Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Dog and Pony Show

In an urban environment, like downtown Austin, or Chicago for that matter, one might see an empty space and think "That would be a perfect place for a parking lot." (Actually, in Austin they're more likely to put in a new condo, but I digress. Condos need parking lots too.) In a rural area the idea of space is deceiving. It may seem like there's a lot of space out here in DeKalb, Illinois, but rest assured it is being used for something other than parking their cars. While the parking situation in DeKalb may not be ideal (it's not nearly as bad as it is in Austin) the folks up here would never waste their time dreaming of fresh asphalt and reflective yellow paint. They have a hard enough time keeping their roads free of pot holes, a result of the salt trucks and snow plows that keep the streets free from ice and snow in the winter. No, here in rural Illinois, they have a different use for their empty space.

DeKalb has a lot of corn. As a matter of fact, saying that they have a lot of corn is an understatement. They have corn like Steve Carell has body hair. They grow it in fields, amongst trees and on the sides of hills. You can get fresh corn at the grocery store, in restaurants, at the farmers market and on the side of pot-holed roads. By fresh, I mean it was picked that very day and delivered straight to you by the local farmer who grew it. They worship corn here like we worship good queso or home-made tortillas in Texas. To them it is a way of life. They even have an annual festival celebrating its sweet golden kernels, affectionately dubbed, Corn Fest.

While you can't go a day here without seeing a fresh ear of corn there is one thing that is lacking (besides parking lots). There aren't a whole lot of art galleries here in little ol' DeKalb. As a matter of fact, other than the galleries run by the University I know of only one. Bad Dog Gallery is an alternative art space cleverly situated within a two-car garage that is nestled behind the residence of a Northern Illinois University (NIU) drawing professor. At the time of this posting, I don't know what her name is. I tried to find it online, but this is the type of place that is so obscure, it doesn't even have a website. Folks in Austin would kill to hang out at a place so hidden from the mainstream. Yet here it exists in DeKalb, charming and full of character, but relatively unknown. Despite it's speak easy charm, it is not a place that is hidden from the general public. It is not a secret club. On the contrary, I'm sure the folks at Bad Dog along with the artists who exhibit there would like as many people as possible to come out to their parties. There just aren't that many people here.

My first venture to Bad Dog was a refreshing experience. As I walked up the driveway to the backyard, I felt like I had stumbled upon a really good house party. In essence, that's exactly what it was. I was reminded of countless backyard bar-b-q's and keg stands (What? You don't keep your keg in the back yard?) in Texas, except there was a certain sophistication about the place. This was a real gallery. The inside of the garage had the distinct concrete floors and white walls one would find in any commercial gallery. They even had track lighting, and I'm not talking about clamp lights either. This was the real deal. If it weren't for the two garage doors at the front of the building, you would never know it was a garage. I was a bit tickled by the fact that the gallery could still function as a garage. For all I know, maybe it is used as a garage between exhibitions. The group exhibition, entitled "The Dog and Pony Show" consisted of two and three-dimensional work by graduate students, alumni and professors of NIU. I imagine most, if not all of the people who make up the local art scene fall within this category.

The great thing about Bad Dog is that it's not merely an art space, it's a social event. The artwork was great, but what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to network and talk with others about everything from football to carpet samples (don't ask). Bad Dog's success lies in its ability to provide a forum for those of us who actually like talking about art. They provide free beer and food and the conversations flourish around a crackling fire pit. There's a new exhibition about every two weeks or so which is exciting in a town with so little to do. I enjoy the artwork just fine, but to be honest right now I am more concerned with meeting other creative people, learning about their creative processes and generating ideas. You might think that this sort of dialogue is an obvious function of any gallery or museum, but I disagree. Alternative art spaces like Bad Dog are much more organic and participatory. The mere fact that the space exists within a garage is a testament to the type of eccentricity that in turn fosters creativity, originality and innovation. I can't wait for the next opening!

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