Art Is... The Bittersweet
By RILEY YAXLEY
Sometimes, I loathe working in the arts.
I rarely admit this sentiment, because doing so makes me feel ungrateful for the incredible opportunities and experiences that I’ve had in the arts, especially whenever I hear people romanticize a career in the arts and the gift of distance from the mundanity of a corporate career. How could I dare to not adore working in the arts?
Anne Carson writes in her book Eros: The Bittersweet that “no one in love really believes that love will end... They are astonished when they fall in love, they are equally astonished when they fall out of love.”
Last time this year I had just started working part-time at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago as a Visitor Services Associate. I worked every Tuesday and Thursday until 10:30pm. Maurizio Cattelan’s Felix – a 26 foot tall skeletal sculpture of a cat – was on view in the MCA’s Kovler Atrium, which I had to cross through in order to leave each day. One night on my way out I stopped for a moment in the atrium, alone except for the distant, musical commotion of Michigan Avenue traffic. The sculpture was lit only by the dim glow of auxiliary lighting and, while standing there admiring the absurd polyvinyl resin and fiberglass feline, I felt a tingling warmth in my chest, despite mid-January's bitter cold. I had fallen in love.
Less than six months later, however, I recall feeling completely disillusioned. I was burnt out. I had just completed my undergraduate program at DePaul University, and I was working at the newly opened Wrightwood 659, doing an internship at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, pitching an ambitious new interview series for CGN, and also starting an internship at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Each morning I begrudgingly climbed out of bed, making sure to grab everything I would need for a twelve hour day of working. I had fallen out of love.
Recently I was again reminded why I adore working in the arts when I attended the opening of object / item / material / me, an exhibition curated by Graham Feyl. I interviewed Graham about this exhibition for Chicago Gallery News in July 2018 and was now ecstatic that the eight artists and their work had finally found a physical space in which to be shown. When I first sat down with Graham for the 2018 interview, we met at Fork, an American fare restaurant in Lincoln Square and we talked for nearly two hours, exhausting a number of topics that veered back and forth between the professional and the personal. At the time we both expressed our common frustrations and joys of doing the work that we do, but to write my first interview I was skeptical of whether or not I could communicate the personal perspectives. I resolved recently that it is exactly these experiences that are perhaps the most fruitful things I can write about.
So here I am now, writing about what it's like to fall in and out of, and then back in love with art again.
Through a partnership between The Overlook and Annas, a gallery space and curatorial residency at 629 W Cermak, object / item / material / me opened on January 26 and will close on February 24th.
A paralyzing snow storm barreled into Chicago on the opening night of object / item / material / me. I spent nearly an hour and a half in an uber, inching along the Kennedy Expressway from my apartment in Lincoln Square down to the exhibition in Chinatown. I was half expecting an empty gallery space, assuming that the majority of people would have given up because of the weather. So I was surprised when I arrived and saw that the large, warehouse–style space was so crowded I could barely push my way past the entryway. Nearly 100 people attended the opening, rivalling some of the more traditional gallery openings that I’ve been to in the past few years.
In the hallway outside the gallery, there was a large bucket filled with ice and IPA beer, which I drank, but I can’t remember if I enjoyed it or not. I was accosted by several co-workers from the MCA almost immediately, and for the rest of the night I bounced around the space like a silver marble flung around inside a pinball machine. I was overjoyed to run into Jenn Sova, the founder of The Overlook, and to have the opportunity to view men with children, an ongoing series where Jenn collects photos from thrift stores, online, and from friends to explore relationships between men and children.
I took photos with Janelle Miller and her Building Virtue: A Study (2017-cont.), an ongoing project where Janelle collects fans that used to be used during service by churchgoers in African American churches. The fans were mounted on a wall that had been painted a delicate lavender in a shape reminiscent of a church’s stained glass window.
I admired Kimberly English’s Love is, excited to see the work in person and not merely as the background on the exhibition flyer. Love is is made from a deconstructed t-shirt with only the outline of the skeletal hem remaining with price tags that reflect where the garment has been and how its value has decreased over time.
I congratulated Graham on having brought the exhibition to fruition and having rallied such a supportive, engaged community around the work.
Since the opening was scheduled to end at 9pm, the director of Annas had to loudly, and forcefully, announce that the gallery space would be closing but that the group would be moving to Skylark, a quaint, cash-only bar a block away. I didn’t follow everyone to the bar, because I was headed to a friend’s birthday party nearby, but a sizable crowd did leave together to trudge through the snow to continue the night and the conversation. An enthusiastic and loving community had rallied around a new exhibition.
I was practically giddy on my uber ride home, grinning like a child that has been told they can stay up late and watch TV on a weeknight. I could not remember the last time an art event gave me that elation. I remember going to bed thinking, “How lucky am I?”
I had fallen in love again.