Artists of color do not ‘Retreat’ from the public eye


Kelly Wenzel

Kelly Lloyd at Richard Gray Gallery

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

“Retreat,” an exhibition curated by installation artist Theaster Gates, opened on Aug. 22 at the Richard Gray Gallery, 875 N. Michigan Ave, allowing artists of color to show their work.

Gates, a world-renowned Chicago artist, presented the exhibit as an extension of his Black Artist Retreat, now in its second year. Many of the artists exhibited at “Retreat” have connections to Chicago.

Paul Gray, co-owner and director of the Richard Gray Gallery and a long-time friend of Gates, said the artist had the initial idea for the show, but the two worked together to bring his idea to fruition.

“The genesis of the idea for the exhibition was a shared one,” Gray said. “There was a conversation about things going on in Chicago at the time and opportunities for artists that Theaster knows and feels strongly about and the notion of an exhibition that he might organize.”

Although Gates did not show any of his own work in the exhibition, he was crucial to the show’s existence by selecting each artist, Gray said.

“[Gates] was solely responsible for proposing the artists to be included in the show,” Gray said. “We did not participate in that aspect of it, so in that sense he was truly the curator of the exhibition. But we would host and present the show.”

The exhibition presents the idea of retreat as the act of withdrawal and contemplation, but artists display their personal perspectives through their work. Nate Young, a local artist whose work has been shown across the country, contributed a series of work called “Untitled Diagrams” along with a piece entitled “A Place for Us to Sit.”

“Those works are based on pedagogical didactics that are extracted from conversations with my father,” Young said. “I think about those pieces in relation to language, trying to empty signs of their significance, so I think that there is some kind of relationship in that to the overall theme of the show.”

Derrick Adams, a multidisciplinary artist based in New York City, has multiple pieces in the show including, “Crossroads,” which is a play on a self portrait. He said his work related to the theme in a different way.

“The work deals with the relationship to the body and architectural structures,” Adams said. “The images are of myself juxtaposed to things that are environmental structures. My work relates to the idea of ‘Retreat’ not necessarily as an escape, but as a venture.”

The overall theme of the exhibit took on a life of its own after Gates was done curating the artists and works that he wanted. Adams said despite the obvious differences between the artists, all of the pieces work well together.

“The idea of retreat has such a broad meaning to different types of people, as in the viewer as well as the artist,” Adams said. “[The artists] are very different from each other’s work but are rooted in fundamental ideas that join us and the ideas of the show together.”

Even though the show was composed entirely of artists of color, the works deviated from traditional racially-themed exhibits.

“It is more of a collection of artists who are of the same generation and happen to be black,” Young said. “The artists that were grouped together share a similar aesthetic and interest in producing works that do not reference blackness specifically—kind of a withdrawal from the historical trajectory.”

The exhibit opened with much success and the gallery was filled with representations of Chicago’s diversity, something new for the gallery, Gray said.

“We have been in business for over 50 years and have done hundreds of openings, and this one had a special, vibrant character to it. It allowed us to reach out to an audience we usually do not see in the gallery,” Gray said. “We do not represent many artists of color. That is one of the reasons why we wanted to do this show. We don’t represent many younger artists either, so it was especially exciting for us … and I think it is going to result in much more than we anticipated. ”