Peanut Gallery

Peanut Gallery

1000 N. California Ave

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Kelly Reaves and Charlie Megna of Peanut Gallery

(Interviewed on 12/8/2012)

By Margot Brody

MB: Chicago is known for its preponderance of artist-run galleries and alternative spaces. When you started thinking about what sort of exhibition space you wanted Peanut Gallery to be, did you have an existing gallery model in mind, or did you see a gap in what Chicago’s gallery scene was offering?

KR: I actually wrote my master’s thesis on artist-run galleries in Chicago. I’m sure that interviewing all of those artists who established their own spaces opened it up as a possibility in my mind, but I think we wanted to do something a little different than a lot of other spaces in the city.

MB: In what ways?

KR: We felt like a lot of the exhibition spaces in Chicago either operated within the cliquish “art scene” or completely outside of the traditional gallery model.

CM: The idea was to show good work in a professional way, but at the same time we wanted to be able to have fun shows that fit well into a laid back environment.

MB: How would you describe the work that fits into this dynamic? There seems be an almost cartoon-ish aesthetic to a lot of the work you show.

KR: Yeah, the work we exhibit can be playful or irreverent, and we tend to be attracted to art that is a bit more “crafty” and less conceptual.

CM: It’s important for us to show art that people from the outside can appreciate without feeling intimidated—the Chicago art scene is intimidating and it can be very exclusive. We want people to feel welcome here no matter what is on your résumé. We have no problem poking fun at these aspects of the art world.

KR: For us, meeting an artist plays a large role in deciding on an exhibition, because there is so much collaboration involved in everything we do.

MB: Speaking of which, I find it interesting that all four of you went to different schools. How did you end up collaborating on such an involved project?

Kelly Reaves: Charlie and I had known each other for a while through mutual friends, but I started to go hang out and make work at his studio in the Flat Iron Building. He worked with Kate [Arford] and Brandon [Howe] at Genesis Art Supply, so that’s how they got in the mix.

Charlie Megna: We started talking more and more about how it would be a good place to have shows with work that we were really into, but that other galleries weren’t really into showing. We already had a space, and we all came from different backgrounds, so we knew a lot of artists between the four of us.

KR: That’s kind of how our first exhibition, “Pussy Galore,” came about. We happened to know a lot of people who were making cat art at the time. I think there were ten artists or so in the show—even Charlie’s mom was in it. Oddly enough, it just made sense.

MB: In the beginning, you guys mostly did group shows that revolved around pretty straightforward themes—“Color,” “Vacation,” “God.” Now, you do more solo exhibitions. Why did this change?

KR: The group shows brought more people into the gallery when we were first getting started. We would post flyers around the city for people to submit proposals through email. We didn’t care about seeing their résumés—we just looked for work and artists that appealed to us.  After a while, we started doing solo shows because it was just easier for us to work with one artist at a time. We all had full time jobs in addition to making our own work.

MB: Is it true that none of you had any experience running a gallery before Peanut Gallery? How did you figure out what you were doing?

KR: Yeah, it would have been helpful if at least one of us had taken an arts administration class. We just got a bunch of books and learned through trial and error.

MB: Did you each fall into respective roles?

KR: We all consider ourselves equals, but we each have things that we are better at than others. I have a background in writing, so I’ll usually write the press releases. Brandon is much better at things that have to do with money, so he kind of took on that role. And Charlie is constantly talking to people and getting our name out there—He’s definitely the face of the gallery.

MB: Your website says that your weekly open house drawing sessions were inspired by French Salons, but the name Peanut Gallery seems to have opposing implications. Is there a balance between the super academic, theory-driven model and a more, perhaps, popular culture-driven “anything goes” model?

KR: I think it’s important to us to be involved in the art world enough to know what’s going on, but we also want to stay a little bit outside of the established mode of thinking, making, and exhibiting.

MB: How do you think Peanut Gallery is perceived by Chicago’s mainstream art scene?

CM: Bring together all of our own experiences in the art world, and make sure we are missing anything.  Art fairs we try to be super irreverent

CM: art fairs are kind of boring, expecially if you have to be there, so we try to have a good time and do things that are interactive. We try to be professional but at the same time it’s very low key and the artists have a bog say in what they want to do.

MB: Your website says that your weekly open house drawing sessions were inspired by French Salons, but the name Peanut Gallery seems to have opposing implications. Is there a balance between the super academic, theory-driven model and a more, perhaps, popular culture-driven “anything goes” model?

KR: I think it’s important to us to be involved in the art world enough to know what’s going on, but we also want to stay a little bit outside of the established mode of thinking, making, and exhibiting. I feel like a lot of the exhibition spaces in Chicago either operate within the cliquish “art scene” or completely outside of that, and we like to have our feet in all of the different pools.

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