Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Making a Ruckus // The Art Advocate

Rest in peace, Paul.

9 years ago, Paul Klein gave me my first art review. It was for the first exhibition I independently curated, and I was so excited to have an actual art critic come and preview the show as I was installing it. Not written in his article: When Paul smiled and said to me, “You’re making a ruckus.”

At the time my privacy setting for this Facebook status
was "Everyone but Paul Klein."
The intro to Paul Klein's preview of Exquisite Corpse
in Art Letter, "Art: Preseason," 1 September 2011.

Paul and I indeed hadn’t met until that late summer afternoon at Fulton Street Collective. (I knew of him, and I’d cold-emailed him my press release.) The first part of his post-visit preview reveals as much about him as it does about me, perhaps even more so. Paul exemplified the best of Chicago’s art world: welcoming, unpretentious, unconcerned with your credentials, no frills, funny as hell. He called himself an art advocate, and he was right.

I never signed up for his popular Klein Artist Works course (side note: I just learned that all his videos are now on his website, free of charge—what a treasure trove), and I met him long after he was no longer a gallerist and dealer, so unlike most who were touched by him I can’t speak as a student or mentee of his. But anyone in his orbit can attest that he was a positive force. In fact, so strong was his gravitational pull that something as seemingly insignificant as a few sentences in an online newsletter—which may not have looked like much for an established arts professional—was enough to assure my novice self that I was on the right track.

Almost exactly 5 years (and a hell of a journey) after that exhibition, Paul emailed me this and invited me to speak on a panel about “What Matters.” The other panelists were Edra Soto, Magalie Guerin, Juan Angel Chavez, and Tom Torluemke. The fact that he trusted me, trusted in what I had to say, especially alongside such titans, again reflects his character.

That was in fall 2016, which means he was already battling cancer then. According to his CaringBridge site, “in the fall of 2014 Paul was diagnosed with Stage IV esophageal cancer that had metastasized to his liver [and his] doctors gave him 6 months to live.” He was going through this yet was still blessing us with moments like these

Laughter between Paul Klein and me at the "What Matters"
panel at Startup Art Fair Chicago, 25 September 2016.
Screenshot taken from a video by Contreras-Gabriel Project.

and moderating a discussion on such a theme. That floors me.

One can only hope to be half as good as Paul was, to leave a mark on multiple generations of local artists like he did. We walk in the footsteps of giants. Daunting as that may seem, we can take it one step at a time:

Advocate for artists like he did.

Make a ruckus.

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