The Salon Series
The Salon Series
How is the project operated?
The Salon Series (TSS) is a for-profit, artist-run exhibition series.
How long has it been in existence?
I started TSS in October 2009.
What was your motivation?
The recession was in full swing and Chicago had a lot of empty storefronts. I planned to leverage this down market into an opportunity by leasing space for a month, throwing a show, making sales, then striking it and moving on. After talking to a friend in the restaurant business, we decided to hold it there and wrap a dinner around it. It was so successful we had to add more dinners. When that ended, interest was still high, so I began showing friends and artists I admired.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
I run all aspects of TSS with help from my wife, Amalie Drury, and a partner at whatever venue is hosting TSS.
How are programs funded?
Each Salon has a ticket price that covers overhead: food/beverage costs, staffing, marketing, rentals. There is a 30% commission on sales through Salon. We work with sponsors whenever possible.
Who is responsible for the programming?
I produce the shows, though in the past I have worked closely with other artist-gallerists like Dan Devening. This fall, Tempestt Hazel from Sixty Inches From Center became the first TSS guest curator, putting together a wonderful show by Diana Gabriel. I plan to bring in more guest curators as the project grows.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
There are six to eight shows a year in the spring and fall seasons. Each show is unique, being a composite of the artist’s work, a guest chef, beverage sponsors, the location. Typically, shows are one month with one scheduled dinner event.
What kind of events are usually organized?
A Salon dinner is part art exhibit, part supper club, part discussion. Both an artist and a chef are invited to collaborate on an event. The venue is chosen to best suit the artwork; it often changes. Ideally, the show hangs for a month with one dinner event scheduled. During that dinner, I act as emcee and moderator. We begin with a champagne cocktail reception, then introduce the artist, chef and audience and set the tone for the evening. Immediately we launch into a discussion about the work, the goal being to move from a question-and-answer with the artist to a question-and-counter-question amongst audience members. We break for food, which is introduced by the chef. This cycle is repeated two-to-three times over the course of the evening. Occasionally it ends with a dance party.
How is your programming determined?
I invites artists and chefs whose work I admire and pair them based on scheduling, similarities in style or philosophy and available spaces. As a painter, I tend toward that medium, though Salon has shown ceramic work, furniture, musical acts, sculpture and installations. For food, I work with chefs who can handle the challenge of limited space, supplies or room, which seems to be most of them. Chefs like a challenge.
The Salon Series is based on respect and curiosity, both for the presenting creatives and the audience it attracts. So I look for those kind of people. I always say there are two criteria for showing at a Salon: Be able to make interesting work, and talk about it in front of strangers. The rest takes care of itself.
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
I’ll review submissions—and I’ve shown artists who have submitted work—but my scheduling is usually figured out at least a season in advance.
What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
I approach my shows as a painter and, as a artist, I work from the assumption that the artist knows their work best. I tend to hang back and sit with the work for a while, gently making suggestions. I look for ways to tighten up the visual dialogue going on in the room. My proudest moments is giving feedback that doesn’t just make a good show, but has an impact on that artist’s studio practice. It’s very humbling.
What’s working? What’s not working?
With this format, something’s always working and not working, usually at the same time. It’s the nature of a peripatetic series that you are rolling with the punches and trying to come away with as few bruises as possible. But that flux can be a great source of strength, innovation and serendipity. I’m a big proponent of “learning by doing.” On a bad day that sounds a lot like “flying by the seat of my pants,” but it’s not: once you have an event framed out, you open up room for agility.
What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
Chicago has a pool of active art collectors that everyone in the arts scene seems to be chasing. I’m not interested in them. I’m looking for the people not in the arts who have the money to buy small works—ad execs, techs, administrators, lawyers, managers—and are curious about art and food. I’m also interested in putting those people into direct conversation with artists to give those artists unconventional feedback on their work. The Salon Series gets everyone out of the comfort zone and that’s where interesting things—observations, dialogue, sales—happen. When you are willing to engage, you can get just as much out of an HR manager talking about your work as a museum curator.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
For the two years, Salon has been creating limited-edition art items with its artists, which has led to some interesting work. This year I also introduced a residency program; artist Jessie Mott was the first beneficiary. I’d like to continue that, depending on what spaces I can find. Recently I increased ticket prices slightly to compensate artists for their install/travel costs. I think that’s also good for the audience to know that by attending an event they are materially supporting specific artists and chefs in their community. I’m working on programs and events that will provide larger honorariums and grant-like awards.
Images courtesy of The Salon Series.