In-Sync with… Claire Molek (interview)


This post continues my series “In-Sync with…” aimed to get a closer look at contemporary artists and art professionals from Chicago and abroad. Read it, enjoy it, share it, and get in-sync with Chicago based cultural architect Claire Molek. Do not miss her personal recommendations at the end of the interview.

The other day I was tagged in a Facebook post where the person asked a few of us to respond to a comment from art critic Jerry Saltz about the current state of NYC’s art scene.  In the middle of a long FB conversation, I met Claire Molek. It came to the point in the conversation thread that we just had to know each other. Claire is outspoken about her vision for the future and without a doubt she is someone you should know. I believe she is up to something good….   Enjoy the interview and share it with your friends!  Lets continue the conversation.

SG: Where did you go to school (college/university) and what degree did you receive?

CM: I went to the New School University for philosophy – I didn’t graduate. I ended up doing lots of traveling and getting into a bunch of trouble – so maybe it’s more apt for me to say I went to the School of Life.

SG: What is one thing you wish you had learned at school?

CM: Whatever I was going to learn at school I’m pretty sure I learned better in the real world.

SG: How do you describe what you do right now and where are you working?

CM: What I’m essentially doing right now is what I like to call cultural architecture. I’m primarily interested in community development, introducing the mainstream to all of our practices and creating an economy for emerging artists. It’s all about service. I currently work as director of HAUSER Gallery, which I co-founded with Marc Hauser. We rebrand and relocate at the end of the month as Brave New Art World wherein I assume full ownership. We’re located in River North.

crowd_1 (2)
Crowd at HAUSER Gallery, 2013
Photo credit: Michael Sullivan

SG: How did you get interested in curatorial work?

CM: When I was working for Tony Fitzpatrick he took a group of us down to NOLA and I was hanging out in Jackson Square, grabbing tourists from the street and introducing them to the artists who had set up all these informal booths. The whole process was fascinating and invigorating. Later Tony took me to a gallery and bought me my first piece of gallery bought art by Jimmy Descant. I decided right then that I wanted to run a gallery – the curatorial interest stems from a constant philosophic study and having always been surrounded by a lot of super genius artists. Just after that trip to NOLA I opened the STUDIO, also known as STUDIO 1020, and later known as This Is Not The Studio, with Erin Babbin, who now runs On The Real Film. At the time, what I wanted more than anything was to be able to provide a platform and economy for my friends – but I really fell in love with curating after this group of artists and friends that I was working with really taught me how to look and listen. Some of those artists include Matt Taber, Scott Nadeau, Harvey Moon, Xiao Tse, Julia Haw, Jon Sisti, Vincent Gaulin, Doug Fogelson, Jirasek, and James Murray.

SG: What was your first curatorial project and what did you learned from that first experience?

CM: Techincally speaking, my first project was with the STUDIO. It was called Welcome Home. Erin and I did that show with Jon Sisti as well. I learned that I had a lot to learn.

SG: What is your biggest challenge as a curator?

CM: The major challenge for me right now is in effective accessibility and communication. It’s one thing to hang a show and another thing all together to actually engage your audience with the information and ideas we all want to share with everyone.. and then another thing all together to measure the impact.

“Thank You For Submitting” by Brittany Southworth-LaFlamme, from the exhibition Atalanta & The Lion which is up until the end of the month at Hauser Gallery.
Photo credit: Michael Sullivan

SG: You have started a new project called BRAVE NEW ART WORLD. Can you explain what that is and why is it important?

CM: Brave New Art World is an arts unification project dedicated to the service of consciousness. The idea is to provide a space which acts as a forum for all of the members of the disparate art communities as well as for the broader public – as of now, there isn’t a space where we all know and feel that we are welcome, or are encouraged to share in. It’s about expanding our awareness, and it’s about cementing our seat as cultural leaders in the international marketplace. At the end of the day it’s just simple physics – put a bunch of super awesome in a room and you get infinite awesome.

Practically speaking, Brave New Art World is centered around an event that occurs every first Thursday of the month in the River North gallery district from 5-8PM – almost all of the galleries will be open – it includes critical talks, performance art and a local artisan product survey dispersed throughout the galleries. It’s paramount that we provide this space not only for one another, but also for the mainstream. We’ve all been so pretentious and elitist about what we do for so long – as though these modes determine value – the only success of these formalities lies in isolation, and that ends up serving a market which serves very few. The mainstream wants to get on the bus, and I’d like us all to be there when they do. Art is information, and information is for everyone. In other words – art is for the people, and it demands to be shared.

SG: When you talk about revitalizing the Chicago art world are you referring to River North because other areas like Bridgeport have been growing crazy under the radar for the last six years?

CM: I’m talking about the entirety of the scene in Chicago. The event is in River North for a number of reasons – namely that this is the most highly centralized gallery district in America outside of Manhattan. It’s also the top of the food chain here, and I think it’s important we share what’s going on outside this neighborhood with this neighborhood – for us to thrive as a city a shared awareness and identity is crucial. The district is also easy for everyone to get to via public transit, and was of course traditionally the mecca in Chicago until that building full of artist studios burnt down in 89′ and everyone’s rents raised. People remember River North, and I think there is a sense of hospitality in that. Yes, ultimately, this platform is for everyone – but first it is necessary that we cultivate an interest in what we all do outside of our insular audiences and make sure we all know each other. Once that interest is cultivated, and there are thousands of people in the streets of River North actually engaging with each other and with the art, and we get to say – hey you, you’ll really dig what’s going on at Zhou B or Gala or Co Pro or C-Haus or Aron Packer, etc. Go check them out! It’s been my experience that the access point has to be as accessible as possible. Of course, a big part of our platform comes with our online presence, which will serve as a kind of cultural information kiosk for everything that happens outside of this neighborhood. Eventually, I’d like to develop the empty real estate around the neighborhood wherein people from the periphery can use the space as a kind of curatorial residence as well. Or perhaps we’ll just do Brave New Art World projects all throughout the city. This is a movement more than anything, and that movement is about everyone, and it’s for everyone, and it’s about the ultimate reality that we all are creating surrounding our practices – the art world in Chicago goes the full distance, our form is full of integrity and is wholly illuminating, and we’re all ready to be a part of a thriving art community. All it takes a bit of encouragement and organization.

Vincent Gaulin's performing SCARCITY asks, Is This You, WANT? at This Is Not The Studio in 2010
Vincent Gaulin’s performing SCARCITY asks, Is This You, WANT? at This Is Not The Studio in 2010

SG: In your opinion, how to overcome the nostalgia for the past (what NY and River North used to be…) and make way for the brave new art world which is bigger, decentralized and more complex than before?

CM: As far as I am concerned, nostalgia comes from an unhealthy attachment to tired narratives and a fear of living in the present. It generally also stems from lack of honesty with ourselves or in idealized or lazy research. All one can do is recognize that what we have going on in Chicago is really a decentralized renaissance – and then, well, centralize it – that’s why New York and River North were able to flourish in the past. The thing is, we can all make this wellspring of legitimate koolaid but I’m not going to make people drink it if they don’t want to. That’s what I love about art and art practice – it’s open, and accepting and inviting when you do it right – it encourages us to actually think about the world inside and outside of us and doesn’t demand conclusions or categoricals, it doesn’t even demand a narrative – it’s all about everyone’s minds expanding. As far as decentralization is concerned, again, I think it’s important to have a centralized and mobilized location where we’re all welcome and actually participate in. I do recognize it’s a big favor that I’m asking of all these communities – it is actually a big commitment to block out one day a month to come and share in this – but if we do and if we can then I think we’ll have created – at the very least – a temporary solution.

SG: What excites you about the Chicago art scene right now?

CM: There is just so much amazing work going on here in so many different facets of our city. There is really so much of it! And as a city, we haven’t yet created a machine, which enables us to actually push the envelope, and make a machine that’s serves its proper purpose. At this point, we essentially have a blank slate, and I’m beyond stoked to see what we do with it.

Photograph by Joe Bonelli from our High Holy Cocktail Season Review at This Is Not The Studio in 2010. From left to right, that’s Tyrue ‘Slang’ Jones, Julia Haw, Ray Noland and Jon Sisti.

Book… Island, by Aldous Huxley, or anything by Henry Miller
Art movie or documentary… Wasteland, or Herb and Dorothy
Art museum… Museums are where art goes to die.
Contemporary artist… Jason Lazarus
Place to be inspired by… Anywhere with a sky full of stars
One sentence advice for an art student… HAVE FUN.
Chicago cafe/restaurant... Rootstock
YouTube video… ha.. anything by Hennessy Youngman.

The assemblage was made in 2011 at This Is Not The Studio by artists, patrons, the family and the kids on the block over the course of a week.



  1. Sergio — Thank for asking the pertinent questions for artistic culture at large here… “SG: In your opinion, how to overcome the nostalgia for the past (what NY and River North used to be…) and make way for the brave new art world which is bigger, decentralized and more complex than before?”

  2. Will Brave New Art World accept unsolicited submissions? I know of only a single gallery in Chicago (Robertello) with this policy while all others are more or less exclusive and closed to outsiders e.g. “Friends Curating Friends”.

  3. Hello Sergio, I’ve had a brief chat with Claire, and was immediately intrigued about Brave New World. This movement speaks to me, and I’m sure it speaks to many other emerging artist.

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