Boasting a refreshingly lighthearted collection of works by contemporary Chicago artists, Mars Gallery makes the estranged environs of Fulton Market worth traversing. Inside and out, the space coyly smudges the line between the high- and low-brow, uniting the strange bedfellows "fine art" and "accessibility."
The gallery’s entrance speaks of the neighborhood’s humbler, meatpacking days. Its facade, shared by Shore Egg & Produce Company, stands on a cement dais that hints of a past life as a loading dock. One can’t help wonder whether such proletarian surrounds favor the approachability of the artworks within or just intensify their aura of rarity.
Inside, three floors of converted, warehouse loft space comprise the gallery. The exhibition area on the main level adjoins a private party space upstairs and, below, a custom framing shop and a private studio of the co-owner's art. In keeping with the gallery’s Pop and Outsider predilection, decorative oddments, scattered furniture and a salon-inspired display style ward off stuffiness; it’s hard to take oneself too seriously under a disco ball.
It’s a fit setting for the monthly rotation of paintings and mixed media by mainstays Mars, Luthardt, Duimstra, Skaggs and others. United more often by mood and key than by subject, the new works tend to be playful and bright, with an occasional dash of caprice or quirky humor. Cultural elitists will search in vain for anything intellectually overwrought. And with most pieces tagged in the low to middle hundreds, they’re viewer-friendly in more ways than one. Scope them out during an opening: Where else can you expect to have liquor served to you out of an elevator shaft? (Amber Staab)