Temporary Services thinks the market is bull.
On January 26, a student employee of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Gallery 400 found—for the first time—a line of people waiting outside when he arrived to open the doors at 10am.
They had come to Gallery 400 for the Free Store, where you don’t need any money to shop. Customers can donate items as well as take them, but they’re not expected to do so. Chicago artists Melinda Fries, Zena Sakowski and Rob Kelly (as the collective Biggest Fags Ever) and Salem Collo-Julin set up the one-room Free Store (pictured) to complement Temporary Services’ “Art Work: A National Conversation About Art, Labor and Economics.” Both installations run through March 6.
When we visit the “store,” we find clothing, books, computer equipment and fake snow, among other goods. As she sorts and folds sweaters, Fries tells us this is the fourth year she and her collaborators have organized Free Stores. They’ve traveled to several Chicago neighborhoods, including the Kinzie Industrial Corridor, where Fries used to live. “Most of my neighbors were shopping-cart guys, so they were all there,” she recalls. “Garage-sale ladies showed up as well, and they were all shopping together. Once the money’s removed, it’s an even playing field for everyone in the store.”
We’re surprised to learn the Free Store’s cofounders aren’t motivated by environmental or financial concerns. “For me, it’s not charity,” Fries says. “I just have always lived this way. I’d say I’m very anti-capitalist, and yet—this is fun. It’s not a political rally. It’s about, ‘I don’t want this anymore. Do you?’”
The Free Store’s ability to bypass the mainstream market economy dovetails with “Art Work,” which grew out of an eponymous newspaper Temporary Services published last fall. Based in Chicago, the 12-year-old artists’ collective includes Collo-Julin, Brett Bloom and Marc Fischer; they originally created Art Work for a show at the Cleveland gallery SPACES. Because of the recession, Bloom explains, Temporary Services had to abandon some projects, and many people they knew in the art world “were in really bad positions.” Money was suddenly all anyone could talk about. So Temporary Services commissioned writers and illustrators, including New York Times art critic Holland Cotter and local collective InCUBATE, to discuss making art in a crippled economy.
Art Work has since become the catalyst for exhibitions and programs around the country. According to Bloom, the reprinted publication has been distributed in more than 80 cities. At Gallery 400, copies are spread over the walls as well as stacked on the floor for visitors to take. Though Art Work encompasses essays as disparate as Nicolas Lampert’s survey of 1930s artists’ unions and anonymous complaints about the multiple jobs artists must take to keep creating, the publication’s underlying message is that a hyper-competitive commercial art market benefits fewer people than a model based on cooperation.
If the recession’s left artists in worse straits than usual, Temporary Services believes it’s partly because Americans don’t know how much labor and funding art requires. To help dispel that ignorance, the trio covered one gallery wall with enlargements of the modest checks sent to Art Work contributors. They also posted a statement explaining how they spent their $3,500 budget, which had to cover the costs of the show before it could pay the writers. (Bloom, Fischer and Collo-Julin earned only around $130 each.) If visitors understand how broke even a well-known group like Temporary Services is, Fischer hopes, they’ll realize how often artists ask themselves, “Do you want to pay yourself fairly, or do you want to make a substantive project?”
Download Art Work for free at artandwork.us.