“Quirky”: far out, offbeat, unconventional, whimsical.
Susan Gescheidle, entering her fifth year as a gallerist in a new West Loop space, describes the art she exhibits as “quirky.”
But is “quirky” commercially viable? In culinary arts for sure—people spend as much for quirky food by a trendy chef as they might for a work of art, and wait months for a reservation. In fashion, quirky also sells big—I’ve seen esoteric sneakers in San Francisco that go for four figures on back-order. But in visual arts most people seem more conservative, and Gescheidle is continuously challenged to make her gallery self-sustaining. After all, what’s quirky to some is arbitrary and freaky to others. “My relatives think I should sell pictures of flowers and kitty cats,” she laughs, “but I like edgy contemporary work, dark and mysterious.”
In her third location she represents fewer artists—a core of about fourteen, with about twenty percent local—and more eclectic media, including sculpture, video and photography as well as painting and drawing. And most of their current output is quirkier than in the past—still representational, but more abstracted, riskier. For instance, a landscape by Erling Sjovold is very well-crafted and painterly but unsettlingly surrealistic, juxtaposing incongruous elements and harshly contrasting colors. A newer work employs the schizoid palette but wraps a single representational focus, a tree, in what seems to be a light storm.
Gescheidle was a collector before she opened a gallery. “My retail background at Nordstrom and Robinson’s didn’t prepare me for the art world,” she says, “for the need to do so much marketing.” She relies on outlying hotel fairs during Basel Miami to develop a national clientele of collectors with quirky tastes, as well as to meet groundbreaking artists and cooperating dealers from around the country—like Jason Villegas from Houston, whose intricate color drawings include a teddy bear composed of hundreds of little teddy bears, and a bird similarly made up of hundreds of little birds.
“I’m not the only one in the neighborhood who promotes provocative work,” she says, citing a list of West Loop galleries, “and though it’s hard for many of us to be self-sustaining, we are surviving.” Maybe its quirkiness is what gives the expanding West Loop gallery scene its vitality, and helps make the increasingly residential neighborhood such a vibrant place to visit. (Burt Michaels)
Gescheidle, 1039 West Lake, (312)226-3500.