3311 W. Carroll Avenue
Interview by Levi Budd, December 2012
LB – What is Julius Caesar and what do you consider it to be?
DG – I can address what I think it is right now. Yesterday was the closing of our 57th show since Feb 2008. It’s been different things, but has been building into something that exceeds the individuals who operate it. I never wanted it to be an institution. None of us who started it wanted to be gallerists, I still don’t want to be a gallerist. As a commercial enterprise it is an utter abject failure. Though, that is not its priority. In the best instances, like yesterday in Anne’s (Harris) talk, I feel so much that it exceeds me and us, the people who operate it. It sort of belongs to everybody. We have had so much help and so much participation and so much engagement with it, at this point it feels like almost an antonymous venue. It’s an artist run project space in Chicago. High stakes operated with variable degrees of difficulty and broke-ness. It’s meaningless to me if I am doing anything by myself. It’s so much easier to care and tend to and invest in Caesar than to operate the mechanics of my insular professional life. People have been so generous with their time and with their engagement that it’s working. Even though it’s really tiring in a lot of ways. It is worth it because the talks are great, and because it is really necessary to have a venue for local artists of a variety of experience levels where they can do anything they want and engage on their own terms. There is no agenda beyond making a place where the artists feel sovereign, where they feel like they can do something without worrying about a lot of things that go into the professional anxiety of operating a commercial career. I guess the answer could have been: it’s a very small 13×13 foot square room in Garfield Park with warm and cool florescent lights that we built over time, but like the building of it, it belongs, in a way, to everybody who has ever been there.
L – Even with the few years that you have been around there seems to have been a change in generation. There are new people that are coming in with every year and also people who have been around for a while are leavingD – When we started there were seven of us. I’ll say who that is so you have a record: Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Diego Leclery, Colby Shaft, Hans Peter-Sundquist, Azara Hoffman who since moved to Austria, and Annie Anderson who is an artist but doesn’t have any art training just a couple people who were friends who did it because Hans had a studio in Garfield Park across Kedzie that someone kind of flaked out on. It was the minute after grad school had ended and none of us except for Molly and I had separate relationships with each other. We were like can we just do something? The kind of like emporia power vacuum disruption or any kind of agency that you feel. This is important, people are looking at it, and then have that kind of evaporate and vanish so quickly. Lets just do it, let us show ourselves. We’ll stack the year. There are seven of us we each get a show and each toss in fifty bucks or whatever it was per month to do this and then we’ll pick seven or whatever five other people to fill in the other months. Azara left and moved to Austria then Annie left she went to the east coast and then it was operated by Diego, Hans, Colby, Molly and myself a year or two years after that we were showing primarily painting and painting from SAIC and drawing, faculty included. Judith Geichman had a tiny retrospective there and that was rad. So yeah, our beginning audience, the people that came, were pretty insular to the SAIC community – with the occasional pull in from somewhere else. When the directors changed Colby had to split for a variety of reasons. Hans and Diego left at the same time I guess a year ago and we wanted there to be five because we had five for so long, and now Molly and I were the last original people standing. Min Song who finished the grad program from UIC, Chris Naka who finished at Northwestern and Sean Ward who finished at SAIC painting filled in. With the introduction to Min and Chris we had all these new people. Chris makes video and Min makes sculpture. It’s been awesome to have people who were strange to me. We were all; Molly, Diego, Hans, Colby and I, pretty frustrated with our own edges or limitations with who we knew. I guess we didn’t want to show just every graduating class at SAIC -it didn’t make any sense. I feel that the scope has spread out to include other disciplines and other institutional programs or histories or conversations. That has been really healthy for Caesar.
L – I would definitely agree with that. I started to come to shows at Julius Caesar right before Hans and Diego left. Even then you were showing video work or having other people come in and curate shows. I’m also thinking about other galleries in Chicago that start up and within a couple years close because of a limitation of their own taste and having an ability of showing one kind of work. It’s interesting to see that JC has kind of evolved from that and has been able to fit other types of conversation within their beginning conversation of what was mostly painting work.
D – As though painting and these other disciplines could be in the same conversation. I think that they are and we can pull that in. This little cube can hold all of that stuff. It’s funny and kind of strikes me that talking about this now, when the five of us, the original five already absent Azara and Annie who weren’t around that long at all, used to talk about the contentious agonistic difficulty of collaboration about having group decisions about what to show together and I have no feeling of that anymore. I think with the expansion of curatorial options and program has tranquilized a lot of that contention. I think spaces dissolve because of an interpersonal frustration and that kind of like constant ideological combat but we did it for so long it almost runs by itself in terms of what it can hold. I still have to run around with keys and do this or whatever but its great that I don’t feel like its insular I don’t feel like its ego driven. I really don’t. I know that I am saying I when I say that, but I really don’t. It can hold a lot of things and increasingly so. The building of it, I mean it is already built or its fundamental scaffolding has been put in place so now different things can be hung on that scaffolding.
L – Where did the name Julius Caesar come from? Why did you choose to name it after such a high authority?
D – It was kind of perfect. It was done in a kind of Dada-ist gesture of opening a book and just throwing a finger down and that’s what it landed on. It was like super perfect, the tyranny of naming a gallery after yourself. The absurdity of the name is built in the whole time. The Shakespeare Julius Caesar has this line in it about all of the stab wounds, all of the wounds in Caesar being mouths talking and I’ve always felt that we did it hopefully as an active resistance to other systems. So, everything that hurts and cuts from the world, we will talk about it. We can do something instead of saying how can we appease this person? If we just do it, it will be ok. And Caesar was a very hungry person. If there is territory he wants it and if there is conversation we want it. We’ll never be emperor, you know? There is no possibility of concurring. Can we exist with the alternative? I would like it to be a participant and direct opposition to certain things. It’s not an apartment space it never was. It is a space that we rent that we pay for. It’s autonomous, that isn’t incidental to something else.
L – How you describe the Shakespeare story also reminds me of the quote from the Bible. “Give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s.” This thing can hold a lot of things but we have to give to it as well as receive it.
D- it’s like the gift that doesn’t leave your hands. Because it’s not immanent it’s not transcendent. We will never live up to that name. Absurdity is built in. The name is built into it, and it gives back to me. It has an elasticity or rubbery-ness where the gift bounces back all of the time and onto people other than me. I should say too, the purpose of clarity that two people currently operate Julius Caesar, it’s run by Min Song and myself. That’s kind of why I feel comfortable talking like this because I am not interested in speaking for anyone else. Having been around the whole time, I feel like I can speak to it. Min would have a totally different assessment of it. We showed her when she was still in grad school and she just liked it. Came in basically saying, “If you need any help?” and suddenly she was apart of Caesar. Someday I’ll walk away from this and put it in someone else’s hands and it will be whatever it becomes. Molly had to leave because she was getting too busy with her own commitments and she said, go find someone else’s hands to put it into. It’s that durable. I don’t even feel like it will start to suck. It’s itself. I wish there were more spaces that exist in critical alliance with JC. I mean New Capital was such a conceptually driven project. There are other spaces, but the commercial apparatus works differently, the priority of the director works differently. I’ll love the Suburban forever, but it’s different than Julius Caesar.
L – Does Julius Caesar have some sort of statement at all? Have you ever written a statement for Julius Caesar?
D- I’ve written a statement before, but I haven’t in a while. I don’t think I’ve had to. I almost feel like the language program of it, the analytical program is already kind of set. It looks like itself. There is cheap beer; it’s open when we say it’s open. That’s kind of it. That’s not it like it’s nothing, but it’s almost enough.
The last time I wrote about it was… We were asked some questions by fNewsmagazine and about gentrification. The woman had an agenda and was trying to, in an obscene way, insinuate that we had infiltrated Garfield Park and taken a poverty credit for the neighborhood, which I thought, was so shitty. Not because I’m sensitive or that I don’t like to be offended, but it wasn’t a clearly examined question. I guess what I said to her fundamentally was that the street we are on (we moved in February 2010 over to where we are now) and the street that we are on now is residential and I think that it’s a street, including us, of people doing what they can. I don’t know if I have to tell myself that to sleep at night but it is. People have asked me about my responsibilities of a kind of pedagogical program and I honestly don’t think that. I mean I love engaging with the kids that live on the street. They bring their drawings by sometimes and it’s awesome. It’s great, we are all here is its great. Now I don’t think that I have a particular gift to deliver to the street that I am on. I mean, there is a woman who lives in the building next door and in the winter once a month she puts up a tent and serves soup and crackers to people for free because she wants to. She would say that Grandma likes to cook and she always makes too much. It’s super beautiful and we are opening the door people come and have this stuff out. We are all trying. I don’t feel bad and I don’t feel responsible to get the space in the west loop to be taken seriously. I don’t feel like I am taking advantage of anybody else’s circumstances. I feel like I am. You know, pretty broke. It’s not going to be in the Hancock Building. It doesn’t want to be and that is not a part of its aesthetic. People make that block really beautiful. So, Its kind of all bound up together but that was the last time I wrote a long thing about what I think about JC. I think the answer is “what we can” as carefully and pragmatically as possible.
L – How is the responsibility shared between each of the members of JC?
D – It’s kind of always changing. Chris has a job on Sundays so he is never able to come to the shows, he sends the emails and runs the website. He’s ok being kind of in kind of out and works really hard at it. Something that I thought was terrible about the first group of directors is there were so many degrees of ego investment. There were fights about who the face of Caesar was and I hated it. It was terrible. At that time Molly, Diego, and I were the most visible because we worked at SAIC and you know it seemed as though it belonged to one or the other of us at all times. This thing of ego, and theatre, publicity being kind of mixed up. Its important that someone like Monique Meloche walks around wearing nice clothing and you see her and that’s part of it. It’s important. It’s like what are the responsibilities and the structure? One is kind of amping up enthusiasm and my job at school allows me to do that. We had a small crisis last month and Min was out of the country and Chris works and Sean was back east and no one was able to sit for gallery hours we put out a little note. Seven of the undergrad students that Molly and I have had said give me the keys and I’ll be there. And they were. That’s just awesome. We have had a series of interns, unpaid of course. It is just people who want to be around. They want to be around it and they want to be around the artists and they want to see who comes. It feels more open. Almost invariably someone steps in and helps out if we need it. I think it’s because they like Caesar. I don’t think it’s because of me. Each artist has a primary contact, I guess, now that there are only two of us. I‘m doing half of the work. That means install and de-install. There are so many people who have volunteered their time to help or to step in. Maybe I am holding less responsibility right now. More like holding and delegating. Like we messed up the dates for the show next week. The poor guy, the artist’s parents wanted to come out from the east coast and Molly stepped in and paid to change the plane ticket. That kind of stuff is always happening. We want to be reliable to the artist. The lights aren’t going to go out on you. We’re going to make the talk happen. It’s going to work its just a little always precarious as its happening. Because, you are right, it’s hard to watch artist run spaces go down. I don’t want to go down, out of frustration. I’ll go down when I don’t care anymore. Or, I’ll go down when no one comes. We’ve had openings with a hundred people and openings with five. But, the five that were there meant so much. I’m not going to walk away from them. It’s what I do. I could give a shit whether or not people liked my paintings. I mean, I want them to, but I also really don’t care. And the people that we have shown, all 50 of them not including us, 48 maybe, half of those people I really didn’t know. I don’t think its community building and I wouldn’t call it social practice. But installing with them and watch them giving a talk, It feels like engagement to me. And, it’s hard to have grad school go away. You have to figure out whom you are obligated to. I didn’t know if anybody in grad school was my friend or not. But with each artist that comes in, we’re friends now. One of my favorite shows was Frank Piatek we gave him the whole space and he worked on it for ten days I think, he drew all over the wall gave his talk after the show he had three days to de-install. The night before he has to be out at two in the morning he is working on it still! He kept working on it. It took me very little to provide that space. If it was just this ruthless, competitive, theatre of ambition, really, then just fuck it. I can make money other ways. I’m walking away.
L – Do you see Julius Caesar as an extension of your practice?
D – I was talking with someone the other day who is a curator and art historian. We were talking about when we are not working, and he was like “Facebook and Masturbating, that is the only time I know I am not working.” It’s like totally! Caesar is part of the work of my work, as is teaching, as is whatever this is. It is part of the ways in which I engage. I hesitate, and I don’t want it to become a part of my practice. As though my practice could contain it. It’s more like, it’s over there and I work for it. I don’t feel like I work for my paintings. We decide together me in the studio what it needs. It’s a part of my participation. It is a huge part. It’s taught me a lot about making contact and communicating and not getting sealed in to the loneliness of the studio endeavor. I’m grateful for it all the time. It reminds me you can do both and understand privacy is privacy and is distinct from alienation. It sets up the social not as this competitive and ruthless thing, but more like a positive and hopefully generous thing. It’s a part of it in that way. I think that teaching for me is as big as Caesar. It’s just like, I’m here participating here and participating here but its not like I can pull teaching into my practice, like I’m the biggest thing, but more like where do I fit and how can I fit? How can I produce or agitate for circumstances where I feel like I can actually be there? I’ve always been able to be in my studio. There is no threat there. To be, deal with people and have their expectations so explicitly here, I guess is different. If I’m not there with the keys, then “James” doesn’t get in. It’s not like it’s a bad mark. The stakes are that I’m able to understand finally my intimate actions as consequential. Caesar has taught me that and informs me of that all the time. I carry that weight of action into my solitary studio. Can I be there? Can I show up? Can I be present? Even if I am spaced out or hung over at Anne’s talk yesterday, I have to rally. I don’t have to rally in my studio; I can just lie there. The talk that was the hardest for me was my own. My best friend curated a show of mine. We had never done anything together and it was super intense and we got fucked up the night before. And I realize I did that because it was almost too close of an intersection. For the first time, it was my best friend in the world; it was Caesar that I love. It was almost too much conflict of forces. I did this to myself on purpose. So I would blow it, or open a space to blow it and have it still be okay or something.
L – How do you get in contact with the artists that you show?
D – It’s kind of like knowing, you know? People have talked to us like a kind of networking. I would almost describe it instead of community as networking. It’s fine. It’s not aspirational at least. It’s not like we ask, “Can we get this person?” It’s like, we know this person they come to Caesar or they like it. We are trying to find things on the periphery. We can rely on each other. We get proposals sometimes like in the mail, which is weird. They see it online they send it to Caesar. There will be applications with like paintings and boats and stuff and sometimes it’s like a Brooklyn conceptual project. They kind of go away right away because we don’t know them. That’s why. Maybe some hot shots have passed through my hands and I just totally missed it because I don’t know who they are. I think that there is enough of a lack of exhibition opportunities around here that I would rather show people that I know that are and have committed to being here. I appreciate the conversation that we can provide, that we can produce. That’s kind of it. I’m super excited about the next year of people. It’s like video, performance, and writers and Jennifer Reeder who teaches in the film department at UIC. I guess maybe artists that are in their mid career are becoming interested. It’s great to diversify that. There are people who come just right out of school and people who have been at it for 20 years and to put that together. Judith Geichman has been showing for 30 years and I have been showing for one. People try stuff they’ve never done before. Steven Husby showed photos printed on canvas, which he had never done. If we can get that kind of space or play or a kind of experimentation at Julius Caesar that’s just fucking super. As far as giving up or stopping, I mean I don’t leave Chicago. I guess the thing about Caesar and being in Chicago – I have to recommit to it every day. I have to wake up and be like yes, but I have to decide. It isn’t like an automatic yes. I get tired and frustrated, for sure. If I didn’t feel like it meant anything I would be like, it’s not for me. But I think it does. In a way, I mean I don’t want to sound altruistic or selfish, this is what I can give and this is what can be taken, more effectively than any other way. There is no locking the door after this point. Everybody has done so much of the work. If I am the person left holding it, eventually, I’m going to put in someone else’s hands. And it will just be that way. It’s a broken, difficult, sweet and defiant thing that is run by everybody who goes there. If I didn’t think it was a vital thing I don’t think I would hang on to it.