Meet Kathryn Sears, our Gallery 400 archive intern. Kathryn is a first-year Master’s student in the Art History Department at UIC. Her interest working in archives began in her hometown at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, New Mexico. While there, Kathryn helped catalogue photographs of New Mexico’s vernacular architecture by Robert Christensen. This semester, Kathryn brings her experience and enthusiasm to Gallery 400’s archives where she is helping organize our exhibition archives. One of the reasons Kathryn came to study at UIC was because of Gallery 400’s reputation as a leading cultural institution in Chicago that connects the city to a vibrant, international contemporary art scene.
A central part of Gallery 400’s programming is the Voices Lecture series. Originally the National Endowment for the Arts Visual Art Lectures, the Voices lecture programs began in 1992. Kathryn pulled out some interesting finds from Gallery 400’s archive to share.
The first Voices lecture series (1985-86), entitled Regional Voices, featured speakers from across the United States. Each presenter came from a different part of the United States and was a leader in their field. For instance, artist Robert Irwin was a pioneer in the “Light and Space Movement” in California and later designed the Central Garden at the Getty Center. Curator Lynn Gumpert worked at the New Museum at the time as part of a curatorial team that developed exhibitions, programs, and publications that brought postmodernism and critical theory to the forefront of art discourses in the eighties. Arkansas-based Donald Roller Wilson’s high-finish oil paintings of kitsch subject matter—chimpanzees, dill pickles, cigarettes—were acquired by museums before anyone knew who Jeff Koons or John Currin were. This impressive first program of artists and curators set a high standard that the Voices Lecture series has matched ever since.
Kathryn was particularly drawn to the 1993 series from the year of her birth. Among the names on the program, inter-media artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s name stood out. Kathryn learned the term inter-media just this semester in one of her classes, “New York in the Sixties.” UIC professor Hannah Higgins is teaching the course this spring with professors Simon Anderson from the School of the Art Institute and Jacob Proctor from the University of Chicago. Intermedia was coined in the 1960s by Prof. Higgin’s father, Fluxus artist Dick Higgins. It is an early term that described interdisciplinary artworks, especially emerging forms of performance and conceptual art. Kathryn was pleased to learn that Manglano-Ovalle later became a full-time faculty member at UIC. Each object in the archives points her to a new possible direction for further research into the role of Gallery 400 in UIC’s history.
The last item Kathryn pulled out was a 1995 flyer for an artist talk by Kara Walker. Walker’s career had just started to take off when her work debuted in New York in 1994. Walker spoke at Gallery 400 just two years before she was awarded a prestigious MacArthur fellowship and the controversy over Betye Saar’s letter writing campaign questioning her “negative images” of African Americans (that same year, in 1997, Walker returned to Gallery 400 to present as part of the Voices Lecture series). The flyer for the 1995 talk depicts one of her signature cut-out silhouettes from a 1994 panorama Gone (a reference to the classic novel and film Gone with the Wind) that critiques the constructions of blackness at the center of America’s founding narratives. Now an established and respected contemporary artist, Gallery 400 recognized Walker’s importance as an emerging artist whose work would become an important touchstone for rethinking our national narratives of race and the historical category of “black art.”
Kathryn’s diligent work in the archives is crucial to documenting and interpreting Gallery 400’s history as one of Chicago’s leading edge contemporary art institutions.