Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Power of Five Challenge #4: Golden Age Gallery

Pilsen's Golden Age Gallery, co-owned by Marco Kane Braunschweiler and Martine Syms, showcases experimental music and limited-edition art books. The photo above shows the pair (center and right) with a customer (left) during Pilsen Open Studios. Earlier in the weekend, an entire busload of Northern Illinois University students stopped in on a tour.

Golden Age has been open a little more than a year now and was featured in the Chicago Reader in September. Artists themselves, Braunshweiler and Syms wanted to create a space featuring interesting yet affordable imports and hard-to-get items.

Their unusual blend of inexpensive retail items and high-end artworks gives artists wider exposure than they might receive in a traditional gallery setting. "As a retail store, we have really high volume compared to a gallery. We have 500 items. A gallery might only have 10 items," said Braunsweiler. "When we started last year it was really well received, and it's only getting better. The greater mission of this store is to develop an emerging artists' network."

Braunschweiler and Syms flexed their networking muscles from the get-go by consulting with Tianguis' Irasema Salinas on potential storefronts before settling on their current West 18th Street location. In addition to running Golden Age in Pilsen, they also live in the neighborhood.

"West Pilsen is a really nice place, especially right now. So many new things are happening and so many young people are coming, and yet it's such an established art center, with all the murals and the museum. West Pilsen is evolving in a really natural and beautiful way."

I asked Braunschweiler to comment on the relationship between the presence of artists in a neighborhood and the likelihood that neighborhood would be gentrified sooner or later. In response, he made the point that most artists are not wealthy, and steep rises in rents and property taxes force them to move, too. "That's the big ruse: artists benefit from gentrification," he noted.

"I think neighborhoods change. It's inevitable Pilsen will not be in 10 years what it is now," Braunschweiler added. The real problem is institutionalized racism. Gentrification is an aspect of that. The most important thing now is to open a dialogue. That's why we're trying to be a part of the Pilsen art world."

For more about Golden Age and its owners, see this interview.

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