Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Western Frontier: Pilsen’s other arts scene

by: Sam Feldman

Four decades ago, the Podmajersky family’s eponymous real estate company founded the Chicago Arts District in East Pilsen. Centered on the strip of Halsted between 18th Street and Cermak Road, the Chicago Arts District has experienced tremendous success and routinely draws large, lively crowds for its Second Friday gallery crawls. Last weekend’s 38th Annual Pilsen East Artists Open House was essentially a larger version of these gallery crawls, with the addition of a curated show arranged by Podmajersky. These cheek-to-cheek galleries, together with institutions like EP Theater and Kristoffer’s Café, have cemented East Pilsen’s reputation as an artist’s haven.

Later this month, on October 18-19, there will be another gallery tour in Pilsen: Pilsen Open Studios. But this one will not be Podmajersky-supported. This art walk roughly spans an area known as West Pilsen, running from May Street to Western Avenue, from 16th Street to 24th Street. West Pilsen is considered the more “Mexican” of the two Pilsens, and outside of the National Museum of Mexican Art it may be more known for its taquerías than its galleries. But West Pilsen has an art scene all its own, with younger, smaller galleries, local artists, and no corporate protector. The West Pilsen art scene is more dispersed with no equivalent of the packed stretch along Halsted, but 18th Street between Blue Island and Paulina (including the Pink Line stop) has a relatively high concentration of artistic spaces.

This stretch includes the headquarters of Polvo, an art collective founded in 1996 by Miguel Cortez, Elvia Rodriguez-Ochoa, and Jesus Macarena-Avila. The gallery space Polvo has maintained on and off is far from its only contribution to the West Pilsen art scene. The collective puts out a self-titled magazine at irregular intervals, and since 2003 they’ve hosted the Pilsen Open Studios. This year the event will open at 5pm on October 17 with “Made in Pilsen III,” a show featuring more than 25 artists at the Prospectus Art Gallery (1210 W. 18th Street). Here we have assembled a sampling of the galleries of West Pilsen—some old, some new, and some still unborn.

antena is a new gallery from Polvo co-founder Miguel Cortez, so last April it opened to high expectations. By all accounts they have been met, and antena’s third exhibition, which closed last weekend, received positive reviews in the citywide press. On Friday, October 10, antena opens its next exhibition, “Spire Reloaded,” by Patrick Lichty. During the opening reception, Lichty, a Columbia College professor, is also showing a virtual sculpture on Columbia’s private island on Second Life. Lichty’s sculpture, and the exhibition as a whole, focuses on the recently demolished Berwyn Spindle, the so-called “car kebab” that drew tourists to a suburban mall parking lot for almost twenty years. “Spire Reloaded” continues antena’s tradition of immediately accessible art, which began with its first exhibition last April, “What Makes a Man Start Fires?”, which used video games, night vision, and Superman’s X-ray vision to comment on violence in our society. 1765 S. Laflin St. Saturday, noon-5pm or by appointment. (773)344-1940

No Coast
The eight members of the No Coast collective first started working out of their studio at 17th and Laflin about a year ago. On October 11 at 3pm, they will officially open their storefront to the public with a barbecue, bands, and an art show, although regular hours began on October 1. Don’t be fooled by the awning outside, left over from a sandwich store called “Golden Age”; inside, instead of pop, candy, and ice cream, you’ll find poster art from local venues like the Hideout, zines, apparel, screenprints, fiber arts, records, and more. In the basement is a printing studio for use by the collective and other local artists. “We really want to be a resource,” says No Coast member Alex Valentine. In keeping with that mission, No Coast hosts a variety of events, including periodic “screenprinting lock-ins,” where guests can use the facilities from 6pm one day to 6pm the next. (The next lock-in will begin on November 7.) The collective also hosts film screenings on the first Sunday of every month (starting this month) at noon, curated by Bike-In Cinema, and on October 25 they will host a 24-hour horror movie marathon. Valentine says the group enjoys their location in West Pilsen, off Halsted’s beaten path. “I feel like there’s a big difference,” he says. “Things are more active and messy over here.” 1500 W. 17th St. Wednesday-Friday, 1-7pm; Sat, noon-7pm; Sun, noon-6pm. (312)850-2338.

Golden Age
This clean storefront space on 18th Street, less than a block away from the Pink Line and unrelated to the previously-mentioned “Golden Age” sandwich shop, is more than just a gallery or bookstore. Golden Age is a true center for area artists, selling and displaying books, music, jewelry, visual art, and sculpture, like the gigantic, perfectly aligned pyramid of beer cans in one display window. Marco Kane Braunschweiler, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute, started the store a little over a year ago and has received “a warm reception from the neighborhood.” As opposed to the Chicago Arts District in East Pilsen, which he calls “a little contrived,” West Pilsen is “pretty in flux right now” in Braunschweiler’s estimation. “Where there’s open storefronts [around here], those storefronts often turn into galleries,” he says. “It seems likely that there’ll be a lot more art spaces. There’s a positive atmosphere here, people are really interested in cultural events.” Braunschweiler has hosted his share of these events, including film screenings by experimental filmmaker Ben Russell (“Black and White Trypps”) and others. In the second or third week of October, Golden Age will open an exhibition by Jihee Kim consisting of “taxidermied animals along with various other sculptured things,” according to Braunschweiler. 1744 W. 18th St. Thursday-Sunday, noon-6pm. (312)850-2574.

Colectiva 18
One of the oldest art collectives in West Pilsen, Colectiva 18 began almost twenty years ago in a building on Halsted near Cermak. At that time, it was a studio for artists and printmakers, but after its move to its current location at 18th and Bishop it expanded into something of an arts-based community center, with everything from guitar classes to theatrical performances. Since then it has undergone a series of name changes, many of them incorporating the portmanteau "mestizarte," a blend of the words for "mixed-race" and "art." The word "Mexican," common in previous names, has been discarded from the current moniker because it excluded people from other countries, according to collective member Isaura Gonzalez, a former professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The collective was once associated with Pilsen legend Carlos Cortez, a poet, artist, and activist. Now it counts artists such as Victor Alegría and Jose L. Piña Moralez among its ranks. Colectiva 18's next exhibition opening will take place on October 11, from 6:30pm to midnight or later. 1440 W. 18th St. Saturday-Sunday, 1-6pm.


lapsus5 said...

No Coast is at the old Golden Age storefront---not a sandwich store. They leftover their store signage.

Martine said...

whoa! dude made some crazy remarks about taquerias.

Unknown said...

Also Polvo did not host the Pilsen Open Studios. It began with a group of artists in 2003 from the area who got together and organized this art walk. I was one of many.

lapsus5 said...

The Pilsen neighborhood has a rich history and culture. It is known for its colorful and political murals since the 1960s. The writer needs to do more research about the area before saying that it's known more for its "taquerias".

Marco Kane Braunschweiler said...

totally agreed. this writer obviously doesn't know anything about what he's writing about.

Unknown said...

check out this interview: