SAIC partners with Lincoln Park furniture boutique West Elm
By Chrissy Turpin
The last place one expects to see good art is over the living room couch. Or the bed. Or even the dining room table. But that’s typical art community mentality—one that separates artists and audiences worldwide.
In an effort to break this stereotype, SAIC recently partnered with West Elm, a national modern furniture catalog and store, to celebrate the grand opening of its Lincoln Park location. Featured among the designed showrooms and collectible room decorations were a variety of original pieces by SAIC students, also for sale. The inclusion of these pieces suggests that art created by students from one of the nation’s premier art schools is easily accessible to anyone.
It’s clear that West Elm is hoping to redefine what it means to mix style with comfort. On their website, westelm.com, they state that “great design can be affordable, and that it can also make a positive impact on people and the environment.” Aspiring to “appeal to style-savvy customers who love modern, affordable design,” West Elm completed the look at the store’s special pre-opening event February 2 with complimentary wine, vodka cocktails and canapés for its invitation-only crowd.
By incorporating roaming waiters and scattered art pieces, West Elm encouraged movement and conversation among guests. It wasn’t just about the art or furniture, but the connection between people and their tastes and styles.
The featured artists were culled by West Elm from the Betty Rymer Gallery and SAIC’s Department of Special Exhibitions. The department’s associate director, Jeanne Long, works with Creativity in the Workplace, a program that showcases student artwork in nontraditional settings by loaning the artwork to companies and stores to display for six-month periods.
Students are always encouraged to submit digital copies of their work to the Rymer Gallery so that they can be used later in shows there or outside the SAIC community. “These types of projects are another opportunity for students to gain experience in curating and working with corporate America,” said Long in an email.
With help from SAIC student curators Ashleigh Hite and Lizzie Amundsen, Long drew from the department’s reserve of student artwork for the West Elm exhibition. After a visit to the store, she decided which pieces would best blend and complement the merchandise. The chosen pieces included watercolor and ink, photography, paintings and screen prints.
“West Elm had the final approval of what works they would accept. They were thrilled with everything we presented to them for their review and accepted all of our submissions,” said Long.
At the event, each of the artists were given name tags, personally introduced to the West Elm CFO, and approached by various attendees who were genuinely interested in their work.
There are certainly rewarding benefits. “For me, the idea of someone ordering a limited edition print of my work in a catalog and putting it on a wall in their home is an exciting possibility,” said SAIC student Emile Ferris, whose digital print “Windchill” was featured at West Elm. Ferris describes “Windchill” as “an abstract piece about the relationship between us and the environment. Not everything here is conspiring to freeze our nipples off.”
For Ferris, it’s been exciting to work outside of SAIC and with a place like West Elm. Not only because of the exclusivity of an opening event, but also because it gave her the opportunity to connect with otherwise distant individuals through art. “Submitting plus exhibiting equals not [being] an educated hobo after graduation. This a good thing, right?”
Other participating students include Ling Chun, Kait Doyle, Colin Grimm, Misato Inaba, Jae Young Kim, Jane Song, Cheryl-Ann Fakes and Hyounsang Yoo. Artists received 60 percent of the sales of their work throughout the showing; and, an additional 10 percent of sales from the pre-opening event benefited SAIC student scholarship funds.
Work showcased for the store’s grand opening was on display through the month of February, and future collaborations may be in store.