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To Have and To Hold: Art in a Comfortable Living Space

Through intimately-crafted shows exhibited in her apartment, SAIC Art History alum Budgie Birka-White brings brings art to the masses.

By Arts & Culture, Featured

Image Courtesy of Jesse Meredith.

Immediately upon arriving at Budgie Birka-White’s apartment in West Town, I was greeted by her infamous sneaker collection neatly set side-by-side at the entrance to her front door. Stepping into Budgie’s home-cum-gallery, To Have and To Hold, felt like arriving at a boutique I was always welcome to; like a hotel lobby that encourages guests to put their feet up on the seats. Curling up on a chair in a mustard baby-doll t-shirt dress, Budgie was insistent that we take the time to catch up one-to-one before looking at the artist she has featured for the inaugural show, “Two Toasts.”  Shifting her school work as a graduate student from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), she cleared a path across the table between us and offered me a citrus IPA.

Before attending SAIC (and after receiving her Bachelor’s in Creative Writing and a minor in Art History from Lake Forest College in Illinois), Budgie moved back to the Bay Area, in California, where she grew up. Living in San Francisco, she worked for the Jessica Silverman Gallery and Gagosian. It was common practice for her to attend art openings and functions after work as well as do studio visits with local artists. With SAIC’s phenomenal Art History program in mind, Budgie was eager to move back to a city she knew and loved in order to develop her own practice. Standing in front of the art in Budgie’s apartment, you would think that she had prepared a speech. In reality, Budgie was gazing at the work of a friend, parroting information that she had discussed with the artist many times during studio visits and art school parties. As one does.

“Two Toasts,” the inaugural exhibition at Two Have and To Hold, features the work of Yoohee Chang, a Korean artist and SAIC graduate student in the drawing and painting department. Budgie met Yoohee at the beginning of the Fall semester at a party. True to form, Budgie began weekly studio visits, kept tabs on the artist’s active Instagram (@yooheec), and through this, a natural friendship developed. When Budgie decided to turn a room in her apartment into a gallery, Yoohee was the first person she wanted to work with. Thus, To Have and To Hold was born.

Wanting a gallery name that was “kind of sentimental but also campy,”since this space is also her apartment, – for Budgie it was “the idea that you can hold this viewing experience dear to you for a while, also nodding to the fact that art is an asset class and people, [you can] purchase and exert ownership over artwork.” The stated goal of To Have and To Hold is to create a space where experimental shows can happen, shows that might be turned down at traditional gallery spaces. “It is a space where I can execute curatorial ideas and emergent artists can show work in perhaps its first iteration.”

Image Courtesy of Jesse Meredith.

Yoohee’s art is about ritual. From an arts high school and classical training in painting at RISD, Yoohee’s work initially strikes viewers as playful and grotesque. Which is precisely the point? Choosing to paint in a deconstructed manner — the subjects, routines, and rituals the artist pulls from her everyday life strip reality down to its forms and functions. Yoohee is bending perception to reveal the fears, hopes, anxieties, and truths of what informs basic human ritual. “Every day I eat two toasts and one egg” is the first line on the press release, etc.

In the apartment’s enclosed back-stairwell, there is a lone painting. A woman is seen on a treadmill – her legs flying out behind her at an impossible 180-degree angle, her eyes manically fixed on a purple flame icon in the top-left corner tracking the 666 calories she’s burned. What the viewer can assume is the subject’s cell phone, is a vaguely-rectangular ceramic blob fastened to the bottom corner of the frame with a copper pipe for an antenna. While an ant-sized figure of a man in a ball cap with a playdough erection gazes stage-right off the canvas. Yoohee Chang’s work is visually unbelievable, it’s materiality doesn’t make sense to our world. Her work is guileless in its perceived deskilled renditions. The viewer must confront reality in its frank absurdity.

Image Courtesy of Jesse Meredith.

Yoohee Chang’s work is the perfect kind of art to live with. Which is what Budgie Birka-White does. In her three-bedroom apartment, the gallery has its own autonomous room off from the main living area, where it can function solely as an art space. The art can remain distinct but connected to Budgie’s home and vice-versa.

To Have and To Hold is an inspired antidote to the crowded and/or inhospitable scenes art can oftentimes inhabit. Budgie’s gallery attendees are fellow SAIC friends, or friends of friends, and professors – facilitating new connections and emerging artists in a legitimately comfortable living space.

To Have and To Hold’s second event, “Coming Asunder,” will open June 16th, including site-specific performances, installation, works on paper, video, and photography by SAIC first year Performance Studies students Marie Segolene and Polina Protsenko. Follow @tohaveandto.hold on Instagram to say up-to-date on current events and activities.

As of September 2018, To Have and To Hold is now known as Extase.

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