I was interviewed by culturalchicago.com recently.
“We felt that Pilsen needed a contemporary cultural space,” says Polvo co-founder Miguel Cortez, “where artists could be free to experiment.” Among the most long-running artists’ organizations in the Chicago area, Cortez formed the Polvo conglomeration over a decade ago, in 1996, with the assistance of partners Jesus Macarena-Avila and Elvia Rodriguez-Ochoa. The three met in the early 1990s through their mutual affiliation with alternative artist spaces Casa de Arte y Cultura/Calles y Sueños and Taller Mexicano de Grabado. Through these affiliations, the three recognized a void in the local art scene of the time in its lack of outlets for contemporary Latino art; such artists were typically relegated to commercial Latino galleries or the Mexican Fine Arts Museum while the art which interested Cortez and his partners was too experimental to gain recognition at such venues.
The group’s first action was to begin a zine in 1996 to publish the art they found interesting as well as bilingual poetry. This venture led to the opening of Polvo in storefront gallery form three years later, establishing a venue for the collective to showcase the sort of avant-garde Latino art they hoped to promote in the Pilsen community. Faced with financial difficulties, the gallery was forced to close soon after and the group instead focused on developing a noticeable presence on the internet and promoting their zine. The success of these ventures resulted in the opening of the current Polvo space in 2003, which has shown a continuous stream of exhibitions since.
For their gallery, Polvo’s founders logically chose Pilsen, Chicago’s nexus of Mexican-American culture. They were drawn to the neighborhood due to its mutually supportive combination of working class families and artistic community. Additionally, Pilsen’s rich history over the past century—including, Cortez cites, artistic subcultures from the Bohemians to the Mexican muralists—made the location a unique setting for the sort of organization into which he and his colleagues hoped Polvo would develop.
Cortez describes the second show in Polvo’s current venue as a turning point in media coverage for the space. “We were the first space/gallery in Chicago to organize an anti-war show against the Iraq War,” he states. “Our show opened the week that the US started bombing.” The critical attention and dialogue earned by the exhibition set the course for Polvo’s agenda in the years since; the collective has exhibited thematic group shows by artists who deal with such politically charged issues as gentrification, the environment, and surveillance.
Despite the increasing attention Polvo has received in past years, Cortez, Macarena-Avila, and Rodriguez-Ochoa still aim to exhibit work by emerging artists, to serve as a springboard for the career of such local and international figures. The work of such practitioners is complemented by work by more established artists from such locales as South Africa, Australia, and Mexico. They are likely attracted to Polvo due to the space’s focus on diversity. “I don't mean ethnicity but also types of media and art making,” explains Cortez. “We needed a space where artists could be free to not just hang 2-D work on the walls.” Artists exhibiting at the gallery have shown work of a variety of media including new media and installation art, among others.
On November 16, an exhibition entitled “Goin’ Mobile,” curated by Kimberly Aubuchon and dealing with the theme of travel will open and run through December 15. The show will be the last in Polvo’s physical space, which will close at the end of 2007 and, instead, exist primarily as a webspace and curatorial endeavor. (Britany Salsbury of www.culturalchicago.com)