For the past year or so Becca Mann and a revolving cast of friends have shared a little house in Bucktown. It’s the kind of place you get jealous of when you visit, even though you might not really want to live there: originally designed as a daycare, it has no pantry but two bathrooms right next to each other, and each of its many small rooms is painted dark plummy brown, metallic gold, royal blue, or sea foam green. Mann and her roommates are moving out at the end of the month and, feeling sentimental, she and another onetime tenant, Dirk Knibbe, have decided to curate an art show to say farewell.
“We’ve felt like little kids living here,” she says, so it makes sense that the show’s theme is “fairy tales and little stories.” Entitled “Folklore,” it features works on paper–mostly drawings–that “don’t ask for anything,” says Mann. “Not for you to be intimidated by their concepts, not for you to be blown away by amazing technique.” It’s all “beautiful, enigmatic, and humble.”
Knibbe and Mann, who’s a painter as well as the fashion editor for Venus magazine, met at the School of the Art Institute, but they didn’t become friends until he was moving out of the house and she was moving in. “We’re both 23, both Virgos,” she says. Soon after, Knibbe asked her to hang some of her paintings at a “sexy art” show he was curating; a couple months later he asked her to put together a show with him.
“Cake White Palace,” their first collaboration, was enormous, says Mann. “We way overdid it.” Held at the cavernous Texas Ballroom, the show explored the idea of psychedelia in modern art after the 60s and 70s. They screened films by Mann’s sister Aran Reo Mann, got Sparrowhawk Family, Entrance, and Bardo Pond guitarist Michael Gibbons to perform, and invited nine artists–from Japanese tapestry maker Ai Kijima to Galactic Zoo Dossier’s “Psychedelic” Steve Krakow to Daniel Pineda, a member of the local situationist art collective Total Gym–to contribute work. It was “totally trippy crazy,” says Mann. “A cheesy way to describe the show would be to say it was a ‘happening,'”
For “The Mansion Show,” held in April in an old Wicker Park mansion, the pair installed fantastical paintings and screen prints dealing with supernatural and romantic subjects and lit them by candlelight. Formal attire was requested; the show was packed. “We were terrified something would go awry,” says Mann, but it didn’t. “People didn’t leave a bunch of garbage, they didn’t fuck up the art, and they left when it was time to go. It was a beautiful moment when we realized people were enjoying this enough to respect our interests.”
Mann has sold a couple of her own paintings through the shows. But otherwise, she says, she and Knibbe have never stepped in enough as proprietors to be aware of what sold or didn’t. “We’re interested in taking ourselves seriously,” says Mann. “We’re not skimping on anything….But we are backing away from authority–we’re not pretending to be gallery owners or a museum.” Generosity, she says, makes it more fun to work with people. For “Folklore” she’s not only opening her home to the public–she’s baking apple pie.
“Folklore” takes place Saturday, August 28, from 6 PM to midnight at 1640 N. Oakley, and includes work by Devendra Banhart, Phil Elverum (aka the Microphones), Sayre Gomez, 90 Day Men bassist Robert A.A. Lowe, Justin Schaefer, and both Mann and Knibbe. Lowe also performs (as Lichens) as do Derek W. James and Sean Riley of Sparrowhawk Family. It’s free; call 773-459-7277.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bruce Powell.