In Chicago, street art aficionado and gallery owner Oliver Hild ’88 expands into new creative territory
Photographer, art dealer, entrepreneur, Oliver Hild ’88 makes a habit of defying expectations. Before underground artists like Shepard Fairey and the British provocateur Banksy became household names, Hild opened Maxwell Colette gallery in Chicago to showcase street artists and graffiti writers. Blurring traditional art world distinctions, the gallery became a pioneering force for the movement in Chicago and beyond. Now he has turned his attention to a new venture called Line Dot Editions, specializing in local, regional, and international contemporary artists. We caught up with Hild in the midst of Line Dot’s expansion to a second location in
Chicago’s hip Ukrainian Village neighborhood.
How did you get involved with street art?
When graffiti and street art were still very
much underground, I started noticing different players on the streets of Chicago. It wasn’t only the writers—the graffiti artists. There were also these new guys doing other weird stuff, doing paste ups, stencils, writing little paragraphs, all kinds of things beyond stylized lettering. Mayor Daley had a zero tolerance policy for graffiti. As soon as anything appeared, a city crew would come out with a big can of brown paint and cover it up. But you could see there was this discourse going on. It was that same kind of underground society that punk rock had been or the Grateful Dead had been or skateboarding had been. That great history of cool underground movements that have a breaking point and become part of mainstream society. As a photographer, I was intrigued. I would see some amazing new thing and I’d literally pull my car over and shoot a photo, because there was no guarantee that an hour later the piece would still exist.
Were you a photographer at Williston?
I wasn’t doing a lot of photography back then, but I was making art. Marcia Reed Hendricks was my teacher and she was wonderful. I came
to Williston for two years and, honestly, they were two of the best of my life. Williston was exactly the place I was supposed to be.
How does your new venture differ from Maxwell Colette?
Maxwell Colette was built on the classic gallery model—10 shows a year, white walls, one artist at a time. Line Dot is about availability and accessibility of everything in our collection at all times, both online and in our brick-and-mortar space. We sell primary market work, so we release new works from artists; we sell back catalog artwork, so we’re a source for rare prints from 15 years ago as well as current art; we’re getting into publishing. Several times every month we release new editions that we hang salon-style in the gallery. The idea is that you come in, you browse, and there is always something new to see. Meanwhile, the new space will function as more of a classic gallery with traditional openings. I would argue that Line Dot has the most impressive cocktail program of any gallery anywhere. We’ll make a hand-muddled boutique cocktail for you rather than making you grab beers out of a tub.
What do you look for in an artist?
I don’t look for anything, but I do respond to certain things. For me it starts with a visceral response. A John Singer Sargent painting can crush me just like a Banksy piece can crush me. The connections might occur on different levels, trigger different emotions, but there’s a visceral reaction. A lot more follows, but that’s where it starts.
Is there anyone you’re particularly excited about at the moment?
We have an artist named Kayla Mahaffey. She’s incredible. Young African American woman, grew up on the Southside, went to art school here in town. She sent some paintings for the open-call juried show we do every year. I unwrapped the first one, turned to our gallery assistant, and said, “I’m buying all of these.” We ended up giving Kayla her first-ever solo show and her second one is coming up. I’ve never seen people respond this quickly to a new artist. I’ve got a waiting list of 150 people for her paintings. The business part of what I do is great. But the moments of discovery, when I think I know what’s going on in the art world, and all of a sudden I see something new and just feel shocked—those are the best!
For more about Hild and the art he champions, visit LineDotEditions.Com.