Hair today, gone tomorrow

Art Here, Art Now, part of Chicago Art Month, features Chicago-based artists at U of C-owned storefronts.

By Stacey Kirkpatrick

A favorite Barack Obama landmark has gone from hair-do hangout to gallery-hopper’s hot-spot, thanks to Art Here, Art Now, a Chicago Art Month exhibit put on by the Hyde Park Alliance for Arts & Culture (HyPA).

In coordination with HyPA, the University is lending storefronts to house pieces by Chicago-based artists, including alumni Danielle Paz (MFA ‘09) and Andre Callot (MFA ‘10). Works include local artist Peter Ziegler’s diligent facsimile of the barbershop on 53rd Street and Blackstone Avenue, where Barack Obama used to get his hair cut.

“This was dreamed off the top of my head,” Ziegler said. It’s so realistic, he said, “they think I’m the barber.”

Ziegler, who painted Obama at his barbershop, didn’t start out as an artist; initially, he was the caretaker for the building. When the University bought the space and other businesses vacated, it was his responsibility to keep the structure in shape.

“And now I’m an installation artist. I never knew it was coming,” Ziegler said.

One space in particular called to him: the barber shop where President Obama used to get his hair cut. Ziegler acquired a barber’s chair and booth seats from a restaurant that had been in the building and arranged them to look like a real a barber shop. The walls are lined with records he held onto after Dr. Wax closed and threw them out.

Art Here, Art Now opened Friday, and featured a host of University and Hyde Park art enthusiasts, including Michelle Olson, director of external and government affairs in the Office of Civic Engagement.

“We’re trying to make people aware of the culture,” Olson said, adding that art in Hyde Park is hidden in plain sight, like “a light under a bushel.”

Irene Sherr, executive director of HyPA, said she wanted the project to showcase the vast talent she sees in Hyde Park.

“Our community has never taken advantage of its art density, of its amount of art per square inch. It’s unsurpassed,” Sherr explained. She added that another of the project’s goals is to “enliven what’s already here.”

The spaces, located in a long-vacant building on the corner of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue, serve as the artists’ temporary studios and displays, offering passersby the opportunity to observe the artistic process as it unfolds.

The initial idea, presented by local artist Melissa Weber, was centered on the concept of an open studio, Olson said. Ultimately the project came to focus on stationary installation art, though other media are also represented in the project.

For artist Cydney Lewis, who is currently presenting her work at the space, much of the program’s appeal comes from its disarming transparency. “Most people say, ‘Oh, I don’t know anything about art,” she said. “Even when I was at a gallery, people were intimidated.” Putting the artist as well as the art on exhibition “takes away that scariness,” she said.

The University’s department of visual arts also has a gallery within the Art Here, Art Now program space that features works created by alumni who earned their MFA degrees here.

This gallery, which will also feature the works of current thesis students, will eventually relocate to the Logan Arts Center, once it opens. It is scheduled for completion in spring 2012, at a projected cost of $114 million.

The exhibitions at 53rd and Harper will be open throughout the month of October. While official “open house” hours are every Saturday between 1 and 5 p.m., each artist is free to come and work according to his or her own schedule.