Art Talk with Beate Minkovski of Woman Made Gallery
Beate Minkovski. Photo by Jennifer Bisbing
"I was a rebel before Woman Made Gallery was born, and I am a rebel because of it." --- Beate Minkovski
Chicago artist Beate Minkovski never meant to start an art gallery. She and fellow artist Kelly Hensen were just looking for a storefront to showcase their own artwork after earning fine arts degrees. That storefront has since grown into Woman Made Gallery (WMG), one of the area's pre-eminent showcases with a vision to "ensure the equal placement of women's art in the world." WMG's activities include juried group shows, solo exhibitions, and professional development workshops. It's also a lively venue for poetry, with readings often themed toward current exhibitions. We spoke with Minkovski via e-mail about how Woman Made Gallery changed her life and the compelling power of women's work.
NEA: What's your version of the artist's life?
BEATE MINKOVSKI: My version of the artist's life is to create continuously, even if it is only in one's mind. For as long as Woman Made has existed I have not been able to produce consistently, but I am constantly thinking art. I am surrounded and inspired by it, and I have been most satisfied with many of my imaginary productions. I even work in series and solve many artistic challenges just by thinking them through. I hope that I will be able to put on paper what has been cooking for so long, after my retirement in 2014. The ideal artist's life would include time, space, inspiration, support, respect, and freedom. For now, Woman Made Gallery is my art.
NEA:What do you remember as your first experience/engagement with the arts?
MINKOVSKI: I admired both my parents' ability to draw, and my mother was able to create things that always put me in awe. My Uncle Heinz once drew a matchbox for me that appeared so realistically in perspective and with dimensional light and shadows that I can still see it perfectly on paper even though I was not yet of school age. I always wished that I could draw just like him. The drawings by Käthe Kollwitz had a tremendous impact on me. I admire her craftsmanship, devotion to content, and expressive power. Even today, drawings with interesting line variations and many shades of gray are still my favorite form of visual expression.
NEA: What's been your most significant arts experience to date?
MINKOVSKI: The most significant art experiences have always been in response to other women's art. I was a returning student at Northeastern Illinois University when our class, under instructions by Professor Mary Stoppert had to visit Artemisia Gallery in Chicago, and write about an exhibition by Mary Ellen Croteau. Being sheltered from experiencing contemporary art because of my busy life as a working mother of five children, I was blown away by Croteau's work. It opened up a new way of thinking about art, and the motivations behind its creation. I was moved by the strong statements her art made, in particular a sculptural work in hydrocal and newsprint titled Women on a Pedestal, which depicted the statue of the Virgin Mary in her traditional blessing pose, but covered from head to toes with newspaper articles about violence against women. Croteau's statement says: "The reality of women’s lives does not fit the cultural mythos of womanhood. We are neither honored by motherhood nor blessed by virginity. What we are is beaten, raped, murdered, and abused because we are women." This experience happened before Woman Made Gallery was born, but it is no accident that this work was eventually included in the 1996 Mary Mary Quite Contrary group show, resulting in the gallery's purchase of the piece for its permanent collection. I am fortunate to see it daily while at work.
NEA: How would you characterize the arts community in Chicago---in 10 words or less?
MINKOVSKI: Diverse, multi-ethnic, exciting, innovative, vibrant, authentic, interrelated, growing, artists supportive of each other...
NEA: What decision has most impacted your artistic career?
The founding of Woman Made Gallery in 1992 changed my life. It has impacted everything I do. Even though I don't have the time to create my personal art, I am expressing much of my creativity and motives through the art that other women exhibit at the gallery. Exhibitions like Home Improvements: Demolishing Domesticity by Sister Serpents in 1994, Home is where the Hell is in 1995, Normal/Abnormal: Bodies & Minds in 2003, War Forum: Images & Words in 2004, and many more have included pieces and dealt with content that my art would express. I have created an album on my personal Facebook page that is titled "The Collection I Don't Own." I continuously add to it pieces that speak to me for a variety of reasons. It is most satisfying to have this growing collection of art that moves me, but that I can't afford to buy.
NEA: Tell us more about the founding of Woman Made Gallery.
MINKOVSKI: My friend Kelly Hensen and I opened the gallery to show our Senior show in order to graduate. We wanted to use the space as our personal art studio after we graduated. But that didn't happen. The women artists who continuously visited expressed the need for a safe environment to exhibit their work publicly. In reality Woman Made Gallery was created by the artists who showed their work, and their number keeps growing. First locally, then nationally, and now even internationally. From 1992 through 2011 WMG has hosted 312 exhibitions made up of 165 group shows, 103 invitational/solo shows, 36 Artisan Gallery exhibitions, and nine off-site shows. Close to 7,000 women artists have exhibited their work since WMG was established, and they are responsible for the gallery's need to exist.
NEA: I know you don't have much time to make your own work, but how has working with Woman Made informed your own art practice? And vice versa?
MINKOVSKI: Many of the exhibition themes---especially those that deal with social issues, customs, and beliefs---have been thought of by me and are close to my heart because I am personally interested in creating work that challenges the status quo. I am always inspired by the many interesting ways other women artists express their viewpoints, and their unique creations have, in turn, inspired and led to more interesting exhibitions. I was a rebel before Woman Made Gallery was born, and I am a rebel because of it.
NEA: What do you think is the role of the artist in the community?
MINKOVSKI: The artist does not create her work in a vacuum but is informed by her surroundings. She should know about and be interested in the community she works in, be part of artist groups and form liaisons, share her work to understand how her art engages with the community, and inspire and help to make life better because of and through art.
NEA: What do you think is the responsibility of the community to the artist?
MINKOVSKI: I wish that there were more arts appreciation, arts education, and support for the arts and artists in this country. A healthy community provides opportunities for artists, and encourages and celebrates their creative expressions. Everyone benefits when the arts thrive.
NEA: What does the phrase "Art Works" mean to you?
MINKOVSKI: Art is life, and it works to connect people. It works to affect change, challenge ideas, make peace, heal wounds, share emotions, and to inspire and aspire us to greater possibilities.
NEA: Anything you wish I'd asked? And how would you have answered?
MINKOVSKI: If you could have one wish that is art-related, what would it be? To make art education and art creation mandatory from elementary school through college. It would change the world. Maybe it's simplistic to say that people who create don't destroy, but I believe this to be true.