Sarah Whipple is a bad girl, a Kewpie doll with an attitude. If she’s got a blemish, it’s in your face. Take that “patch of ugly,” as she calls it, on her left wrist, a brown birthmark with a crop of wiry black hair. She wears it like jewelry, likes it so much she made it into a piece of art.

A sculptor, Whipple has come to the Chicago Salon to show the collectors her work. Besides Birthmark (a brown vinyl soft sculpture sprouting black, wormy extrusions), she’s showing Pee Puddle (executed in yellow satin), and Hairy Box. The latter is a freestanding glass column sprouting real hair along its seams. There is also something called Tongue and Shit. The audience takes it all in stride. “What are your influences?” they want to know. “What made you decide to be an artist?”

“Nothing,” Whipple replies, in disarming deadpan. “I was very insecure. I didn’t think I could be an artist. I went to hair school.”

After a couple of years of crimping and cutting, Whipple took a photography course at the University of Illinois at Chicago, then decided to go for a degree. She stumbled on sculpture in the process. Now 29 years old, she’s as much influenced by Madonna’s rude power as by anything in the art world. “My work is meant to set up a kind of dirty frame for the viewer’s fantasy,” she says. “And to make people laugh at themselves. A lot of it is about taking control.”

The Chicago Salon is about taking control too, a group of art consumers striking out on their own. The collectors who formed it last summer want to provide a forum for local artists (whose venues are decreasing daily), and a less-formal experience for themselves than they’ve been getting from members’ clubs at the city’s museums. No criticism of the MCA or Art Institute is intended, they’re quick to explain: “We’re all still active in those organizations.”

“But,” says founding member Claudia Luebbers, “we seemed to be getting farther away from the real issues.” “Too much accepted patter,” adds another founder. “Too many national and international agendas.”

So far, at least, the Chicago Salon is free of bureaucracy, building funds, and institutional reputation-building. There are no staff curators to select or interpret the art. Dues are cheap ($25 a year). There’s no space to maintain, no grantors to please. In its first year the salon is hosting six free Saturday-afternoon programs. To date: panel discussions on museums, critics, and young collectors, and the artists’ presentation that included Whipple. At the group’s fifth meeting, to be held this week, local painters Jim Green, Karen Lebergott, and John Pittman will present their work. The salon had 120 members at last count–including artists, dealers, and museum folk. Luebbers says anyone with an interest in art is welcome.

The Chicago Salon will meet at 4 PM Saturday, March 20, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign I Space, 230 W. Superior. The program is free and open to the public. Call 587-9976 for more information. Pee Puddle and several other pieces by Sarah Whipple can be seen in “Profiles,” a show at Randolph Street Gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee, through April 10. Gallery hours are noon to 6 Tuesday through Saturday; admission is free. Call 666-7737.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Loren Santow.