A note from RJ: I want to thank Dont Fret and Anna Cerniglia for putting this interview together. I’ve been a fan of Dont Fret’s work for a while, but since since latest show was really about a Chicago neighborhood that I’ve only very briefly visited, I asked him to find a local friend who might be able to have a conversation with about the project. Anna Cerniglia of Johalla Projects stepped up. Dont Fret has shown at Johalla Projects, and they helped put on his latest show, which is largely the subject of this conversation. A big thank you to both of them for letting me just step back on this one and do little to no work to read something really interesting. – RJ
Earlier this year, Dont Fret was given the opportunity to paint the walls of a building in Chicago’s Fulton Market. The building had previously housed a wholesale fish Market and a hardware Store, and with both businesses moving or closing, the building had been sold and was set for demolition in late August. Over the summer, Dont Fret painted the walls of the building and mounted a show inside the now-defunct hardware store entitled There Are Only Two Seasons In Chicago: Winter And Construction. The show featured a body of new work from Dont Fret, much of it made using materials found at the hardware store. The show was open for one week and then the hardware store was demolished on August 29th, 2014.
Anna Cerniglia: How have you been feeling after de-install of the show?
Dont Fret: I’m feeling pretty alright. People keep asking me if I’m bummed that the building is being torn down, but I am mostly just kind of in shock that we actually pulled off the show without anyone shutting us down. It kind of feels like the show hasn’t happened yet because we were in limbo for some time, there were just so many opportunities for something to go wrong.
AC: GOD RIGHT.
DF: How did you feel when I first showed you the inside of the hardware store? It was kind of a shit show.
AC: Well after helping produce an event in a similar space earlier this summer for Soho House, I wasn’t intimidated by the build-out. I was more intrigued with what we had to work with. The space earlier this summer I worked on was filled with refrigerators and ovens and all kinds of crap. It was storage. The hardware store was just a space frozen in time. I was afraid to touch it. It was amazing.
How about you?
DF: And what the show ended up being was really far removed from what we had originally planned. Originally I didn’t want to touch anything, I wanted all of the original shelves and storage to stay, I wanted almost a precise time capsule, and none of that ended up staying because of scrappers and other people who were salvaging things from the space.
AC: Yeah I think it was even better though. The amount of space was perfect for the time allotted. And even though we lost those shelves the space felt exactly the same. I had so many people say “this is the best show I have seen this year.” I think that says a lot. The space wasn’t a white cube and the artwork fit into this timeless space.
DF: I think so too. The first moment I set foot in the hardware store 4 months ago I knew I wanted to do a show in it. I haven’t done a solo show in a year and I knew that whatever my next show was, I didn’t want it to be in a traditional gallery space. I wanted to really create a moment and let the space live it’s life. Get closer to “real life” and maybe blur the line of what most people call a “pop-up art show.”
AC: Yeah – I have been hearing that term used so much recently. Where people take the white gallery cube and throw some wallpaper on it and call it a “pop-up.” But this was different.
DF: For me one of the best moments was when we re-painted and re-hung the “Chicago Wholesale Hardware” signage outside the shop and people started coming in asking if we could make keys for them or if we had Paint & Primer. We also set up a voicemail for the hardware store that people could call in and leave messages to. I think people were legit disappointed and confused that they couldn’t get keys made or order paint.