Debuting at Chicago's Stray Show in December, 2002, Western Exhibitions joined dozens of other avant-garde contemporary art galleries from across the globe. As a stepping-off point, the Stray Show served to showcase Western Exhibitions as an emerging "portable gallery" among Chicago's art community. Representing 14 artists and one collective nationwide, the gallery acquired a new West Loop loft space in the summer of 2004. In-house exhibits feature represented artists such as Chicagoan Stan Shellabarger, whose artist books and performances focus on the body's repetitive daily habits such as losing hair and cycles of breathing, as he looks at the challenging possibilities of collecting and cataloging those physical forces.
Western Exhibitions further integrates the gallery experience into an event for everyday life by hosting collaborators such as San Francisco-based Crust & Dirt. This exhibition included installations and happenings that began with May Day events, encouraging guests to pose for free portraits or stand in the center of one's own "diamond." Stretching a rubber band loop using one's head, feet and extended arms to create the surrounding shape (or in the words of Crust & Dirt, the "Diamond Aura"), this reaffirms the artists' interests in natural phenomena. These elements of life and nature are also represented in their paintings and ink drawings on display. Both the portraits and the metaphysical encapsulations are documented in photographs, again placing significance not only on the act of creation itself, but also on the recording of the artistic action.
The works exhibited at Western Exhibitions contribute to the community-based ideals of many small contemporary art galleries. The artists represented here are often interested in examining their work through other bodies, whether through physical bodily attributes, audience participation or in collaboration with other artists. This expanded approach to representation has Chicago eagerly awaiting what Western Exhibitions might bring next to the Midwest.
Centerstage Reviewer: Heather Blaha