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DvA Gallery Gives Chicago a New Style

Animal crackers and keg beer at an art opening? This isn't your grandma's art gallery.
Monday Nov 13, 2006.     By Joanne Hinkel
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Animal crackers, chips packets and keg beer at an art gallery opening?

DvA Gallery dares to break from the art scene norm not just by hosting unconventional openings, such as the Anniversary Tiki Party, but by choosing to show 80-percent pop illustration, or "lowbrow" art.

"People are thankful that a gallery like this has finally come to Chicago," owner David van Alphen says of his two-year-old space in Lincoln Park, which showcases illustration art that has been wildly popular in California.

Termed "lowbrow" by some for its pop culture and commercial design inspirations (such as car culture, pulp fiction, comics, cartoons, '50s and '60s design aesthetics, B-List movies and rock 'n roll music), lowbrow takes on a variety of forms at DvA Gallery, from from paintings of Bettie-Page style heroines in Hawaii-inspired landscapes to intricate drawings by rock album designer Derek Hess. This artwork is proving popular. Last summer jet-setting illustrator "Shag" visited; a line of fans waiting to meet him wrapped around the corner.

And with prices the run from $200 to $1,000, lowbrow art proves high on value and popular with young collectors. With plans for a tattoo show and an exhibit displaying Mike Judge's Beavis and Butthead storyboards on the schedule, van Alphen is booked through March of 2008.

You decided to open an art gallery in Chicago because:
Everyone asks why I'm not downtown with those other galleries and I don't want to be seen as one of those galleries. I sort of like being separated. It is sort of yuppie type are and not the exact perfect fit for the gallery. But I get a lot of neighborhood people and I'm introducing this artwork to Chicago. There's not much of this in the Midwest. I wanted to make art more affordable and get rid of some of the stereotypes. I hate going to art galleries where people judge you...If you're not wearing a three-piece suit they don't even talk to you.

My sister's the one who got me into this type of artwork. I met artists through her and when I decided to open a gallery I decided to use her as a resource.

You select art that:
It's 50/50. Half of [what I select] is biased, art that I like, and then the other half is art that I think appeals to my consumer. Obviously you want artwork that's going to sell...this is a business. I have to look out for the survival of the gallery. The hard part is that I want to represent Chicago and Chicago artists. With all the artists out there it gets harder and harder to do that. Next year I'm going to have one show for Chicago artists, about 40 different Chicago artists.

If we remember one thing about your gallery it's:
This is not your grandma's artwork. It's different from any other gallery you've seen in Chicago.

When you're not at your gallery, you check out art at:
Rotofugi. It's a toy store gallery. It's more custom toy based, toys for adults.

A Chicago artist we should know is:
I have to pick one. That's hard...I should give you a couple. Jeremiah Kenter and Gabe Lanza, he's been in a few shows here.

On your walls at home you have:
Everything you see in the gallery. My house is a gallery in and itself. I probably have just as much artwork as there is in the gallery, the same artists. Whenever artists come into town I have to give them a tour of my house.

You would tell artists interested in the gallery scene to:
Send good representation of your artwork...[not a photo that] looks like it was taken in the back of your closet.

Collect on a budget by:
People always ask me 'what's a good investment?' A good measure is by how well [an artists' work] is selling. Trying to find someone early in their career before they take off is smart. I have names that definitely come to my head. Ryan Heshka is one example. His stuff is just phenomenal. When I have his work on the wall no matter what's up, people are immediately drawn to it. His prints sell out every time.


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