Each week CGN interviews a local art-industry professional to discuss the ins and outs of running a space in the city of Chicago. This week we caught up with art dealer Aron Packer of Aron Packer Projects.
Name: Aron Packer
Previous occupation: Record Store
5 favorites from the past week
Restaurant: Bite Cafe
Shop: Any Dollar Store
Read: The Hunting Accident by David Carlson and Landis Blair
Neighborhood: Rogers Park of course
Music: The Lark Ascending by Vaughn Williams
How did you become an art dealer?
AP: My parents had a big influence on that. My mom, Marilyn Packer, was a printmaker and painter and was pretty aggressive for not having gone to art school. I remember her tying large paintings on the top of our station wagon and driving them down to the Art Sales and Rental Gallery at the Art Institute or a gallery she showed at in Old Town. A little later, my folks were on the Exhibition Committee at the Evanston Art Center where she had studied and modeled for Paul Wieghardt and Nelli Bar.
My father Davey Packer was an industrial designer eventually becoming an exhibition designer, and I would always see him tinkering at his drafting table working on booths for the consumer electronics show and trade shows, things like that. He was very particular in how things looked and were arranged. They both were starting to attend local auctions buying American Folk art and ethnographic art. He was always interested in natural creativity alongside modern design.
My mother bought into an antique quilt shop which eventually was run more like a gallery. American Folk Art quilts have the breadth and graphic quality of contemporary painting. They were visually vibrant and exciting to me. I started to follow my folks to antique shows and flea markets. I bought a few quilts and eventually was comfortable enough to consign some to her. They sold and I was kind of hooked. There’s more to it than that, but that is how I got interested in showing and selling art.
Share a typical day in the life!
AP: I am on my computer almost all day… emailing and trying to make a dent in all my to do lists. Show-hang weeks are the most fun. That is my blank canvas.
Best sale you've ever had?
AP: We sold an engraved (scrimshawed) boat by Michael Dinges to Aurora University a few years ago. It hangs from the ceiling and has to do with our sinking ship economy among many other things. It looks like a classic lifeboat and is made of vinyl siding over a constructed frame. It’s made with materials one would buy at Home Depot.
Successes you have had this year? What about challenges?
AP: My most recent success was being head of sale for an Outsider and Folk Art auction at Leslie Hindman. It was the first one they have done there… I am no longer there but that was a great year in my art life. A challenge at the moment is letting people know that since September I have a permanent pop up space they can come and see 5 days a week. Getting a good job I love in the arts would tie with the aforementioned.
Thumbs up or down on art fairs?
AP: Thumbs up and down on art fairs…. They are too expensive for a dealer like me, but I actually loved doing them. An empty booth is a challenge. But hard to sell artwork that is made by under the radar artists… which is mostly what I like to show.
Who inspires you?
AP: I would have to say teachers of all kinds… grade school, high school, art and music and everything else. We've got to support those folks and they don’t get paid enough.
What is your favorite interest outside of the art world?
AP: I am a huge fan of music in general. I play banjo and am in a band called Sinner’s Friend. It’s comprised of a gallerist, artist, architect and yogi. I played classical guitar and went to college for that…. worked in a record store after high school which got me into all sorts of music. Over the years I’ve gone to hundreds of concerts.
What do you look for in an artwork? When searching for yourself, what speaks to you?
AP: I often look for artwork that I wished I could have done myself…. But I don’t have that kind of focus. I also like what I call raw power work, which sometimes can be found in certain Outsider Art. Where someone is so driven to make something they will do whatever it takes to get a piece done with whatever materials are on hand. It’s not always pretty per se.
And I do love paintings of many genres and histories.
What’s coming up next at Aron Packer Projects?
AP: We have a one on one conversation with Maria Tomasula happily grilling Jason Lahr about his current show. On June 9, we start a show with Ben Blount. He’s a letterpress, print, and book artist. Letterpress is new for me so I'm pretty darn excited about it. With this show we will be part of a print crawl on June 24th generated by Spudnik Press.
Aron Packer is the owner of Aron Packer Projects. For more information about his exhibitions please visit: Aron Packer Projects.
Top image credit: Background artwork by artist Bruce Riley