Visiting the Courtney Blades Gallery for the first time felt very much like being transplanted into the 1920s era of the speakeasy. The gallery, which only operates on Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 5 pm, already limits access to the public. And on this particular Saturday afternoon, getting in meant knowing an insider. While unintentional, the gallery was closed without notice, but next door at the antique store Rethink, owner Marie Barnhart had the key to get in, Mickey Pomfrey and Blake Harris’ phone numbers.
Mickey Pomfrey and Blake Harris are co-owners of the Courtney Blades Gallery, which ignites the curiosity of who then is Courtney Blades? Courtney Blades is an alias they created, a parody on today’s art world where the typical commercial gallery is named after its owner if it ever wants to gain esteem. Courtney Blades is not a person but an aberration.
The Courtney Blades Gallery began almost incidentally in October of 2010 with Cocktails: An Artist’s Patio, an event the two organized in what is now the gallery’s backyard. They found it to be well received and rewarding, so soon after, when the property became available, Mickey and Blake decided to open a more permanent experimental space and try their hands at being gallery owners.
The mission of the Courtney Blades Gallery is to provide a space for young emerging artists to make work without restriction and to offer an alternative mentality as to how a commercial gallery can operate. Mickey and Blake take on a curatorial role in executing their mission but curate the gallery’s artists more so than the actual pieces. Seeing that both are full-time, undergraduate students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), they certainly don’t have a shortage of artists to choose from. They pull work from their existing network in the Chicago art community but also accept proposals. In determining which artists will be granted representation, Mickey and Blake examine the breadth of work in each artist’s oeuvre. Upon selection, they assume a hands-off approach, letting the shows take off on their own.
Past shows at the Courtney Blades Gallery have been quite conceptual, melding both traditional and graphic aesthetics with Internet technology. There has been no restriction as to the types of mediums represented, as exhibitions at the gallery have included sculpture, painting, performance, video and sound installations. The gallery in a way embodies a new modernism, where conceptual pieces can also reaffirm classic aesthetic qualities and create a dialogue of dual existences.
Mickey and Blake are both artists themselves. They choose not to show their own work for the sake of maintaining the integrity of the gallery’s curatorial practice. For now, they are more interested in creating a space for other people and providing a helpful eye and hand. When asked if they plan to maintain their focus on curatorial practices in the future, they responded, “We will do whatever we want to do. One thing might take precedence for a little while, but ultimately, why can’t we do it all?” Sounds like a triple threat.