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The Elmhurst Art Museum

Two viewers examining a piece from "The Tremendous Alone", an exhibition of work by Matt Woodward at the Elmhurst Art Museum . December 31, 2011. (Photo credit: Zachary Johnson)

Mies van der Rohe only  designed three houses in the US. One is in Connecticut, one is the Farnsworth House in Plano, IL, and the third, since 1994, is the home of the Elmhurst Art Museum (EAM). Now in its 32nd year, EAM is the only art museum in the Chicago suburbs and boasts an impressive permanent collection and exhibition calendar.

Paying a visit at the end of 2011, I was deeply impressed by the art on display. At the time, Matt Woodward, Glenn Wexler, and Firat Erdim, each represented by Chicago galleries, had work on display. As I took my time in Wexler’s exhibition, I was surprised to find the man in the room was Wexler himself, happy to chat about Stillness in Motion, his illuminated travelogue of East and Southeast Asia.

Overall, the EAM possesses the strength of a small museum: it doesn’t overwhelm the viewer. Museum visitors typically become fatigued after two hours, but the Elmhurst Art Museum can be seen in ninety minutes. Located two blocks from the Elmhurst Metra station and only 30 minutes from Ogilvie Station by train, its location is more convenient than one might expect. Its admission prices are reasonable as well ($5 for adults, $3 for students, free on Fridays). To learn more about the museum and its unique position in the suburbs, I spoke with Stephanie Grow, Director of Development and Marketing.

Zachary Johnson (ZJ): It states on your website that the EAM maintains a balanced exhibition calendar between regional and national shows. What places do your regional artists come from? Do a large number come from a specific area, like the suburbs, or the city of Chicago, or is it greatly mixed? 

Two museum visitors at "Stillness Emotion", an exhibition of work by Glenn Wexler. December 31, 2011. (Photo credit: Zachary Johnson)

Stephanie Grow (SG): It is greatly mixed. The geographical areas that our artists hail from are blurred and varied. EAM’s curatorial direction strives to support Chicagoland artists, and most frequently does. Artists may produce their work in a Chicago studio and have Chicago gallery representation, but live in the suburbs. We have exhibited a number of artists who operate studios both in Chicago and in rural areas in the Southern and Western counties. Our first objective is to bring fantastic art to our audience while supporting stellar regional artists, regardless of an address.

To enhance the dialogue between regional artists we will invite national artists to present a different aspect of a theme. For example, the current exhibition features work that explores themes of growth and organic material. David Weinberg, Carolyn Ottmers, Stephen Eichhorn and Meghan Q. McCook all live and work in Chicago, but Molly McCracken Kumar works in San Francisco. McCracken Kumar’s Hindu-inspired works brings another layer of expression to the current exhibition.

ZJ: What is the museum’s relationship like with Elmhurst and the surrounding communities?

SG: Our relationship is supportive and involved. We frequently work with other organizations such as the Elmhurst Historical Museum, Elmhurst Park District and the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art to bring community wide opportunities for learning, such as Museum Day. We also work with College of DuPage, the Elmhurst Symphony and Special Kids Day on collaborative projects. Among our visitors and program participants Elmhurst residents rank first, followed by Chicago and then other surrounding communities. We are constantly striving to strengthen our relationship with our community and encourage a broader and deeper audience. We’re launching many new programs this year, like Yoga in the Galleries and Pinot and Picasso to bring art to people in fun new ways.

ZJ: Does the EAM face any particular challenges or advantages as the only major art museum located in suburban Chicagoland?

SG: The particular challenge we face is that the density of people is just not as great as it in say, the loop. Our advantage is the convenience and ease in which people can visit us. We are affordable (free on Fridays), have free parking and are easily digested in an hour to an hour and half.  We also have the opportunity to engage people on a more regular basis. We offer a wide-array of on-going classes, workshops and artist talks.

ZJ: Finally, what is the EAM’s relationship like with other regional and national art organizations? What are some partnerships or collaborations that have stood out over the years? 

SG: Our relationship is healthy and constantly evolving to develop new collaborations that benefit our audiences. Most recently we exhibited works from Elmhurst College’s art collection which features outstanding works from the Chicago Imagists. In Winter of 2010 we collaborated with St. John’s University to bring Stoked: Five Artists of Fire and Clay from their unique clay program with Richard Bresnahan. Over the years we have featured traveling exhibitions from Smith Kramer and the Smithsonian. In 2004 we collaborated with the Chicago Cultural Center on a joint exhibition of work from the Zhou Brothers.

To learn more about the Elmhurst Art Museum and its current exhibitions, visit their website here.

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