February 28, 2016
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
The Arts Club of Chicago, at 201 East Ontario, opens its One-hundredth Anniversary Members Exhibition – a tradition begun by the founders of the private club for artists and patrons to give an opportunity to feature its artist members – on March 1st. Open to the public, the exhibition features art work in a variety of mediums: paintings, drawings, sculptures, films, collages, and digital works. Of this year’s 53 participants, new exhibitors include Theaster Gates, Dawoud Bey, Jessica Stockholder, Patrick Chamberlain, and Erik Peterson, all central to the current Chicago art scene.
Surely creating an impact on member exhibitors in this 100th year of the show is the knowledge that Arts Club galleries have introduced to Chicago works of Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Gaston Lachaise, George Braque, and many others. A lecture given there in 1951 by Jean Dubuffet is largely credited as having launched the mid-century imagist movement, while the showing of Fernand Leger’s 1924 Dadaist film, “Ballet Mecanique,” is said to have created a sensation here in Chicago.The founding of the Arts Club was due in part to the success of the Art Institute’s rendering of the Armory Show. From the first, the mission has stated: “to promote the acquaintance of art lovers and art workers.” In addition to the Member Exhibition, the Club holds open lectures and exhibitions on contemporary art throughout the year.
In the past, the Member Exhibition has included artists such as Eva Watson-Schultz, who ran the Renaissance Society for the better part of the 1930s, Lazlo Maholy-Nagy, the Hungarian painter and photographer in the 1940s, and painter Peggy Burrows in the 1950s.
Perhaps the most legendary name from the early days of the Arts Club was Rue Winterbotham Carpenter. Rue, along with her composer husband, John Alden Carpenter, became part of a dazzling set of avant-garde artists during their European travels. She returned with a determination to establish a Chicago artistic outpost. The daughter of Chicago business tycoon Joseph Winterbotham, she was a talented interior decorator and designed both the Casino and the Arts Club where she served as President from 1918 until her death in 1931.
Her niece, Rue Shaw, became President in 1940 and rarely missed a day at the office during her 39 years in that post. She maintained the Club’s international prominence and convinced Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, then a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, to donate his services in designing the Club when it moved to its airy location at l09 East Ontario. When the Club later moved further east on Ontario, architect John Vinci saved the famous metal staircase which Mies had created when he designed the new spaces.
Longtime Arts Club leader and a participant in the Member Exhibition for the last nine years, Helen Mills recently recalled working with Rue Shaw:
“Rue let me curate the first Arts Club photography show called ‘The Photographer as Poet’ while I was still at the School of the Art Institute. She encouraged young members to be involved and introduced us to people like the poet Robert Graves and writer Anthony Burgess. The spirit of the early club was very much about involvement and committees were integral. With the help of Bernie Sahlins, Ed Gordon, and others, I founded the inter-arts committee in 1993.”
The Arts Club Executive Director StartFragmentJanine MileafEndFragment explained that the first Member Exhibition began 100 years ago, but that there have been only 87 shows:
“Central to the art program in the early days was Alice Roullier, whose father owned an art gallery in the Fine Arts Building, where we were originally located. Alice was chair of the first exhibition committee.”
When the club outgrew its space at the Fine Arts building, Rue Carpenter moved it to 610 South Michigan. Her first non-member show featured portraits by James Whistler, Mary Cassatt, and Auguste Renoir. The Club was also housed briefly at the Art Institute and then the North Tower of the Wrigley Building before Rue Shaw and Mies van der Rohe worked together on the first Ontario Street location.
To Janine, the Members Exhibition is a way to show the diversity of the Arts Club membership:
“The show celebrates the teachers, artists, and art patrons who make up our membership. It is very nice to know that Kay Smith, who has been in our show for 63 years, will be exhibited next to the prominent photographer Dawoud Bey.”
The Arts Club is located at 201 East Ontario Street. The Member Exhibition will run from March 1-April 16 in the Main Gallery. For more information Member Exhibition or for general questions about the Club, please call 312.787.3997 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To inquire about membership, email email@example.com.