One Two Pru’s breathtaking lobby art exhibition, African Diaspora: Chicago, is a rich site of artistic connection between local artists of color and the public of Chicago — and was made possible by a very special name in the Chicago art scene. Andre and Frances Guichard lead Gallery Guichard, known for its leading presence in the Bronzeville Art District. We sat down with the Guichards to discuss more about how their space came to be, their mission through art and more about their collaboration with One Two Pru.
What was the impetus for opening the gallery?
Andre: Gallery Guichard was created to fill a void of the lack of art platforms for artists of color. I’m an artist of 27 years, and when I started, there was really only one art gallery to exhibit our work, but that gallery had to feature over 300 artists in the neighborhood. So, my contemporaries and I used to do a lot of pop-ups, and I was the organizer of my group of artists. After curating for pop-ups, I was asked to become the curator for the South Shore Cultural Fine Arts Gallery, and that was the beginning of my professional curation, which lasted for 6 years. It was then that we were able to create a following of collectors, and when space could no longer handle the demand for artwork, we started writing up a plan for Gallery Guichard.
How did the team behind Gallery Guichard come together?
Andre: After writing my business plan, I met one of our business partners Stephen Mitchell, a young attorney and collector who used to partner with me on collaborations at my art studio in Pilsen, and we would turn big, open, dirty spaces into fun, exciting collecting spaces. That was the beginning of one of the collaborations. I then met Frances at the DuSable Museum while exhibiting, and she was attending for a fundraiser. We soon started dating, and after learning her previous profession, I also invited her to join me on the road to creating Gallery Guichard. We opened our first location on 35th and King Drive, which is another significant landmark: the Supreme Life Building, the first African American insurance company in the country.
Beyond your own artwork, how are the other artists and collections chosen to be featured at Gallery Guichard?
Andre: As mentioned, our artist cadre comes from a combination of referrals from artists I have met during my 27-year career. The bulk come from artists we met during a 10-year stint as international Curators for the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series. The Artisan Series was an international platform for multicultural artists to meet collectors. Each year we would receive 6000 plus artists submissions and narrow the number down to 20 artists in 15 cities across the United States and Canada. We partnered with galleries and museums to host the regional exhibitions where one artist would win the opportunity to exhibit their artwork at Scope Art Fair on Miami Beach During Art Basel in December of every year. Interested artists are also able to contact us by email by submitting their CV and images of their work.
What’s the story behind Gallery Guichard’s current location in the Bronzeville Artists Loft?
Frances: When Andre brought the idea of opening an art gallery, we had several different options in where to locate the gallery, and we ultimately chose Bronzeville. The neighborhood has so much history — it’s a historic area where African Americans had to live and work, and they couldn’t live anywhere else. We had our gallery on 35th for nine years, until we had an opportunity to come up with an idea of creating something new and unique in this vacant spot we’re now at. We won the bid, and so we, with several other people, came and opened the Bronzeville Artist Lofts, moving the gallery from 35th St. to 47th St. It was amazing because — the gallery on 35th St. was beautiful, it was a three-story sandstone building and it was historic in its own right — but when we moved here, we were able to come with a little more modern theme, as well as larger spaces, all in one level. We also have wheelchair access and an opening to the exterior, where it opens up to the Great Migration Sculpture Garden. It’s an amazing facility, and the building is the site of the first African American owned and operated department store called The Ben Franklin – operated by Jones Brothers.
Andre: This current location also allows us to collaborate with the 16 artist live-work spaces which are on the 2nd and 3rd floor, where we engage our live-work artists in exhibitions as well as staffing for our events, so we’ve created an economic synergy that helps the entire Bronzeville Artist Lofts operate and sustain itself.
Frances: And we’re also an event space, so people can rent the gallery with the beautiful art, and place their tables and chairs and turn it into a kind of funky event or an elegant, extraordinary event.
Andre: We’ve found many people don’t want a traditional event space or reception hall, and the energy from the art really creates something new and different.
How has the Covid environment changed the gallery? What have you found successful in terms of ways to engage with art-lovers and new audiences virtually?
Frances: We have these Virtual Exhibition Catalogs (VEC) powered by Matteport that highlight paintings in the gallery. We’ve created 12 exhibitions since the pandemic. We went from refreshing exhibits every 3 months to doing do so monthly. Our business model also moved from decoration to wellness — bringing this art into people homes to help them keep mentally sane.
Could you touch upon some of the celebrity connections you’ve nurtured for featured artists?
In 2013 and 2014, Gallery Guichard was named the official art gallery of Tom Joyner’s Fantastic Voyage. During the cruises in 2014 & 2015, they raised more money for the foundation through art sales than any previous year.
[Andre] also partnered with Rebuild the Dream; an organization focused on rebuilding economies and creating sustainability in communities. Rebuild the Dream collaborates with celebrities, artists, poets, painters, dances to change hearts and minds. Rebuild the Dream concerts were held in Chicago with Grammy Award-winning artist Prince.
Collectors of [Andre’s] work include The View’s Sunny Hostin and CNN Anchor Dana Bash, and Gallery Guichard’s artist cohort has also sold paintings from Hebrew Brantley and Christine Mays to Jay Z and George Lucas respectively.
Why do you think it’s important for people to interact with art—especially works by multicultural artists—particularly in this day and age?
Frances: Art has a unique way of bringing people from all walks of life together. It also makes it easier to broach topics that are otherwise difficult to express in other means. Our time creating platforms for multicultural artists proved one thing: when all artists are given the opportunity to exhibit together, the diversity of the works combine to create the most breathtaking exhibitions. Now more than ever, allowing opportunities for multicultural artists showcases how when opportunities are given to all, the tide rises for all boats.
How did your partnership with One Two Pru come about?
Andre: Our introduction to One Two Pru was through Director of Diversity and Strategic Development Keiana Barrett, in alignment with our mission of creating platforms for underrepresented artists to meet collectors. This unique opportunity exposes our artists to potential private, corporate collectors as well as tourists. It also gives our gallery an opportunity to touch the world with their creativity and expose them to potential corporate and museum collectors.
What was the process behind choosing the pieces that will be displayed at One Two Pru?
Andre: The process started in the fall of 2020 and began with site visits and a series of 6-7 proposals with different artists’ works in each location until we found a curated selection that spoke to the Pru team.
Do they tell a collective story or theme?
Frances: They tell several stories. Marlene Campbell’s migration series speaks to the cities reopening and migrating back to central downtown. The landscape skyline and boat scenes by Andre Guichard speak to bringing the beautiful Chicago landscape inside. The music inspired works by Judy Bowman and Andre Guichard speak to the long history of Jazz & Blues in Chicago. The abstract Kaleidoscope series by Adam Guichard speaks to turning lemons to lemonade. The series by Stephen Olalekan speaks to isolation and introspection which we can all relate to through quarantine.
What would you like to accomplish with your exhibition at One Two Pru?
Frances: Gallery Guichard has a vision of granting exposure to fine artists of the African Diaspora across Chicago and beyond. With this event, specifically, we’re looking to promote Chicago-based artists and art. The acrylic mixed media art that will be on display in the lobby at OTP tells the story of Chicago’s history of jazz and blues, the isolation and introspection we’ve all gone through amid quarantine and Chicagoans’ resilience and ability to reinvent oneself and find opportunity in adversity. The installation also celebrates Chicago reopening and new narratives across the city.