Home is where the art is
There's no distinction between gallery and home at Laura Shaeffer's Home Gallery.
In a flurry of excitement, a flushed Laura Shaeffer scrawls the phrase long suck boob onto a scrap of paper. Seated at her kitchen table, the 45-year-old Hyde Park resident has transitioned from reminiscing about the ten years she spent living in Berlin across the street from a sex shop—“there were red lights flashing SEX into my window and a swirling sign that said DIE FREIHEIT [the name of a German anarchist journal] above my apartment”—to dreaming up the newest idea for a gallery show and discussing her experimental exhibition space in her house, aptly called Home Gallery.
Eventually, the story comes back to “long suck boob,” which refers to a breast-adorned straw she picked up at the sex shop. Shaeffer has the grand idea of inviting people to exhibit personal ephemera on a wall along with recorded oral histories relaying the significance of the objects.
This is how a conversation with Shaeffer goes. One minute she’s talking about moving abroad after college, and the next minute she’s mapping out future projects.
It’s this curiosity and chutzpah that has helped Shaeffer to become a driving force in the Chicago art community. Trained as a visual artist at Philadelphia College of Art, Shaeffer lived in Europe for 13 years, getting by on money she made from her art and teaching English. When she moved back to Chicago in the late ’90s, she decided she didn’t want to be a career artist but immediately missed the sense of community and her connection to the art world.
For a year, Shaeffer and her then fiancé/now husband, Andrew Nord, ran Can Gallery in Wicker Park. Based on attendance, it was a success, drawing no less than a couple hundred people for every show’s opening night. But they rarely sold any art, and Shaeffer, then 35, tired of the crowd. For the most part, she felt that people were there to party and look arty rather than view the art. Eventually, the place went under.
Five years later, after Shaeffer, her husband and their two kids had moved to Hyde Park, she found herself again missing an art community. Looking at the perfectly good wall space in her two-story town house, she decided to open Home Gallery. She chose to hang the art everywhere in the house (except in her kids’ rooms) rather than isolate it to a sectioned-off, gallery-esque space. For the past two years, Shaeffer has run Home Gallery more as a hostess than a gallerist. She not only kicks off the exhibitions with a self-catered opening night but also closes with a potluck brunch at the end of the month.
As she’s become more comfortable inviting people into the home (information about upcoming exhibitions spreads via word of mouth and the media), she has loosened the parameters of what stays and what goes during shows.
“We don’t separate our home from the gallery. It’s all the same,” she says, “except that we have staged our home to help you focus, so there’s not so much distraction.”
As for finding artists to exhibit, it’s as simple as contacting people whose work she likes and who have an interest in alternative gallery spaces. The roster has included locally based illustrator Anders Nilsen and Canadian animator, painter and sculptor Drue Langlois. Shaeffer also aims for relatively low price points—anywhere from $20 to $3,800 per piece—and work that’s accessible to the all-ages crowd. To help offset the costs of hosting exhibitions, she takes a nominal commission from sales.
While anyone is welcome to attend, Home Gallery is still a private space. The art that goes up on the walls reflects Shaeffer’s personal taste as well as her vision of how to display it, hence the desire to open a public art space.
And so we circle back to “long suck boob,” the seed idea for the ephemera-themed wall she plans to incorporate in her off-site venture, Opportunity Shop, the term for “thrift store” in Australia and the name of the collaborative art venture she started in December. “I bring in co-curators, writers, artists and perfomers, and I feel like it’s very collaborative because they’re doing site-specific work,” she says. The clincher was finding a cheap to zero-rent space. The solution: a roving gallery that occupies vacant spaces with the consent of the owners. The first Op Shop was hosted in December in an empty church. In order to make Op Shop a self-sustaining, ongoing endeavor, every show will be attached to a market selling artists’ items, with funds feeding back to Op Shop. More than consumption, though, it’s about barter and exchange.
Join the potluck brunch for the closing of the current show featuring work by Nathaniel Russell on February 28 from noon–3:30pm at Home Gallery (1407 E 54th Pl).