For more than 20 years, N.A.M.E. Gallery showed experimental work and provided a platform for the "genuine oddballs and visionaries" of their generation.
It was 1973, and the Chicago art scene was awash with the Hairy Who and traditional artists. A group of recent SAIC graduates, believing their work would never be shown in conventional art galleries, decided to shake things up by creating their own space—one that would show experimental work and provide a platform for the "genuine oddballs and visionaries" of their generation.
"With that early-20s enthusiasm and no concept of reality, seven or eight of us just started meeting," says alum Barry Holden (BFA 1973, MFA 1975). "It worked because there was a true reason to meet, and we kept doing it."
N.A.M.E. Gallery was originally located at the corner of Lake and Wells. Early exhibitions drew crowds that numbered into the hundreds and included a mixture of performance, installation, film, and music.
One show included live birds and animals. Another time, two artists flooded the entire floor and created an island in the gallery with stepping-stones for a path around the exhibition. Artist Dennis Kowalski's solo show incorporated ordinary home construction materials as a comment on the perception of the "white box's" control over how viewers receive art. And one major group show, the Amatory Show, gave a nod to the pornography store located downstairs.
This gallery's cutting-edge, interdisciplinary focus can be largely attributed to SAIC. N.A.M.E.'s founding members were all alumni as were many of the hundreds of artists who showed work there over the years. Holden remembers Emilio Cruz, a Painting and Drawing instructor who encouraged him to expand his practice. "There was great teaching at SAIC. There was interdisciplinarity; it was a great awakening of people," he says.
N.A.M.E. was a pioneer in Chicago and the nation in the artist-run space movement and became the epicenter of Chicago’s most progressive arts community, according to Paul Krainak, former director.
"It published catalogs and books written by artists which were designed to take control over the artworks' meaning for a new generation who were suspicious of the hierarchical and exclusionary commercial art marketing system," says Krainak.
As time passed, directors of N.A.M.E. Gallery passed the torch to new directors and moved on. The gallery ran for more than 20 years. Remarkably, little has been written or documented about the groundbreaking work shown there.