A.k.a the secret(ish) industrial art galleries of Chicago’s South Side
Written while listening to: the crackling of a fire and my fam watching football
There’s an episode of Girls where Hannah, the British one, and Kylo Ren all go to a warehouse party. And while I usually pretend to like that show ironically (while secretly loving it), it got me obsessed with the idea of warehouse parties — something I thought only ever happened on TV, in New York, or on TV shows set in New York.
So when my coworker Conrad said some of his art was going to be on display at a warehouse-y gallery opening? I was 1000% there.
The Zhou B Art Center in Bridgeport, Chicago was about a 20-minute drive from Threadless HQ — making it about an hour away from where I live. Ergo, it’s no easy trek — hence the whole “great art is hard to find…literally” thing.
But what I’ve learned is that nowhere worth going to is easy to get to.
While this was far from the first gallery opening rodeo for my work friends, for me, this was like falling through the rabbit hole and getting a glimpse into Wonderland where everything from traditional art to street art existed in perfect harmony.
When you first walk in, it looked like your typical art gallery — paint splattered stylistically onto giant canvases, a classy bar set up in the corner, hushed voices creating an ambient whisper throughout the massive space. There’s even a soothing waterfall pouring into a tank of fancy goldfish greeting you as you walk through the glass doors.
But that was just the first floor.
As we headed further down the rabbit hole (like, literally into the basement), it felt like we were heading into the underworld of the art scene. We descended away from the more classical art upstairs and delved into the world of spray paint and city expression that is street art.
The upper floors were all gallery space. But this was something between a market of vendors selling their art, jewelry and beer, a gallery, and a reunion of Chicago’s most famous street artists like Radah and ABC Kills.
It was here that Conrad had one of his art pieces displayed — a painted Luchador mask.
The room in which his art was displayed was lined with the masks — the same template over and over while no one of them looked even remotely similar.
The masks were part of the Santo Demonio exhibition, where a template of Luchador masks was sent to dozens of artists for them to leave their mark on what was, quite literally, a blank canvas.
Many of the masks were mixed media — one with a tongue sticking out, several wired up with LED lights — while others had everything from tattoo-inspired art, to comic book collages, to the classic styles of recognizable Chicago artists like Pennypinch and Elloo.
Giving a bunch of artists the same canvas to see what they cover it with is almost like an artistic MRI — you get to see the inner workings of a creative’s mind, how they see the world, how they imagine a piece.
Since starting at my current job, I’ve been quickly discovering more and more about the art world — something that is out of necessity but feels more like the best adventure I’ve ever embarked on.
In the weeks prior, I had finally found myself slowly recognizing the artists of Chicago’s thriving street art scene. Some of them have even done pieces for Threadless, and I had been reaching out to them and creeping on their Instagrams to get interviews about the murals they’d done for us.
I even got yelled at by one of them when I tried to put my stuff down underneath a table. *Insert awkward grimace emoji here*
It’s an interesting thing to be smack dab in the middle of a long-existing scene that you’ve only recently scratched the surface of. I didn’t quite feel like I belonged there yet. Hell, losing my work friends in this art crowd gave me more anxiety than when I did a night snorkel once and thought I lost my group.
But I think that’s what the best part of it was — feeling a little awkward. You don’t learn anything if you’re not a little uncomfortable (awesome advice courtesy of Jake Nickell). It’s not like Wonderland was a relaxing place to be. But man was it a worth it one for Alice to discover.
No growth ever came from comfort — Just as no cool experience comes from going to the easiest art museum to get to.
Originally published on my Medium Blog