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Changing The Face of Art Galleries from Elite to Everyday

At the Gallery. Photo by photographer Brad Meese.

The Jackson Junge Gallery in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago is looking to change the sometimes pretentious images of art galleries by providing a positive space for Chicago artists and people interested in fine art alike.

“We are trying to break down that stigma that most galleries have, that I’ve got to look a certain way, just to walk in the door,” said Director Chris Jackson.  “We offer unique, one of a kind pieces– it’s not just about the $1,000, $10,000, $25,000 pieces of artwork that not everyone can buy at the spur of the moment. Here at Jackson Junge you can take something home, and that is achievable and that’s part of our goal. We are open for everybody.”

Jackson Junge Gallery supports local artists by giving them exposure, providing feature exhibits for local artists and organizes gallery events to get the community more involved.

“We focus on the Chicago artist, we are a very contemporary gallery so works fit that, and we try to have a cohesiveness in the gallery.  “When you walk around, we want people to see things that flow together, and that is quite the challenge.  We also support artists by merely having the art in the gallery, so each piece isn’t on top of one another.”

The gallery stands out in the neighborhood, being part of one of the last galleries in what had been the Wicker Park Arts District.

“This gallery was a lot more professional looking and had a whole range of artwork that is very different but still combines itself into a certain theme at the same time.” said Gallery Assistant Anna Vlaminck.

By establishing a strong network with local artists and community members, Jackson Junge is able to showcase artwork on a specialized scale.  The gallery has been open since 2009, and has been trying to bring the community closer with local artists before the days of gentrification.

“The gallery has been received very well by the community. I feel that we still have a ways to go, but people are excited that the gallery is sustaining in the neighborhood before gentrification came and pushed all the artists out.  We thrive to be a cultural center, by inviting local theater groups, musicians and I think people enjoy coming to the events.  There is a certain buzz when people look in the paper or on TV and see their local art gallery,” said Vlaminck.

The main goal of the gallery, back in 2009, was to support local artists from the neighborhood as well as the city, and since being open Jackson Junge has showcased a new and upcoming artist each month.

“We are continually taking submissions. We try to stay friendly. It’s about being inviting and allowing people to just enjoy the artwork, and you won’t be hounded when you come in if you don’t look like someone who would buy fine art,” Vlaminck said.

When determining artist to showcase, Vlaminck added, “The artists we choose are very prolific, so not only is it that we are developing because we are taking on new artists, but we’re developing because those artists are moving in different avenues so it’s a continual evolution, which also inspire ideas for different exhibits.”

In talking about the importance of the gallery-artist relationship, Jackson said, “I think that is one of the coolest things about the job. In developing relationships with each artist, getting to see how the artists work, and where they work at, [you see] an artist grow. In some cases they teach you a lot of things. But they are all in different places and that is the fun part and dealing with a lot of local artists we are able to see their most current work.”

Vlaminck said, “You get to know an artist very well; we need to be able to talk about the artwork too, so we have to ask those questions before we showcase their work.”

Anastasia Mak, a local artist, is featured this month in the gallery. Her work depicts Chicago cityscapes and skylines.  The exhibit, “Footprints in Vertical Skies” shows off Mak’s use of vibrant colors along with her contemporary styling of the buildings and vertical layering.

“I think Jackson Junge Gallery is playing a huge role in the Wicker Park community,” said Mak.

“Chris and Laura are doing an amazing job with this place.  When the gallery first opened, it exceeded everyone’s expectations – the space alone is just gorgeous.  Then, brilliantly, not only have they started showing beautiful art there, but from day one they have been involving local community by holding performances and neighborhood events in the space.  They partner up with other Wicker Park and Bucktown businesses and therefore help create a tight-knit neighborhood.  The gallery has displayed many local artists, and always works with both established and emerging talent.  They work hard to make each of their exhibits fun and unique. I feel honored to be a part of Jackson Junge Gallery.”

With many artists echoing Mak’s sentiment, Jackson Junge has grown to be a safe haven for not just artists, but musicians, poets and sculptors alike by providing them a professional platform to display their work.

Scott Fricke, a local painter and tattoo artist has been around the Wicker Park community for 18 years.

Fricke said, “This gallery is truly a re-incarnation of the Wicker Park community before the gentrification came. This gallery is the first one in a long time to provide us [local artists] with a chance to have our work showcased at a professional level along with a friendly, intimate neighborhood setting.”

The gallery continues to receive positive recognition from artists and community members alike, which could all be attributed to the drive of Chris Jackson and Laura Junge.

“I think once you get complacent the challenge is over, but that is part of the journey when a gallery is opened, the challenge every day is bringing in new artists so we can provide showcases for them and to stay current on what is happening around the world and not just in our community”, said Jackson.

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