Sybille Canthal finds the gallery world's stuffy "white cube structure" confining not just physically but intellectually. "There are a lot of artists out there, and as we know there are only a few who get shown in galleries. At some point the question becomes not so much about money and whether the art will sell, but whether it's ever going to be seen."
Over the years, the graduate student in arts administration at the School of the Art Institute became interested in unconventional exhibits. A fan of Matthew Girson's one-man shows installed in the bed of his pickup truck, she was also struck by shows like one put up by some UIC students in a hotel room last summer and two in Los Angeles--one in a city zoo, the other at the Department of Motor Vehicles. "It wasn't the greatest work, but part of it was the idea of going to the DMV and how blah those places are," she says.
In September she and fellow SAIC grad student Alex Lynn decided to organize their own unconventional exhibit with four undergrads--Conrad Freiburg, John Welter, Jonathon Ellis, and Zach Taylor--who live and make art in a converted Pilsen gymnasium. "We thought a lot about how the works were going to play off each other," Canthal says. "We asked the artists to collaborate." They also asked the artists to "make books," suggesting that they redefine the concept if they desired.
Canthal and Lynn determined the show would take place over 40 consecutive hours. "It's a fleeting exhibition--it's momentary," says Canthal, whose master's thesis will address issues of short-lived shows. "That gives it more energy." But they ran into trouble when they tried to install the pieces they'd chosen. Obstacles included rickety, uneven floors and impenetrable yellow concrete walls.
"It's challenging to work in a space that huge in one sense, but it's limiting in another," Canthal says. "I've had to throw out just about everything I've learned because it didn't work in this space. For example, you usually use a level when you put up shows. I had to chuck it."
Solutions included hanging some of the paintings from long ropes attached to windowsills near the ceiling and mounting others on waist-level racks made from two-by-fours. One group lies flat along the basketball court's free-throw line, across the room from a piece mounted on a backboard. A large collage by Taylor functions as a rug in the living-room area, while a white treelike sculpture by Ellis (which, in the spirit of the season, has been decorated) sits atop a structure that serves as a closet. An elementary school desk holds crayons and coloring books made by Taylor. Sculptures and paintings--from the childlike to the sophisticated--are on display in the bathroom, kitchen, hallway, and bedrooms.
Canthal has also scheduled a number of video, sound, and performance artists throughout the weekend. "I've given them time windows, and at any point during that time they can do their performance spontaneously. None of them need a stage setting--it will just happen."
The curators and artists will take turns sleeping and hosting. Canthal says she's heard from several people who want to come at 3 AM with coffee and doughnuts. Those will supplement the snacks purchased with the budget, which Canthal describes as "nothing." Actually, they all chipped in $75 to $100 for flyers, invitations, wine, food, and other small expenses. As for selling the art, "I'm staying out of that," she says. "It's between the person who's interested and the artist."
Besides, she may be asleep. "I'm going to get some naps in," she says. "I'm the first to admit that I won't be able to stay up for 40 hours."
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Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Sybille Canthal photo by Dorothy Perry.