Outdoor neighborhood gallery brings culture, whimsy to Oak Park residents

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Dog walkers, neighborhood kids and random passersby never know what they're going to get when they pass the nondescript green bungalow at 704 Highland Ave. in Oak Park.

But after almost three years of artist Sabina Ott and writer John Paulett using the porch and front yard of their home as an outdoor art exhibit, neighbors and those in the know can expect to see something interesting.

Ott, who is a fine arts professor at Columbia College, said she launched the outdoor gallery in October of 2011, after given the opportunity to contribute her own outdoor installations — one on a front porch known as "What it is" and another in 2010 at an exhibit space in Manawa, Wisconsin, known as the Poor Farm.

Contributing to the two exhibits changed Ott's own work, she said, and "pushed my practice a lot."

She said that the gallery, dubbed Terrain Exhibitions, has exhibited some 30-plus different artists and expanded to the side yard of a building a few houses down. The current installation "Peace in the US: A celebration of the good intentions and dream put forth by a hippy utopia" features the work of Lise Haller Baggesen and includes patriotic red, white and blue tie-dyed shirts and, furniture cushions and decorative banners.

A small flower garden installed in the front yard is in the shape of an electric guitar. The opening night of the exhibit, Baggesen lit tiki torches on fire, possibly a tribute to '60s era psychedelic guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

Ott and company took the hippie show on the road, renting a U-Haul truck and decorating it in tie-dye for Oak Park's Fourth of July parade. It was an opportunity to celebrate Oak Park's progressive political culture and get the word out about the open-air gallery.

"There were all of these friends of mine who have kids who dressed their kids in tie-dye, so people were totally confused, which is great," Ott said. "People would say, 'What is it? They're hippies!' It was really funny."

She said the exhibits often have a whimsical flavor or make people question the meaning of art.

"Neighbors come to me and say, 'Thank you so much for making our street stand out; thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to talk to our children about art,'" she said.

Although most people have voiced positive support for the galley, some don't get the point. And the installations frequently aren't without critics.

"There's a couple that come by all the time, and they hate everything," Ott said with a laugh. "They snarl at me. They hate all art, and they'll tell me, 'Artists are so stupid.'"

The makeshift gallery has reached beyond the gaze of passing neighbors, attracting the attention of Chicago Magazine, Newcity magazine and even international art publications such as Hyperallergic, Ott said.

She said the exhibits change out monthly and opening night always includes a lot of food and camaraderie. 

"I make a huge amount of food," she said, noting that over time, "it's more and more like a salon."

More information about the outdoor gallery is available on the web at http://terrainexhibitions.tumblr.com and https://www.facebook.com/groups/Terrainexhibitions/

Email: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Richard Holland from Oak Park  

Posted: July 17th, 2014 12:53 PM

As a critic (www.badatsports.com), art fan, and OP resident thank you for covering heroes Sabine and John. OP is home to many world reknown artists and has other great home spaces eg Grabner and Killam's The Suburban (Michelle Grabner curated the 2014 Whitney Biennial) and Tom Burtonwood and Holly Holmes What It Is space (which may be on hiatus). Tom is artist in residence at the AIC education dept (google him!). OP is an international art powerhouse and it goes largely unnoticed.


Posted: July 15th, 2014 5:57 PM

How sweet, hope to check this out soon. Thank you for sharing this!

mary mccloskey from oak park  

Posted: July 15th, 2014 3:52 PM

I think this is terrific idea. Reminds me of Jane Jacob's concept of "eyes on the street."This is how we keep our neighborhoods safe and engaging. Yay, Sabrina Ott!

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