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A Survey of Artist-Run Spaces (
From 1984 to 2009 ) by Daniel Gunn
Published in Pr #2 (2009) PR > Map Designed by Plural. Pr Design By Chad Kouri

Pr was a broadsheet supplement to Proximity Magazine. We asked Daniel Gunn to write a short history of Artist-Run Spaces in Chicago for us. So here did. Excerpt follows:

"I have come home and I'm looking through the window. Outside it's snowing, no waves at all. The beach is white, the fence posts are gray. I'm looking back at a world now gone forever. Thinking of a time that will never return. A book of photographs is looking at me. Twenty-five years of looking for the right road. Postcards from everywhere. If there are any answers I have lost them." Robert Frank

Twenty-five years ago, in 1984, Lynne Warren and Mary Jane Jacobs chronicled the previous decade’s monumental alternative spaces in Alternative Spaces in Chicago, an exhibition and catalog for the Museum of Contemporary Art. Many spaces have come and gone since then and, with a few exceptions, the names of those places live on only in the CVs of artists who exhibited in them. Like ghosts they travel through the subconscious professionalism of so many prospective careers. There is a touch of sadness in people’s voices when they talk about the life and death of these spaces. An emotional toll is exacted when a space ceases to exist because the artist-gallery relationship is never completely devoid of feeling. But the lack of an adequate record of these temporary exhibition spaces obscures the dynamic and forceful activities performed in them and in the future because of them. They were and are the result of a specific cultural, political, and economic climate that informs the present condition of artist-run spaces and determines their lifespan and collective reception.

Generally, artists would rather make art than assume the administrative duties of operating a gallery. When compelled by external factors to do so, artists fill in the gaps between social groups, commercial galleries, and cultural institutions. Therefore the work of an artist-run space is related to the perceived possibility inherent in those artists’ communities. As diverse in motive as in form, artist-run spaces link up with larger civic artistic communities and/or the international art market; celebrate particular genres, mediums or generations; challenge the accepted frame of exhibition practice; create new forms of artistic/ curatorial hybrids; and form the physical site of community activism and cultural change.

The alternative spaces and collectives of the 1970s grew out of a desire to show anti-commercial, ephemeral, or Feminist work. Those spaces rose to institutional status and hosted what were in essence mini-museum shows throughout the 1980s. Yet they struggled to re-invent themselves to survive the funding crises of the 1990s. A lack of relevance to the new generation, by both the commercial galleries in Chicago and the now established “alternative spaces,” formed the basis for a new set of exhibition venues, dubbed the “Uncomfortable Spaces.” Unburdened with the former goal of opposing commercialism and wary of the restrictions imposed by government funding, the “Uncomfortables” adopted “alternative” programming but merged it with commercial gallery structure. Subsequent generations of apartment and artist-run spaces in Chicago have reused this model with different variations in an effort to be financially sustainable. (cont.)


A link to a pdf version of the Artist-Run Space Map is available:
proximitymagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/gallery_map.pdf



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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