Collection: Brought, Bought and Stolen
Review by Stephanie Nadeau
When Joseph Beuys imagined Social Sculpture in the 1960s, he freed creativity from the history of art. He pictured society as a creative collaboration, a work of art that is continually re-produced as each individual finds his own way forward, creating culture by making the world habitable. His politics expanded the scope of art to include social change, and declared creativity a matter of responsible public practice.
What are the implications of that image on the art world now? Certainly there is still something called Art that is the purview of the trained artist and the intellectual, a sphere of inquiry that progresses in the institution and thrives in the marketplace. The gallery system is still framing that inquiry, naming the outsiders and indexing the stars. The struggle to broaden the scope and reach of the art scene in Chicago has had everything to do with envisioning an alternative to this system.
Alternative exhibition spaces thrive in this city. Some host regular programming, while some spaces spring up unexpectedly for a short while before returning to their former states as living rooms and studios. Almost all of them are independently funded and most are artist-run. Their presence in the city distances creative production from a strictly commercial context, and allows artists the freedom to make and exhibit work that is uncertain and risky. New networks are created, collaborations fostered, and discussions facilitated, charging Chicago art culture with a spirit of making and creating that is useful, open, and aligned with Beuysian artistic praxis.
The DIY Chicago art scene has recently expanded by one more venue, accepting into its many variegated folds a small space in the West Loop called Spoke. Tucked above ThreeWalls on the 3rd floor of the 119 Peoria Street building, Spoke is remarkably well positioned to offer challenging programming to a mainstream art audience.
Co-founded by Monica Herrera, Rachel Moore, Heather Mullins, and Rana Siegel, Spoke aims to challenge and re-invent the role of the traditional art gallery, by providing a platform for a diverse range of creative people, projects, and endeavors of all kinds. Their inaugural show, Collection: Brought, Bought and Stolen, is an exhibit by Canadian artists Sarah Febbraro and Jesse Levine, who have decided to use the gallery to exhibit their personal collections.
Levine performed a sample of his music collection at the opening, remixing and manipulating it with added effects and keyboards. In a very nostalgic gesture he also created a mixed CD of songs from his collection, available at Spoke throughout the month.
Febbraro installed 59 works of art acquired as gifts or garage sale purchases, bought on the street, in thrift stores, or rescued from the trash. Comprised of paintings, drawings, collages, a finger puppet, street art and memorabilia, the collection hangs on two walls in the gallery, filling them completely in an earnest and cluttered array. The objects have been arranged on the walls en masse, without labels or identification, too close to one another to be considered individually.
Her collection champions the novice and the outsider, and is political in the way that an artist’s living room might be. A beautifully hand-drawn poster of Barack Obama hangs near handy-craft Christmas tree ornaments, opposite a colored pencil Spiderman drawing from an artist on Monroe Street, pinned up under a large and terrible oil painting of a leering, green baby.
Taste is not the validating context for the work in this exhibition. In fact the work is not the work in this exhibition. Febbraro and Levine have framed their collections within the gallery as a gesture intended to broaden the definition of artistic practice, allowing the scope of theirs to include the quotidian ways in which they accumulate and value the creative work of others.