Bill Gross has been given thirty days to cease and desist gallery operations in his apartment, on the 1300 block of West Grand Avenue. Named 65Grand after the bus that passes below his third story window, the apartment gallery has operated without intervention from the city since October, 2005, until this recent April, when two representatives from the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing visited for a peaceful shakedown. The current show, a solo exhibition by artist David Ingenthron, will be the gallery’s last at this location.
Gross, himself an artist, started the informal gallery in his living room and kitchen as a way to engage friends and peers in a self-made art community. Soon after, the gallery openings were always crowded, and the shows received attention from critics (with three coveted reviews in Artforum) and collectors, and therein lay the problem. Gross was selling art without a business license, and he could not obtain one in his present location. The restaurant on the first floor is zoned to conduct business, but the apartments above are not.
Rumors of a citywide crackdown on unlicensed art galleries have been circulating recently, but a survey of many venues reveals a random pattern of visits by the city. MVSEVM, an exhibition space in a Humboldt Park apartment open since late 2009, reports a visit from the city, but as they make no sales, they were given no order to shut down. In the West Loop, the new gallery Ebersmoore, open for one year, has been making sales and complied with the city’s order to obtain a business license, but only because they could, as their building is zoned for commercial operations.
Even after receiving a high level of publicity from a November, 2009 feature article in Red Eye, most of the apartment spaces mentioned there have not been visited by the city. However, the venerated Hyde Park Art Center was visited by the city last summer. They operated for more than seventy years without a business license, and complied when ordered to do so. (Former director Chuck Thurow reports that the city visited the building with an order to investigate a printer that had vacated the site eight years prior, but decided to probe the Art Center after seeing that t-shirts were being sold.)
Last year, Lloyd Dobler Gallery, in an apartment above the Algren Triangle, received noise complaints from neighbors, and Green Lantern, in Wicker Park, was forced to close after receiving fines for displaying a sidewalk sandwich board sign without a permit. Gross, of 65Grand, says that the city visited his home after receiving a complaint about his gallery’s lack of a license. However, Gross’ neighbors often attended his openings, and he doesn’t believe that they are responsible for the complaint.
While Gross admits he is disappointed by the city’s decision to shut down the gallery, as he had renovated one of the apartment’s rooms into a more formal white-cube gallery space, has published catalogues, branded the gallery name and cultivated a committed audience, he says he’s gearing up to move by this September. The move will present a challenge, albeit a healthy one. In a new location, 65Grand will be able to further professionalize itself, he says, and increase visibility for its artists. (Jason Foumberg)