The Free Store

Salem Collo-Julin, Biggest Fags Ever, and Melinda Fries

The Free Store exhibition at Gallery 400 is an installation of a nomadic, temporary free store run by Melinda Fries, Salem Collo-Julin, and Biggest Fags Ever (Zena Sakowski & Rob Kelly) that irregularly visits a variety of Chicagoland neighborhoods. The gallery audience is invited to involve themselves: they are encouraged to come to the store, bring with them anything they wanted to give away, and take anything they wanted. There is no restriction on what they could take—no trading or bartering was necessary. The audience is welcome to take and leave as much or as little as they chose.

The Free Store took as its inspiration the long-running gift-economy tradition of swap shops, free shops and other similarly named initiatives where materials and services are offered free of charge. Free stores had a brief heyday in the U.S. during the late sixties, with perhaps the most famous example being the free store run by the radical theater/community-action group the Diggers in the San Francisco Bay area. For links to recent examples of free shops, visit The Free Store website: freestorechicago.org

The Free Store's relationship to Temporary Services’ Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor, and Economics exhibition at Gallery 400 creates a dialogue about art and commerce within the gallery space. Several related events were also held, including a discussion with workers from The Greenhouses of Hope at the Pacific Garden Mission about “closing the loop,” a film and video screening called The Shopping Show curated by UIC assistant professor Ben Russell, a two-day local maker and publisher fair, a free concert with Lert Somboom Festival of Love, a screening of the documentary “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” and drawings of money created within the gallery by local artist Harold Jeffries.

The Free Store is presented concurrently with Art Work: A National Conversation about Art, Labor, and Economics.

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