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At the Arc Gallery's March 4 exhibition launch, director Iris  Goldstein (left) and grant writer Cheri Reif Naselli say this month it's essential to display good art, despite gender.

At the Arc Gallery’s March 4 exhibition launch, director Iris
Goldstein (left) and grant writer Cheri Reif Naselli say this
month it’s essential to display good art, despite gender.

Calling all female artists: How far have they come?

by Liz M. Kobak
March 08, 2011

 Chicago’s art world is answering the call of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“Let us redouble our efforts to make sure that all women and girls in our country have a chance to live up to their God-given potential . . . who in their own ways are making it possible for generations to come after them to seize and hold their rightful place,” the U.S. Secretary of State said in a speech last year during Women’s History Month.

Exhibiting quality art, irrelevant of creator’s gender                                     
On Friday, the Arc Gallery at 832 W. Superior, hosted an exhibition that displayed male and female artists’ works together – unusual considering its timing and the gallery’s history.
Founded in 1973 during the feminist movement, the non-profit gallery only offered membership to women and exhibited female artists’ work. Arc Gallery’s initial mission was to place typically secluded artworks in the public eye.
“Women had a hard time showing their work in a professional environment,” said Cheri Reif Naselli, vice president of the gallery’s grants.

Now the gallery shows works by both sexes. And this month, the exhibition features photographs, paintings and representational art by four female and three male artists.
The left walls of the space are covered with a series of abstract portraits rendered in pastel watercolors and followed by photographic portraits of South Side Chicagoans. Toward the gallery’s center are three-dimensional, representational art
composed of cardboard and tape.
Unlike “Where Are We Now? 30 Years of Feminism,” a 2008 exhibition of female artists’ works pertaining to feminism and Women’s History Month, the gallery’s president said the pieces in the current exhibition were chosen solely for their aesthetic qualities.

“We look for good art,” said gallery president Iris Goldstein, “And that’s our focus.”
When the gallery members selected Alberto Aguilar’s cardboard artworks to be a part of the exhibition, he initially felt like an outsider in a feminine art atmosphere.
“At first I thought I was being intrusive,” said the 37-year-old freelance artist and teacher at Harold Washington College, “But now I don’t even feel it.”

The gallery, Goldstein said, has organically changed over time and is not: “a particularly feminist gallery that hunts for a certain type of political message.”
One female artist in the exhibition said female pioneers in art inspired her to follow in their footsteps.
Although her works are watercolors conceptually based on personal family photographs, Washington-based artist Sue Sommers, 51, said she admired early 16th-century female Renaissance painters who used fashionable, thick mediums of oil and tempera.
“They made amazing work,” Sommers said, “and they didn’t let anybody stop them.”