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Is that a gallery in your laundry?

Apartment galleries in Chicago

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illustration by Eric Garcia

Is that a gallery in your laundry?

Apartment galleries in Chicago

“The sacrifice right now is my dining room. Not my living room (aka the gallery) but the room which has become the unkempt repository for everything I own and it is pretty much unusable in its present state.” Such is the plight of apartment gallerist Philip Von Zweck, who regularly hosts exhibitions in his Humboldt Park home. Von Zweck is far from alone. Chicago’s relatively affordable rents have allowed for a cycle of apartment galleries to pop up and disappear on a regular basis. They are an important facet of Chicago’s art community and create opportunities for young artists and gallerists.

What precisely is an apartment gallery? It is not a commercial space, nor is it technically a non-profit. It is a private space made public, or at least semi-public. Viewers may find themselves doing beer bongs in the kitchen at Satin Satan or gazing at a gold unicorn skeleton in the basement recroom space of Old Gold. There is no answering to the art market, clients, or donors. Although funds and space can limit activities, Chicago’s apartment galleries are run with such enthusiasm that the very act of viewing art becomes more exciting.

Apartment galleries do not usually represent artists in an official sense, and making sales is not typically a focus. Rachel Adams, who runs Lloyd Dobler Gallery with Patricia Courson, says, “The gallery does not represent any artists. We actually just work with people, sometimes more than once, but we are not art dealers in the traditional sense. We do take commission if a work is sold while in our space. But selling artwork has never been the primary concern (compared to) working with artists and collectives to put on well thought-out and relevant exhibitions.”

Von Zweck, who runs VONZWECK, gives a similar response: “Work being for sale is not a concern of mine. If it is for sale then I want it to sell for the artist’s sake. If it sells I get reimbursed for the beer, that’s it. I don’t take a cut.” The chance for emerging artists to show without official representation is significant. Monique Meloche, who runs Monique Meloche Gallery in West Loop and held her first exhibition in her home, says, “I lecture frequently to graduating MFA students both in Chicago and elsewhere, and I always stress that getting your work out there is most important (landing in a gallery with representation often takes much longer courtship), so these apartment galleries offer great opportunities.”

Curatorial practices vary greatly in apartment galleries. However, some are more insular than others. Von Zweck, for example, says: “I have friends, people I trust with keys to my apartment, do shows for me and live with me for a month at a time. Trusting the person is my primary criterion. I don’t review slides; I don’t do studio visits, none of that. If I don’t know the person, they won’t do a show.” The Internet, however, now provides an easily accessible tool for finding potential artists. Lloyd Dobler Gallery’s current exhibition, Really Rad Videos, features a screening of works by local artists as well as a compilation of YouTube videos the gallerists found online.

SAIC photography student and Director of the newly-founded Satin Satan Gallery, Brad Troemel, reiterates the web’s importance. “We don’t go to galleries to find work anymore. That’s what the Internet is for.” Satin Satan’s current exhibition, Fun Gun, features the photography of 35 artists from Chicago, New York, Toronto and Maryland, many of whom Troemel has only met online. Despite the small exhibition space, the random layout of unframed images works well with the gallery’s irreverent tone. Troemel’s inspiration comes from Aaron Rose’s Alleged Gallery in New York City’s Lower East Side. “Alleged Gallery worked because it had a vibrant social scene to match the vibrancy of the art shown. It was likely that you would walk out of the gallery with a human experience (Harmony Korine puking on you) and an art viewing experience,” said Troemel.

Certainly, vomit is not a requisite for an exciting gallery-going experience, but in many apartment gallery spaces there is a conscious attempt to foster a community. Von Zweck says. However, Von Zweck also chooses not to work with students, because, as he says, “I don’t want openings to turn into parties.” At Lloyd Dobler, Adams admits getting people into the gallery space can be tricky. “Trish and I have done a few events to try and get a larger range of people into the gallery, but it is a hard task,” said Adams.

Brown Triangle
2214 W. 21st St.,
Ring bell on side door.
[email protected]

Green Lantern
1511 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Lloyd Dobler Gallery
1545 W. Division, 2nd floor

Mini Dutch
3111 W. Diversey, 1st floor

Old Gold
2022 N. Humboldt Blvd.
[email protected]

Satin Satan
1918 N. Wood St.

1626 N. Humboldt Blvd.

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