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2nd Fridays brings art lovers to Pilsen

(Joseph Delisi )
February 13, 2012|By Joseph Delisi, RedEye special contributor

During a blistering cold night, Pilsen's Chicago Art District gave local art lovers a warm welcome with several galleries collaborating together for their monthly showcase. A handful of Chicago's finest artists displayed their works at the renowned event, 2nd Fridays, Feb. 10.

(See photos from the Feb. 10 event here)

The eastern heart of Pilsen has become a creative refuge for developing creators or curators of the Chicago art scene for decades. With more than 30 galleries within walking distance of one another, the residing artists give the aged buildings a young facelift popping up in the neighborhood, which is predominately occupied by Hispanic families.

With maps in hand, fellow artists and curious locals traversed Halsted Street occupying the unique gallery spaces. Far from the typical rectangular galleries, the studios had snaking routes of brick and varying levels of art. Some are tight and cozy--others large and lush.

The Chicago Art District rose out the 60's with John and Annelies Podmajersky converting the dilapidated area into artistic loft and studio spaces. The environment enhances the mystique of the district; with some galleries in plain sight, others hidden beyond the brick and alleyways. Some galleries are clearly accessible, while others are vaguely labeled and detached from the main strip.

Giving classic containers a new vibe, massive luggage pieces are gutted out and adapted into vintage soundsystems at Floyd A. Davis' space Artpentry. Creating the 'Gentleman's Boobmbox', Davis, a carpenter, painter, hip-hop artist and part owner of the studio space details the Pilsen network of creatives.

"[Pilsen] has a community feel. There are lots of friends, lots of people helping each other out; there are also just so many facets," Davis said. "You have theatre groups, painters, graphic designers, photographers, woodworkers and furniture builders."

A three-year veteran in the Chicago Art District, Davis feels a sense of community between neighboring galleries.

"I'll get some work, and it will call for some touches that someone has created before, so we just kind of pass the pieces around and help out," he said. "It's Pilsen, so its what you can make of it."

Most drawings, paintings, photos or installations on display were also directly on sale. At Black Cloud Gallery, everything on the walls was simply $200. With varying artistic mediums and architecture the gallery seconds as gallery owner Clarke Canedy's bedroom.  Home and gallery, the artist's bed and personal space sat below rows of art pieces.

"I think there's more of a concrete foundation here than in other places like Logan Square. There's more of a concentration of artists too, a lot of older artists have art studios out here," said Matt Maniscalco, artist and partner at the Black Cloud Gallery.

The galleries emitted an eclectic and welcoming demeanor; guests were greeted with a smile, whiskey sour punch or even the special elegance of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in plastic cups. While sheltering guests, the colorful bohemia offered photos hung on clotheslines, reupholstered furniture and fireplaces, massive displays of ink drawings or paintings.

"I think its great," Courtney Simon de Montfort, a local artist and event attendee said. "Any venue that opens its doors and allows artists to show their work and engage others I'm supportive and excited about. The artists and galleries in Pilsen make it fun, accessible and worth while."

The Pilsen district holds as a strong foundation for the art scene in Chicago. Maintaining personalized styles the group of artists also seems to hold strength as a collective. The scene has a focused impact, with support and reinforcement in the art scene that is hard to come by in the city.

"I wish I could see more of it, like to see fellow artists make a buck or two, but perhaps once people check it out for the first time and see the effort put forth there will be a better turn out with more people interested in buying," Montfort said. "I can't wait for warmer weather to see events like this really thrive."

The 2nd Fridays series is a monthly event, reoccurring every 2nd Friday of the month. The gallery showings are entirely free and continue year round. The Chicago Art District stretches down Halsted from 17th down to Cullerton Street. For more information, go to chicagoartsdistrict.org.

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