Sometime in the late ’80s, Tony Fitzpatrick opened an exhibition space in Villa Park. A year or two later, he moved it to the then desolate South Loop and eventually to the other end of the block on 13th Street and Wabash.
It was a bold statement when the Chicago art scene needed one. After a downturn in the economy and The Fire, Chicago’s art scene seemed to have lost the luster it had in the 1980s. It was said during the high point of that decade that the number of galleries in SuHu was only second to that in Manhattan.
However, by the early ’90s the Chicago art scene was a shadow of its former self. Some notable temporary art shows, put on by artists like the Cold House group, proved there was still an artistic spirit in Chicago that was still hungry, even if the art world couldn’t sustain it. World Tattoo was the embodiment of that spirit. Since the nomad galleries were fleeting, the work may not have been shown in the best light. World Tattoo was different. It was a strong, solid permanent exhibition space that took a stand on the corner of 13th and Wabash. Arms folded and with the sneer of a bouncer at a biker bar, it said “Fuck you!” to those that would write off the Chicago art scene. “There is good work being made here and you need to take a look!”
It eventually closed down and the space was taken over briefly by another exhibition space, Izzo’s Artery, before it was inevitably swallowed up by the condo revolution, as the South Loop became a place to eat and sleep. Fitzpatrick moved on to focus on his work, yet continued his leadership in the Chicago art scene. This time, though in a more mentor-like role, with his Firecat Press and by example.
Fast forward 17 years and the Chicago art scene again finds itself in need of a kick in the ass and Fitzpatrick is once again happy to oblige. Last night I saw the opening at Firecat Projects, a new space dedicated to showing new work in a more dignified manner than we’ve seen in recent months. Run by Tony and his business partner, Stan Klein, it occupies his former studio, as the artist now works at home. The inaugural show is the first solo show of his work here in two years. To some this may seem kind of self-serving, but he can do this because it’s his, damn it (and he’s the Fuckin’ Mayor)! And what better way to stir shit up? The show kicks ass.
Firecat Projects steps in at just the right time. The Chicago art scene has been sort of languishing since the heady blogosphere days of the mid-oughts. It is a time when stupid little contests (Loop Open, I’m looking your way) and filling abandoned store fronts with art are supposed to get us excited about the Chicago art scene again—however, these efforts fail to stir the hearts of anyone. Firecat Projects proves that there is still a bold spirit in Chicago that will not rest.