Gallery Spotlights are posts about randomly selected* art venues in Chicago
The Gage Gallery of Chicago’s Roosevelt University downtown campus has pursued the same goals as the university. The gallery strives to promote social justice by being a gallery solely exhibiting social documentary photography. The goal of this photography is not necessarily to be pleasing to the eye, but to actually portray the living situations of people around the world.
Nine years ago, Chicago’s Roosevelt University renovated the city’s historic Gage building on South Michigan Ave. They gutted the original building and redesigned the floor plan to be more fitting for the university. In doing so Michael Ensdorf, Professor and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, insisted on leaving room for a university gallery. Ensdorf has been the founder and director of the Gage Gallery for nine years and has been able to form the gallery into what it is today.
The gallery started as an all media gallery, but as the years went on Ensdorf decided it needed more of a focus. Between the four to five years of transformation, Ensdorf presented thematic exhibitions focusing on one general idea presented throughout the gallery space. Around 2005-2006, the Gage Gallery solidified its focus as a photography gallery.
Ensdorf claims that, “2005 was the main pivotal point for the gallery with the exhibit ‘The Promise of Public Housing.’” Ensdorf, his wife, Kathy Pilate, and Brad Hunt presented photographs from the archives of the Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Historical Society from 1936-1983. From this point on, the gallery only showed social documentary photography presenting real life events in a visual way. Ensdorf stated that this exhibit was a “historically important show,” as it refined two important factors; this showing was not only important for the focus of the gallery as a social documentary photography gallery, but also as proof to the university that the gallery was an important aspect for the school. The exhibit brought in visitors interested in the housing projects and visitors interested in the actual photos being displayed.
As the gallery continued to bring people from the outside world, Ensdorf realized that the photographs were used “to show work about a subject that is important to people outside of the art world.” The work of Eugene Richards has been shown at the Gage Gallery twice, first in 2003 with an exhibit documenting the event of 9-11, called “Stepping Through the Ashes of 9-11.” The photographs presented real life events and revealed the “horrific things happening in the world,” commented Endsdorf. The second was an exhibit entitled, “Plight of the Mentally Disabled.” These exhibitions embody what the gallery strives to project.
In relation to the University, the Gage Gallery rarely presents student’s work. It strictly focuses on documentary photography from well-known “important photographers,” specified Endsdorf. The gallery does follow the pursuits of the university in promoting social justice, however, it takes a more visual approach. There are multiple ways to present these situations visually, but the effect and the ability to freeze a situation in time allows the viewer to examine the content of the image displayed without a time restraint.
Experience proves a visual approach and puts a face to worldly injustices, magnifying their significance in world issues.
Gage Gallery, 18 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL
Gallery Hours: Monday – Friday 9:00am-6:00pm and Saturday 10:00am – 4:00pm
*Gallery spotlights are chosen based on a lottery, which we document by videotape, in order to be transparent and truly random. 10 were chosen out of a pool of 350.