ART IS POLITICAL.
ART IS CONTROVERSIAL.
ART IS CONVERSATIONAL.
ART IS CONFRONTATIONAL.
ART IS SOCIALLY ENGAGED.
Regardless of what art is hanging in Caren Petersen’s new gallery, (Not) Sheep, those 16 words serve to let guests know that this space will live up to its name.
The new Short North venture is sure to shake up the tamer arts district, with a promise to be uncompromising, nonconforming, and a neutopia where viewers can wander amongst a breadth of conversational art. Last month, viewers were met face-to-face with raw, unfiltered tapestry by Kathryn Shinko. While some guests of (Not) Sheep have avoided the gaze of the piece, Petersen encourages not turning a blind eye to the naked truth.
Just like she did with the Muse space in Grandview, Petersen promotes frankness and provocation. She believes racism is prevalent in everyone, no matter if they’re liberal. She thinks cosmetic surgery can be “fear-based,” and that the Trump administration arguably replicates the Civil War. She also gives room for artists’ meditation, with an emphasis on women’s empowerment.
“Someone asked me, ‘Do you think this is a feminist gallery?’” she said. “Well, I don’t think it’s defined as any one thing, but out of 13 artists, 11 of them are women,” she says. “I think women have really amazing, powerful stories to tell, and women as artists have always been considered secondary.”
It’s the personal that has always been a part of the professional for Petersen. She started Muse to show more challenging pieces, but admits that the business aspect began to overthrow its progression.
“You have to sell certain things to pay the bills and certain artists sell more than other artists, and a lot of people go by the wayside.”
While still running Muse Gallery, after the election in 2016, Caren began recovery from heart surgery that gave her 8-12 years to live, but also fueled her reevaluation of purpose.
“I still had stitches and had literally gotten home the day before. When I woke up, I asked my husband, “who won?” and he goes, “you don’t wanna know.” At that moment I thought, ‘I’m not gonna live an inauthentic life anymore,’ she said. “I still love the artists that I represent at Muse, but I needed to start railing against the machine.”
“It’s not just about a gallery or selling some pieces of art; it’s people that I like and I see what they’re trying to say.”
Politics aside, Caren is adamant about artists having the freedom to voice their own truths. Spotlight artist Kim Goldfarb’s delicate paintings of black girls in prestigious roles is emblazoned just above Caren’s desk, with blank, youthful faces that are disjointed from their regal positions. “To [Kim], this was a conflicted story, because this was the only love that she knew, but she’s white, so how does she tell this story without feeling like she’s capitalizing off a black girl?” she said.
Just two days following the verdict in the 2014 Chicago shooting of Laquan McDonald at the hands of police officer Jason Van Dyke, Petersen struggles to hide her terror amidst the onslaught against black civilians.
“Not to sound patronizing, but I can’t imagine being a black man in America today. The problem in this country is that we don’t face anything, we just act like oh, I’m not racist, I’m not a misogynist, I don’t treat women badly. With all truth, there is a painful awakening of what really exists. To erase history is also wrong, but we need to look at all of that and say ‘we’ve made some huge mistakes [and] this is how we should change things, but we need to start talking about it.’”
Petersen wants (Not) Sheep visitors to have an open mind to ruminate on the subtle dialogue of self-identity and understanding the influence of art, far deeper than texture and surface-level. As Caren relishes in her personal message, she also celebrates art for the sake of discourse.
“I had open heart surgery two years ago, and it’s not like the movies. It’s not like to have this big, life-altering [moment]. I didn’t feel any different, but I did realize that we all have limited time here on Earth. Because things are so messed up right now and there’s so much to say, our tendency is to hide our heads because we’re all tired and don’t know what power we could have, I felt somewhat relieved [of my condition]. I thought, ‘really, what can anybody do to me?’
(Not) Sheep Gallery is located 17 W Russell St. and open from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. This month: small works from Char Norman, Sue Cavanaugh, Chay Ruby and Christopher X. Bost.