery owners Andree Stone and Donald Young. And Whitney Tassie, director of Monique Meloche Gallery for seven years, left Chicago for the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In 2013, Susanne Ghez retired from The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, having served as its executive director and chief curator since 1974. And Lauren Weinberg, the city's last full-time art critic in print, was lost to sweeping changes at Time Out Chicago.
Whatever was set in motion in the previous five years seemed only to accelerate in 2014. Curatorial fellow Kristin Korolowicz left the MCA Chicago for University Galleries at Illinois State University, in Normal, Illinois. Too, senior curator Dieter Roelstraete left the MCA Chicago in order to join the curatorial team of Documenta 14, even as his (Roelstraete's) partner Monika Szewczyk left her post--visual arts program curator at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts--for Kassel, Germany. More significantly, the University of Chicago also lost Stephanie Smith, deputy director and chief curator of the Smart Museum of Art, when she was hired by the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Canada.
Early in 2015, The Renaissance Society's Hamza Walker, focused on his duties as co-curator of "Made in L.A. 2016," began a two-year leave of absence. Jocular commentator Richard Holland made good his exit from the Bad at Sports podcast after its five-hundredth episode, in which place, shortly thereafter, Whitney Biennial co-curator Michelle Grabner publicly confirmed her decision to relocate from Oak Park, Illinois, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Finally, non-profit organization Threewalls' co-founder and executive director Shannon Stratton announced her imminent departure for the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan, New York.
It's quite popular to opine both (a) that artists cannot be expected to stay in Chicago, and also (b) that the reasons for departure are so well known as not to warrant further investigation. That said, not one person named in the account above is solely an artist; rather, they're people who are best known as curators, critics, gallerists, and administrators. And, as written in the first paragraph, it's a matter of consequence when the living memory of such a group is disconnected from the community in which it formerly resided. For without longtime participants and talented newcomers together considering what is happening, relative to what has happened, historical depth in the dialogue of the city's arts is by definition impossible. Regarding dialogue now, anyone wanting more than a descriptive treatment of the present, or a promotional treatment of the future, will probably want to look elsewhere than Chicago. Evermore the city devotes its cultural resources to what--at the moment--seems likely to be popular, financially rewarding, and politically expedient. Witness that the "debates" of the time involve David Bowie, George Lucas, Kanye West, President Barack Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
What's happening here? Is it a moment of crisis? Is it a change long overdue? Or, is it just business as usual?
Hold old are you? Where are you from? When did you come here? Is Chicago one of many stops on your journey?
For what did you hope when you came to Chicago? A degree? A job? What did you think that you'd find here? What was your first impression of the city?
Did you attend a school here? Which school did you attend? How long were you in school here? Did you receive a degree here? When did you receive your degree?
How long were you in practice here? Did you enjoy success on your own terms? Can you recall some peak experience? If you felt frustrated, what frustrated you? Poor sales? Lack of publicity? High rent? Crime? Inefficient transportation? Public apathy? Bad weather? What was the total amount of time that you spent as a resident?
How does Chicago know you? Does Chicago know you? Have you been misunderstood?
Was there an event which precipitated your departure? For which other city did you leave? What was waiting for you in that other city?
Does Chicago look different to you since your arrival to it and/or departure from it? Do you have advice for someone about to begin what you've finished?
Do you expect to maintain a connection to Chicago and its art world? What's your incentive to stay connected? Have you left friends or family here?
By what means do you stay abreast of developments in the arts in Chicago? Print? Social media? Visits?
In the end, is place important? Is physical location a matter of consequence in 2015?
Was some important subject omitted from this query? Please introduce any additional material which you believe to be relevant.
April 27, 2015: I hoped to remove myself from the interview process and afford respondents as much control as possible over their own writing. And so I settled on the use of e-mail to initiate a conversation, being careful to suggest that the enclosed questionnaire was malleable. For the sake of fairness, everyone had to receive the same prompt in text. The downside is obvious: Failing to tailor the approach to someone in particular, the end result is so generic, and so sprawling, that it doesn't suit anyone.
I expect that some requests to participate will be ignored, while others will be refused outright. A few responses will be promised but never delivered. The remainder of the writing should dribble in over the course of the next month or two. Everyone is busy. And, realistically, some people calculate that public questioning, disclosure, and association of this sort are all too dangerous to risk.
Some replies might not take the form of essays or short answers; I might receive poetry or photography. That's OK. I hope that when it's all taken together, as a collection, the material might offer some insight into this time and place. I'm genuinely interested in recording what happened here--before it all slips away.
I can't pretend to be wholly objective. In the event that it hasn't been made perfectly clear in essay above, I should say that I perceive this to be a transitional period in Chicago. For example, I don't have the sense that apartment galleries, or independent blogs for that matter, are being created at the same rate they're disappearing. Conversely, the number of post-graduate programs, residencies and mentorships (all charging a fee of some sort) seems to be increasing. Has it become terribly difficult to "break in" to the city's art scene? What do you think?
Finally, I apologize for any errors.
RESPONSES TO DATE
June 29, 2015, Patrick Bobilin on Leaving Chicago: http://chicagoartworld.blogspot.com/2015/06/2015-patrick-bobilin-on-leaving-chicago.html
June 14, 2015, Corinna Kirsch on Leaving Chicago: http://chicagoartworld.blogspot.com/2015/06/2015-corinna-kirsch-on-leaving-chicago.html
May 30, 2015, Julia Haw on Leaving Chicago: http://chicagoartworld.blogspot.com/2015/05/2015-julia-haw-on-leaving-chicago.html
May 22, 2015, Mark Staff Brandl on Leaving Chicago: http://chicagoartworld.blogspot.com/2015/05/2015-mark-staff-brandl-on-leaving.html
May 12, 2015, Steve Ruiz on Leaving Chicago: http://chicagoartworld.blogspot.com/2015/05/2015-steve-ruiz-on-leaving-chicago.html
May 10, 2015, Jeriah Hildwine on Leaving Chicago: http://chicagoartworld.blogspot.com/2015/05/2015-jeriah-hildwine-on-leaving-chicago.html