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Sustainable Art: Chicago’s Twelve

Mary Ellen Croteau. My Eye. 2012. Zhou B. Art Center, Chicago, IL (Photo Credit: Image Courtesy of Danielle Jackson)

Orange traffic cones, plastic prescription bottles, fallen tree branches, rulers, belts, deodorant caps, wire, and nails—just to name a few—are all materials that are familiar to us. They’re so mundane that many people don’t think twice about them. We encounter them in our homes, the alley, the park, and on the streets. We use them and discard them. How many of us could envision sculptural or painterly compositions using these seemingly monotonous materials? How many of us could abandon the traditional functions of these materials and incorporate it into our artistic practice?

Inspired by World Earth Day, Chicago’s Twelve is an exhibition challenging our traditional notions of these objects. These artists “repurpose” salvaged materials and promote sustainability. They are equipped with the capability to uniquely envision an artistic solution for these resources. Spread throughout the first floor of the Zhou B. Art Center, each work responds to the industrial quality of the gallery space. Space is not an afterthought in this exhibition. Many of the artworks interact with the cement pillars in the central space; as a result the gallery space becomes a significant element in the work.

Jason Brammer. The Illusion of Permanence. 2012. Zhou B. Art Center, Chicago, IL (Photo Credit: Image Courtesy of Danielle Jackson)

Cell phone audio tours accompany the artworks feeding both our visual and auditory senses. Upon entering the gallery space, I was mesmerized by Jason Brammer’s sculptural paintings. His use of salvaged wood, acrylic paint, plaster, and antique hardware is an impressive display of materials. Its rustic quality and craftsmanship fascinated me. Exploring themes of perception and utilizing the ancient “trompe l’oeil” technique, Brammer’s work provides the illusion that the viewer has entered into another time or dimension. Chicago’s Twelve is a powerful testament to the imagination and creativity of artists. Using these non-traditional art-making materials each artist develops distinctive compositions. These artworks are so beautifully crafted and original that they demand respect. Over the weekend, I caught up with the Director of Exhibitions Sergio Gomez just long enough to ask him three important questions about the exhibition.

Danielle Jackson [DJ]: What was your inspiration for curating the show?

Sergio Gomez [SG]: I was very interested in putting together an exhibition of non-traditional sustainable art materials that could engage the public at many levels. I wanted to create an experience for the public by including a wide range of works from representational to non-representational art.  I also wanted to focus on the creative usage of found objects and discarded materials. It was important for me to create an atmosphere where the public did not judge the work solely based on whether they understood a created image.  I wanted people to experience the art by walking under it, around it, through it, at close proximity and at a distance. It was great to see people from toddlers to seniors enjoying the experience during the opening.

[DJ]: How did you select 12 artists? What were some expectations you had for the artists?

[SG]: To find the 12 artists I put the word out via email and social media. I invited artists to send sample of work to me and asked lots of people in the arts to recommend artists. I am a big social media user when looking for artists. I had a specific set of parameters when selecting the artists for the exhibition. First, they had to be Chicago based artists (the Zhou B Art Center has always believed in the creative power of Chicago artists). Second, I looked for artists who have made sustainability a passionate working ethic and not a one time occurrence. Artists had to demonstrate a history of working with repurposed and non-traditional found objects. Third, the work had to be of the highest quality in terms of craftsmanship and presentation. Since most of the work was going to be installation work, it had to be done by artists who understand space as a medium and not just as a place to hang art. Fourth, artists had to respond to the gallery space I assigned to them. I met with each artist individually and we discussed the vision for the exhibition. After our meeting, they did what they do best, amazing work!  Some artists made brand new work specific for the show.

Check out the exhibition this 3rd Friday, May 18th

Chicago’s Twelve

On view through June 9th

Zhou B. Art Center

1035 W. 35th Street

Chicago, IL

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