PATRON: Committed to Chicago
By ALISON REILLY
One year ago, Emanuel Aguilar and Julia Fischbach opened the doors of their gallery, PATRON. The two had previously worked together as directors at Kavi Gupta Gallery. Since opening in fall 2015 they have doubled the number of artists they represent while presenting impressive shows by Alex Chitty, Daniel G. Baird, and Myra Green, to name a few. I recently sat down with Emanuel and Julia at their space in River West.
CGN: Tell me about your background. How did you get started in the art world?
Julia Fischbach: I’m from Chicago. I grew up here, and then I went away to a school in central Kentucky called Asbury University. Soon after I graduated, I came back to Chicago and I met an artist who had started working with Kavi. I started going to the openings and things like that. After a series of conversations I was hired by Kavi when I was 23. I was there for just over 17 years.
CGN: What about you Emanuel?
Emanuel Aguilar: I grew up in the city as well. I went to Columbia College and double majored in art history and marketing. But when I was very young, seventeen, I met a gallerist, Jean Albano in River North, through family and friends. I worked for her for about eight years, through college. When I left school I launched a magazine called Jettison Quarterly with some of my fellow graduates. One of the other founders of the magazine, Peter Skvara, worked with Julia and Kavi, and so I formed a relationship with the gallery. At one point our offices were in the same building. Kavi offered me a job and I took it. I was there for a few years, and then it led to this.
CGN: Was the idea of opening up your own space something that you had been thinking about for awhile?
EA: It’s an industry where you eventually reach the point where, either you do it on your own, or you leave. Especially in a city like Chicago, there are only so many opportunities. To continue up the ladder you need to think about how or if you want to continue. It wasn’t something we planned for until after we left and thought about what we wanted to do. We had options to leave the city and work for other spaces.
CGN: Are you happy with the decision to stay in Chicago?
EA: Yeah, it’s difficult. Chicago is a very difficult place. I think that’s something we both learned at Kavi’s. Anything you can imagine in the art world globally, we were exposed to. When you have that kind access to the industry at large you have to reflect on—in order to stay sane—what aspects of the job are fulfilling. You come out of it really exhausted and you think to yourself, ‘Why do I want to keep doing this for the rest of my life? What is it about this that makes me want to wake up?’
But Chicago has a lot of opportunities. There’s definitely a void to fill. It has a lot of challenges because the community and the collector base is small. The collector base often isn’t as risky; they sometimes wait for the rest of the world to approve something and then they follow through. You have to reach out to the rest of the world. But we’re happy because the reception has been great.
CGN: Julia, what about you? Are you happy with the decision?
JF: Yes, for sure. When we left there was no plan for anything because we had different opportunities coming our way. I needed time to completely regroup. We had people who wanted us to go to the West Coast, East Coast, the whole thing, but I was like, ‘You know we have both been here, we love the city.’ It’s easy to leave sometimes, but I felt like more and more of the world’s eyes were turning towards Chicago. In my heart I felt like I needed to stay.
CGN: But I’m sure you’ve both been traveling a lot.
EA: When we were at the other gallery we were on the road so much, flying out almost every other week. I almost felt like a stranger, because I was never here. At one point I was talking to a friend about my apartment and I mentioned that I had slept like five nights out of the last three months in my own bed. Sometimes you disconnect with your own community. Being in Chicago now has helped me to reconnect with what is going on here and to be a part of it. But eventually travel happens. The way that the art world functions these days you have to be on the road.
CGN: You’ve said you want to foster connection between South America and Chicago. Have you been traveling to South America this year or do you have plans in the future to do so?
JF: We're starting the conversations and then doing research. I don't want the program to feel like ‘These are South American artists! And artists from the States!’ so we want to make sure that there's a lot of crossover as far as conversations that can be blended beautifully. We are starting to work with artists from South America who live in Chicago or have lived here for a time.
CGN: Last year, you had a booth at EXPO, but I didn’t see you on the exhibitor list for this fall. Are you planning on participating in other ways?
JF: Yes, EXPO asked us to do a project. We will have a piece up by Samuel Levi Jones. It’s an earlier work from 2012 called 48 Portraits Underexposed that informed where his work is today. We’ll also be focused on Harold Mendez’s exhibition opening here. He lived in Chicago at one point, he’s down in Houston now. It’s going to be very different and fresh. It’s really amazing work.
CGN: You started with four artists when you opened a year ago, and now you represent eight. How did you get there?
EA: It’s a process to build relationships with artists. Not only do we have to believe in the practice and in the work, but we also have to develop good relationships with these artists as people, because we work very intimately with them. We are gallerists who like being in the studio often, collaborating with the artists and working side by side. It’s forming a relationship that functions as a productive partnership for both sides to realize whatever it is that the artist’s aspirations are. It took some time to get to know who’s right for that and whether we can also do something for those artists. There are a lot of artists we like but for whom we’re just not the right space.
CGN: The mold making process for Daniel G. Baird’s recent exhibition at PATRON seemed very intensive. He travels into caves across the United States and makes molds of the surfaces. Is Baird’s project one that you were involved with specifically?
EA: Yes, if you look at our artist roster, I’d say 95% of everything the artists are doing we’re involved with, at some point, even if it’s just a discussion. Dan has very ambitious ideas and his exhibition was laying foundation for those ideas to grow even bigger and get more ambitious. Everything in his show happened through months and months of conversations.
CGN: Tell me about your philosophy for the gallery. How does it relate to the name PATRON?
JF: Even though we’re a newer space we want to make sure that we are really accessible to people. We want the space to feel very open; our offices are almost in the middle of the space instead of hiding. Anybody who comes into the gallery is welcome to walk back into the showroom area. We’re interested in helping someone who’s never bought a piece of art in their life and has no idea how to go about that, as well as working with those who’ve been doing it for forty years. Everyone is a different case.
There are many, many ways to be a supporter. The original definition of patron—usually you think it’s someone who has money and is giving to something—is actually a much more beautiful, generalized term. It’s a supporter, a protector. That is our job. We do that everyday when we cross a threshold. We chose the name very carefully. It’s at the foundation of who we are as a space.
CGN: What was the most challenging part of opening up a space this year?
JF: Even though we've been in the industry for a long time we're starting from scratch. It’s been very thrilling. It's a completely different thing when your problems are your problems. We've had so many experiences in our lives that it's allowed us to say ‘It's okay.’ You make a decision and you move forward.
EA: It’s a challenge to redefine your identity and your life. Both locally and internationally people saw us under a certain umbrella—we belonged to this other place. We’ve had to restructure the way that the world sees us and reconfigure our networks into the fact that we're no longer there and we're here. But it's been really good.
For more information visit patrongallery.com
Top image: Samuel Levi Jones, 48 Portraits (Underexposed), 2012, inkjet print on paper, 48-28" x 22" each or 8.5' x 23' overall, Edition of 1 with 1 AP, SLJ025