So I am sitting here in the Martini Room for Chris Helton’s art show. This is always an ambiguous experience, this intersection of art and Elgin.
Galleries and museums are more popular than ever. We traverse them at our leisure and according some experts spend about 30 seconds looking at a picture. Which is actually a great deal of time; the eye is a remarkable tool that I suspect on some unknown level may know more than our minds can or need to unravel.
Which is why art is so embedded in so many of us, it deals with impressions and subtlety in way nothing else (even Nature herself) really can. Everyone has a relationship with art. The professionalization and critique of the subject tends to work against instead of for something that really is instilled in all of us.
The Martini Room in particular has always interested me, since it was an “art bar” here in the home town I left many years ago to go and pursue the ways and means of the so-called professional “art world”.
The places I lived like Soho in New York or Venice Beach in California were presumably hot spots for this kind of stuff, so that is where I went. In fact, art shows in general tend to bring mostly other artists (so they will come to yours) and hopefully a buyer or two. What I am trying to say is that back there in the 1970s, the worlds of bohemia and my home town were disparate. You had to leave one to embrace the other. In those long-gone times we even spoke of the ‘counter-culture.’
This notion of the ‘art bar’ sort of sprung up back then in those seedy downtown neighborhoods where artists were congregated for a variety of reasons, most of them having to do with repurposing abandoned industrial buildings, cheap rent and like-minded cohorts.
Which here in the 21st century is beginning to sound a bit like downtown Elgin.
We’ve adopted the idea to the point of several events each year and the building of the new “Arts Space” specifically for these kinds of folk. The heck with unsellable condos, lets go with the beatniks. We shall see, like I said above, art and Elgin are a curious intersection.
Those ‘art bars’ in New York City from the early seventies down on Broome and Greene St. were so subtle they didn’t even have signs outside. It was where artists hung out and had cheap drinks, not a place particularly to hang things on the wall. They were pretty quiet and convivial, jazz in the background. That is, they had an un-prepossessed ‘ambience’ that nobody really thought about as ambience. They were just the public house for the creative class.
The point here is actually almost too simple to be explained, since explaining it defies the point itself. This kind of world will show up when and where it has to. What also always happens is the artists restore the old buildings, the hipsters arrive and the artists move along to the next abandoned neighborhood. It’s a form of urban renewal and gentrification no bureaucrat has ever managed to really master—although we are sort of trying to do that right here in Elgin—but thousands of artists have carried it along this way for thousands of years.
So now we have the loft, exposed brick walls and open architecture in the literature of real estate. Now we have art shows and art bars right here in River City. Now we have a semi-gregarious community nesting somewhere within our city in the suburbs.
Anyway, I finished the evening here having a conversation with Chis about art, music, frustrations and other things. But I will keep what we spoke about mostly to ourselves, then we can remain friends.
The show will be up at the Martini Room for at least another month. Chris’s work is for lack of a more usable word, reality-based, impressionist and quite beautiful. He’ll even sell it to you at very reasonable prices.
So there you go, art bar in Elgin.
Maybe someday, they’ll even start playing decent music. Although one needs to start living within the parameters they long ago left in search of culture.
Or as I mentioned above, as soon as you mention the idea of ambience, you have probably lost the cause. The good things happen because they just do. The other stuff just surrounds us.
Most of us haven’t looked up from our phone screens in the past several years. We watch tv and nothing happens, so we watch some more. The music coming out of those speakers sounds so awful we play it again with same awful equalization.
Decline is a choice.
Go to the art bar, take a break.