The New galleries Manifold and 22 bridge design and art Less: Then and Now at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Berwyn and Ravenswood designers launch exhibition spaces

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Photograph: Elizabeth Fiersten

Installation view of "R and D" at Manifold, 2012.

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Photograph: Courtesy of Elizabeth and Ross Fiersten

Elizabeth and Ross Fiersten

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Photograph: 22

Installation view of "Compression Testing" at 22, 2012.

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Photograph: Laura DeMichael

Jessica Calek (left) and Dan Streeting

Jessica Calek faced slim prospects for gainful employment when she returned to her native Riverside after graduating with a master’s degree in architecture from Cranbrook Academy of Art. So, together with her boyfriend Dan Streeting, a fellow Cranbrook alum, Calek opened 22 (6910 Cermak Rd, Berwyn) in an empty storefront owned by her family.

The small, laid-back gallery lets Calek and Streeting keep their work in the public eye—and showcase other artists and designers—as they pursue freelance careers in architecture and graphic design, respectively. It also adds some much needed cultural vitality to Berwyn. The March 16 opening reception of 22’s exhibition “Compression Testing” which runs through Sunday 8, attracted a steady stream of visitors.

The show’s 20 participants all experiment with corrugated cardboard, which designers often use to build maquettes of furniture, buildings and even landscapes. It’s perfect for expressing ideas that might be fabricated in more profitable times.

22 regularly hosts one-day markets (including one on April 14) where artists and designers sell “affordable, unique work that’s made locally,” Calek says. “This hopefully funds the creation of more work, and it keeps that money in the community.” However, nothing in “Compression Testing” is for sale. Calek says running a gallery is something she has always wanted to do, but it’s a strategy to engage the community rather than a moneymaking venture.

Elizabeth and Ross Fiersten’s new gallery Manifold (4426 N Ravenswood Ave) won’t take traditional 50-percent commissions, either. Though they say the recession didn’t influence their decision, the furniture designers left a third-floor Pilsen studio because they felt disconnected from street life and potential customers, and moved into a single-story building in the Ravenswood industrial corridor. The front of this former factory is a white-walled showroom that provides what Elizabeth calls “permeability.” From the sidewalk, pedestrians can look into the showroom and see finished products. Once inside, visitors can go “backstage” to the Fierstens’ skylit workshop to learn about the fabrication process.

Like Calek and Streeting, the Fierstens consider their new enterprise more than a business. They plan to offer courses in steel-furniture fabrication, which are hard to find in Chicago. Manifold enlivens their showroom by transforming it into an exhibition space, which alternates between displaying the Fierstens’ new furniture designs and the works of other artists and designers.

On view through May 26, “R&D,” which is curated by Britton Bertran, refers to “research and development.” The show’s seven local contributors include Thornberry, a collective that made doorstops out of Carrara marble, wenge wood and porcelain. The three objects appear to be prototypes used in R&D. But in a Duchampian move, Thornberry (literally) elevates the lowly doorstop onto a pedestal, where the pieces’ high-end materials confront ideas of functionality and status.

Elizabeth hopes group shows like “R&D” enable the Fierstens to “engage Chicago artists and designers who are exploring this intersection between art and design.” Meanwhile, 22 and Manifold show art fans and other new audiences that designers’ practices don’t have to be private.

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