Madron Gallery presents Palette and Palate, an exhibition celebrating Chicago, its artists, and one of the city’s most unique and beloved artist-run spaces of the mid-twentieth century, Riccardo’s Restaurant and Gallery, once called the Montmartre of the Midwest. On view from September 6 through December 16, 2022, Palette and Palate features paintings depicting Chicago street scenes from the Madron collection alongside The Seven Lively Arts, a group of seven enormous paintings by seven Chicago artists commissioned by Ric Riccardo in 1947 to hang behind his palette-shaped bar at 437 N. Rush St. Each work depicts a different allegorical scene of an art form (Literature, Drama, Sculpture, Painting, Architecture, Dance, and Music); in Riccardo’s heyday, the paintings were considered by many to be the restaurant’s centerpiece. The exhibition is accompanied by Flash in the Pan, an essay by Alex Cornacchia exploring the restaurant-gallery combination that developed in Chicago in the late 1940’s as well as the oft-overlooked attributes that make Chicago galleries stand apart from other American gallery communities. On Saturday December 10th, Madron Gallery will host Phillip Koch and Sally Marschall of Film Police, as they present material from their upcoming PBS documentary film “Everybody Came to Ric’s: Chicago’s Golden Age 1934-1954”, about Ric Riccardo, his life, and Riccardo’s Restaurant and Gallery. Exhibiting artists include: Ivan Albright (1897-1983), Malvin Albright (1897-1983), Bernece Berkman-Hunter (1911-1988), Aaron Bohrod (1907-1992), Vincent D’Agostino (1898-1981), Todros Geller (1889-1949), Rachel V. Hartley (1884-1955), Ric Riccardo (1903-1954), Edgar Rupprecht (1889-1954), William S. Schwartz (1896 -1977), Robin Artine Smith (1903-1991), Ethel Spears (1902-1974), Ruth Van Sickle Ford (1897-1989), and Rudolph Weisenborn (1881-1974).
That Chicago suffers from an inferiority complex compared to New York City and Los Angeles is not heavily-contested within the art world. Despite Chicago’s vibrant, diverse, wide-ranging art scene, with its rich history of experimental artist-run spaces, decade after decade cultural critics have asked whether the city even has a style of art. Institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago long had a frustrating habit of showing mostly European and East Coast artists; it wasn’t until 1946 that they even dedicated a gallery exclusively to local artists. Enter Ric Riccardo (1903 -1954), an artist himself with a vested interest in giving new and homegrown talent a chance to be seen where other galleries and museums might not. The gallery at Riccardo’s was a Chicago creation, intended, at least in part, to showcase what Chicago art was and could be, and exactly what its artists were made of.
Riccardo opened the doors to his restaurant in 1933. A former WPA artist, he originally exhibited only his own work. But over the years his artist friends became regulars, both at his tables and up on his walls. Riccardo's Restaurant and Gallery soon had its own mission statement, curator, and monthly exhibitions, and it attracted all manner of people. As Tribune journalist Rick Kogan wrote in 1995, Riccardo’s was a “remarkable gathering place for artists, writers, journalists, opera singers and movie stars, admen, drunks, scalawags and bon vivants, real and would-be.’’
Always the entrepreneur Riccardo expanded his restaurant and exhibition space several times over, and in 1947 he commissioned six of his friends to each create a 96 x 48 inch oil painting, assigning each artist a different theme: Ivan Albright had Drama, Malvin Albright had Sculpture, Vincent D’Agostino had Painting, Aaron Bohrod had Architecture, William S. Schwartz had Music, Rudoph Weisenborn had Literature, and Riccado assigned himself toDance. For two decades after their 1948 unveiling, the paintings hung behind the bar at Riccardo’s. As Alson Smith wrote in his 1953 book Chicago’s Left Bank: “These murals are the pride of the restaurant.” By 1974, however, financial strife forced the Riccardo family to sell first the Ivan Albright, then the Aaron Bohrod, and finally the restaurant itself in 1975. The other five paintings remained behind the bar until 1995, when Riccardo’s closed its doors for good.
For a while the world lost track of the Lively Arts. In 2001 Mary Lackroitz Gray declared them missing in her Guide to Chicago Murals; critic Franz Schulze wrote in the book’s forward that they’d “simply disappeared.” It wasn’t until 2000 that anyone decided to do more than wonder where they’d gone. Seymour H. Persky (1922 -2015) — lawyer, real estate investor, preservationist, sometime patron of Riccardo’s, and noted collector of art arcana — made it his mission to track down the seven paintings. The search started in June of 2000 and involved lawyers, curators, and art experts. In 2002, Persky successfully reunited the Lively Arts.
Later that same year the paintings were displayed at the Union League Club’s Rendezvous Bar, where Persky was a member. The Seven Lively Arts would spend the decade traveling, exhibited in Art In Chicago: Resisting Regionalism, Transforming Modernism at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2007, and in Big Picture: A New View of Painting in Chicago at the Chicago History Museum in 2008. To this day, The Seymour H. Persky Trust are the caretakers of this unique piece of Chicago History.
Alex Cornacchia is a researcher and writer for Madron Gallery, and author of Madron Press’sWilliam S. Schwartz: Color and Coloratura. Alex’s articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including The New Art Examiner, The Creativity Post, and Misadventures Magazine. Alex spent a year writing for a local Massachusetts newspaper, and currently works in publications at The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Alex graduated from Vassar College with a BA in psychology and art history.
Phillip Koch and Sally Marschall are award-winning filmmakers. Koch’s and Marschall’s credits include “The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict,” a PBS national broadcast, and “Medusa Challenger,” an award-winning short in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Library of Congress. Koch was awarded a Chicago area Emmy for “Medusa Challenger.” Phillip was a producer for CNN’s “Chicagoland,” (Silver Hugo 2014 Chicago Film Festival) executive produced by Robert Redford. A music video starring Chance the Rapper, “Angels Ft. Saba,” was nominated for an MTV VMA in 2016, currently has over 22 million views on YouTube, and was produced by Koch’s & Marschall’s company, Film Police. Feature films produced by Koch and Marschall include “Pink Nights” (1985), “Night of the Lawyers” (1995), “Betaville” (2001) and the Chicago filming of “Summer in Genoa” and “The Shock Doctrine” for British director Michael Winterbottom. Koch and Marschall have been featured in The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and The Los Angeles Times. Koch has written for Cinefantastique, Cimarron Review, Descant, Pro Video Review, and Trial Diplomacy Journalmagazines. Koch serves as a judge for the National Emmy Awards in the News and Documentary category, and has a B.A. from Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. Marschall has a B.A. From the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida. Both Koch and Marschall have participated in post-graduate work in film at Columbia College Chicago.
Madron Gallery’s inventory of paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, and prints showcases the breadth and depth of art in the United States from the late 19th century on. Known for its American Impressionist pieces, Madron also features an outstanding and constantly growing collection of modern and contemporary art, aiming to illuminate artistic connections across decades and centuries.