Today we’d like to introduce you to Claudine Ise.
Claudine, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve been working in the field of contemporary art for over twenty years, and I’ve never once felt like that work was getting boring or stale. I think that’s because when you work with contemporary artists, like I do, you’re on a constant mission of discovery — new things are always happening in artist’s studios, in independent galleries and nonprofit art spaces, and in our many art schools– and lucky me, it’s my job as a curator and gallerist to track those developments and share them with the public! I began my career in Los Angeles, where I grew up and went to college and graduate school. After getting my Ph.D. in Film, Literature, and Culture from the University of Southern California, I began working in the curatorial department of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles — I was an assistant curator there, and my job was basically to get out into the city and scout for new artistic talent that I could bring to the Museum as part of their Hammer Projects exhibition series.
From the Hammer, I moved on to the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, where I was the Associate Curator of Exhibitions. My responsibilities there were similar in that my focus was on putting the work of young contemporary artists into context through exhibitions and catalogue writing, which often means showing how the ideas in an artist’s work relate to a number of other big ideas happening across culture today in music, film, television, and fashion. My husband and I moved to Chicago shortly after having a baby, and so when I got here I shifted focus for a while by concentrating on writing about contemporary artwork for a number of publications. I wrote for the Chicago Tribune and Chicago magazine and was the blog editor for Art21.com. I also worked for a long time with the fantastic artist collective known as Bad at Sports, who’ve been chronicling the Chicago art scene–and the national and international art worlds as well–for well over a decade. But after a time I began to miss having a more direct and hands-on connection with artists, and so I began curating exhibitions again, which led to the two positions I have now: I work as the gallery director the Riverside Arts Center, a little gem of a nonprofit art school and contemporary art gallery located in the western suburb of Riverside, IL, and I also own and direct Goldfinch, a commercial art gallery focusing on emerging artists, most of whom are based in Chicago. I can honestly say that starting Goldfinch and seeing the gallery grow (we just launched our third year of programs) has been by far the most satisfying, joy-filled, and labor-intensive endeavor of my entire career. I’m so grateful to be living and working in Chicago — the art scene here is truly unlike any other city in the U.S. Artists here are mavericks — they’re independent-minded and don’t bow to any trends established in New York or Los Angeles — and as a result they’re making work that is truly unique and in categories of their own.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
When you work in the cultural sector, I don’t think the professional road is ever smooth. It’s not like being a doctor or a lawyer, where the path to success is fairly clear-cut. Arts professionals have to forge their own paths and that starts with figuring out what, exactly, they want to do and make, and the key to that is figuring out what makes you feel happy and satisfied. Also, finding something that you believe in. That can be surprisingly difficult! I think for me, my biggest challenge was an internal one. It took me an awfully long time to have faith in my own vision and instincts. I think starting out as a very junior person in the museum world, it was hard to be taken seriously and to be given the professional opportunities that I wanted, and I found myself twisting my own point of view up in knots in order to agree with the vision of higher-ups, or to try and shape my own perspective and likes and dislikes to better match those of my bosses, as a way to get ahead. Ultimately, that does not work. When I left the museum world and began writing about art on my own, allowing my own point of view on things to develop and flourish — that is when all the good stuff started happening for me. Now, I always trust my gut. I’m not impulsive, I don’t shoot from the hip as it were, but I absolutely trust the persistent voice inside my head and that funny feeling in my stomach to guide me towards situations that are productive and joyful and away from toxic ones.
Please tell us about Goldfinch.
Goldfinch is a commercial gallery that creates compelling frameworks for contemporary visual art through exhibitions, artists’ talks, informal salon discussions, and the writing we produce for exhibition pamphlets. We’re located in a roughly 880 square foot ground floor space in a warehouse in East Garfield Park, and our gallery is surrounded by dozens of artists’ studios — so we have a built-in audience of artists who are regulars at our shows. In keeping with the gallery’s physical context and location, we strive to bring an experimental, studio-like sense of curiosity and play to our exhibition program. Each exhibition at Goldfinch is different from the next. We don’t have a narrow program wherein we only focus on, say, conceptual art or abstract painting or photo-based work. We engage all of it with the idea that visual art is part of contemporary culture and should be understood as such.
We also have our Goldfinch Flatfiles Program that aims to make original contemporary artworks available to a wider audience. The program encompasses painting, drawing, collage, prints, photographs, mixed media pieces and any other flat work that can be housed in the drawers of our flat file cabinet. The vast majority of these works are priced at $1500 or below — and many can be acquired for less than $500. Works in the Flatfiles can be viewed during our open hours (Fridays and Saturdays 12-4pm when exhibitions are on view), and we are always happy to arrange alternative private appointments with folks who are looking to buy artworks for a new home or apartment or business. The Flatfiles are ever-growing and are always viewable via our website online (http://goldfinchgallery.org/goldfinch-flatfiles/), which allows people to browse images before coming in. More than anything, we want everyone to know that they can buy art without ever feeling intimidated or that buying art is not for them or “not their thing.” It is! Buying art is a lot of fun. Once you start, it’s hard to stop!
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Oh gosh, I wasn’t expecting that question. Let me see… When I was pretty young, like three, four, five years old, my family on my father’s side owned a large farmhouse in Rhode Island on several acres of land. It was a summer place and my grandparents lived in half of the house and my great aunt and uncle lived in the other half. I loved going there so much… the grass smelled so fresh and good and we kids, my sister and all of our many cousins, could run around and play pretend games and be free. I loved how the house could hold so many family members at once. Those memories are just glimmers now because it was so long ago but I still think about it often, especially when I smell fresh cut grass. And the warm family feeling, which is probably more fantasy than reality but I don’t care — I’ll keep it!
- *Works available through the Goldfinch Flatfiles Program are typically $1500 and below, with many works below $500
- Address: Goldfinch
319 N. Albany Avenue
Gallery open Fridays and Saturdays 12-4; or by appointment. Please call phone number listed on door sign for entry