Remembrance of Things Past or: Everybody's Got a Web Site (Except Frieda)

My friend Miz J, AKA fabulous cartoonist Jennifer Berman, called today to tell me about a dream she dreamt in my honor. She was (in the dream) approaching Paris, and it looked all Impressionist-y , just as Monet and Renoir had painted it and she realized that Paris really did look that way. Then she was in a gallery where cartoonist Nicole Hollander was working. She was making molds of the breasts of women who were about to have mastectomies. This reminded me of Cynthia Plaster Caster, who makes molds of the penises of rock musicians. Similar, but not the same. There's no surgery involved with Ms. Plaster Caster's project. You could argue that there's loss all the same: she had one-night stands with some of these guys. And--this just in--I just found out from her web site that she has also cast a few breasts. Anyway, the dream led to an idea from Miz J. Three people so far (Garry Cooper, my old boss C who is now my new boss C*, and my sister) have suggested I sell advertising space on my head. Miz J suggested I have different artists work on my bare scalp. I said I would reserve her a space. I'll have to have advance warning so I can let the henna fade.

I was thinking I could auction off my scalp to artists and have the proceeds go to Breast Cancer Action. Or have the artists work for free, and sell tickets to watch? I don't know if I would have takers for either. But after all, people pay extra to sit at a table in the kitchen of fancy restaurants so that they can watch. the food artists at work

Years ago, my friend Frieda Dean created a hat gallery. She wore a hat that displayed small canvases she'd painted. Read about the gallery in the Comments section of this post, in an article by Jessica Seigel.

I am so glad I have a decorated scalp. I was in Trader Joe's tonight in the soup-olives-peanut butter aisle and a little girl said something to her father about "funny hair." I said: I don't have any hair. I have designs on my head. You have to choose one or the other, I said, hair or designs.

I didn't feel bad at all. I think I would have felt much more self-conscious if my head was bare.

Frieda was my neighbor on Buckingham Place on the North Side. I coveted her address, 733-1/2. I was plain 733. Frieda moved from Lakeview to Logan Square, where she lived in the brick Art Nouveau apartment where William Paley had lived as a child, and then to Manhattan, near Wall Street. After 9/11 I called her and she said she was having trouble explaining to her dog Butch (a skinny Italian greyhound) why he couldn't go outside. Next time I called her she was gone. I've found her on-line at an art school in Georgia and I sent her a card c/o the place but she didn't write back. When I run into Alex Kotlowitz, who met an ex-girlfriend through Frieda, he asks me about Frieda, and looks at me accusingly when I say I lost her. But I thought you were good friends, he says.

*C was my boss as Well-Regarded University. He is now my boss's boss at Intellectual University, where I also teach part time. His dissertation was on Joseph Roth.


Cancer Bitch said...

Chicago Tribune
November 18, 1991
Author: Jessica Seigel.
Estimated printed pages: 5

There is no overhead over head at the Frieda Dean Gallery. But the

occasional offer of barbecued chicken or cappuccino helps fuel the facility.

Being an art gallery can be hard work-lots of standing around and plenty

of explaining to do.

One rainy day, the gallery arrives unexpectedly in the lobby of the

Museum of Contemporary Art.

``I don`t know what it is,`` says Anne Ruben, a museum volunteer.

Don`t be intimidated. The Frieda Dean Gallery is a sartorial stab at the

elitism of the established art world.

The bottom part of the gallery is Frieda Dean herself, all 5 feet 9

inches of her dressed in black coat and black custom-made size 12 shoes with

purple bows. On her head sits her main exhibition space: a hat.

Some hat.

``It`s a gallery,`` explains Dean, 35, a North Side sculptor and painter, of the contraption with two intersecting boards balanced atop a circular felt headpiece.

``I`ve got four rooms, you know-eight walls.``

Of course. And on each of the walls hangs a 2-inch painting, stretched on raw linen with wooden frames.

``Then I guess you don`t wear it for a formal occasion?`` says Ruben, who thinks the hat might be some sort of costume.

``No. I made it to represent my artworks. No gallery represents me, so I

decided to make my own,`` says Dean, who made her debut this fall at the

annual gallery opening party in the River North area. She has also shown at

private parties and intermission at a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert, and she plans a tour of New York City.

``Would you like to buy one?`` Dean asks, referring to her paintings.

The price: ``Five-fifty,`` she says.

``Is that $5.50?`` a bystander asks.

Definitely not. $550.

``You can`t even get a hamburger for $5.50,`` Ruben pipes in.

``Anybody who`s serious starts out at these prices,`` says Dean, who has

so far sold one of her miniatures. ``It takes just as much time to make a

small painting as a large one.``

The works in her gallery`s current show, ``Acorns on Planets,`` each

portray an acorn on one of eight planets. The series illustrates her personal philosophy rebuffing the popular adage about families that the acorn doesn`t

fall far from the tree. ``If an acorn can fall onto another planet, we can be anything we want to be,`` she says. ``Every day you wake up and you have to

create your own self.``


Though an exhibition, Dean doesn`t seem like an exhibitionist. She is

simply too shy-even if she does go out in public wearing a headpiece that

looks like a Carmen Miranda Special gone architectural.

``I`m a nervous wreck,`` she confesses, as a passerby approaches.

Her hat gallery, which took months to construct, is Dean`s challenge to

the elitism of established art spaces like museums and galleries. As her own

curator, Dean says she controls what to show free from pressures to reproduce a ``signature`` style simply because it sold well the last time.

`A brave lady`

She never has to worry about rejecting herself. The fierce competition to get into established galleries struck Dean as absurd at a marketing seminar at which one of the city`s leading art dealers advised never to submit

unsolicited work-just wait until they notice you in group shows or juried


Harumph, thought Dean, who admits she doesn`t take rejection well.

``It`s like they hold all the power. You`re not supposed to come in the

front door with your hat in your hand asking for something,`` Dean says.

``They will never see me do that.``

Instead, they may see her with her hat right on her head.

``She`s a brave lady. She`s making a statement and I applaud her,`` says

Arlene Rakoncay, executive director of the Chicago Artists Coalition, a

service organization for 2,700 member artists.

The 150 galleries in Chicago are not enough to show all the artists. Some galleries are so choosy that they don`t even give information to the

coalition`s annual guide on how to submit work for consideration, Rakoncay

says. ``It`s terrible. That`s why we`re here. We hold everybody`s hand.``

Will other artists rise in revolt with Dean? Will dealers quake in fear

at thought of an artists` hat brigade marching into River North?

Hardly, says Paul Gray, director of the Richard Gray Gallery, who calls

Dean`s idea pure ``sensationalism.``

The chapeau is no threat, says Natalie van Straaten, executive director

of the Chicago Art Dealers Association. ``I`ve seen the artist with her hat

and I think it`s a lot of fun,`` she says. ``We all need to have a fresh

thought placed in front of us. She`s a walking invitation for everyone to come see the art we have in Chicago.``

Dean insists she doesn`t want to offend art dealers. Or anyone else. In

any event, the hat gallery has a downside that makes it impractical as a full- time venture. ``The paintings rattle when I laugh,`` says Dean.

The cold shoulder

Back at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the security guard is eyeing

Dean`s hat. Will she be asked to leave?

``That`s great,`` says the guard, Karen Laing. And waddayaknow, the guard is a painter too. She specializes in-what else?-miniatures painted with a

three-hair brush.

Dean is thrilled. Someday she hopes to display other artists` work on her gallery. She and the guard exchange phone numbers.

``I meet the most wonderful people doing this. That`s why I do it,`` Dean says. Solitary work in the studio all day can be lonely. ``I was just feeling like I needed to get out.``

Way out. Next stop, Water Tower Place.

``You`ve got a thing on your head,`` a young woman yells, disappearing

down the escalator.

``Is that a proper hat?`` an unshaven man in a worn leather jacket calls

out in a heavy English accent.

The Brit holds one arm inside his jacket breast pocket. This is it, Dean

thinks, a loony ready to gun her down, just as she`d always feared in

attracting so much attention in public.

``Why are you people so nervous?`` asks the Englishman, Kevin Drinkwater, 27, of Manchester. Then he whips out a camera. He snaps a picture.

Security alert.

``What are you doing?`` a guard asks. ``Advertising?``

``I`m wearing a hat,`` Dean says.

``Well you can`t do that here,`` the guard replies. ``We don`t want

anyone in here attracting attention.``

Dean is ordered to leave. ``I know,`` she says, looking hurt. ``You have

to be bland in here.``

Not possible for Dean. A longtime hat collector, she has been a rock

singer, respiratory therapist and antique dealer. Her artworks include oils,

pastels, prints of different sizes, porcelain sculptures, wooden masks, and

intricate bead work on felt. Sales of her other works have helped finance her hat project.

Raised in Augusta, Ga., she ``unstudied`` art at the University of

Tennessee at Knoxville, where the vogue was large-scale Jackson Pollock-style action painting. Not her thing. She left in her senior year.

Back home in Georgia, she studied sculpture for three years with Freeman

Schoolcraft, a protege of Lorado Taft, who taught at the Art Institute and the University of Chicago. That Chicago connection brought Dean in 1984 to the

city`s North Side, where she lives with her husband, Adam, a violin-maker.

Right milieu

It is time to leave the Water Tower mall.

``I would never try to impose. I have something I`m trying to share,``

says Dean, quietly indignant. ``I bet Henri Bendel would enjoy our company.`` Off she goes to the ritzy fashion emporium at 900 N. Michigan Ave. The

critics there nearly swoon.

``It`s adorable,`` says Bendel regular Gertrude Riskind. ``Just


``Now look at that,`` shrieks Pam Krupp, from behind a cosmetics counter. ``This is fun. This is fun!``

``Look at her shoes,`` cries Jean McQuaid at the Valmont skin-care


Saleswomen and customers crowd around. They make Dean turn around slowly

so they can look at each painting. In the rarefied surroundings of Bendels, a price tag of $550 for a painting seems appropriate.

A group of tourists from Michigan holds back from the delighted throng.

``They`re pictures, they`re that size and they cost that price?`` says

Nancy Dahl, a retired housewife. ``That`s just horrible.``

Two curious security guards follow Dean for a while but relax when she

begins to shop for a new lipstick. She wanders into the party-dress section,

where the sequins on her hat look just right among the racks of sequined

fabric. But she doesn`t buy. After all, she hasn`t sold anything today.

Now the gallery is pooped.

``Oh, Lord,`` she says. ``This thing weighs a blue ton. I have got to get a load off my head.``

She takes off the hat. The gallery is closed.

Jodi Cohen said...

there was a very pregnant woman who rented out her belly as ad space during the super bowl commerical sweeps. really. i love your head with the henna. i am wondering about the design--do only people who are taller than you see it, or do shorter people get to see it when you're sitting down. if i didn't know you, and i saw you, i wouldn't have the guts to ask you to tilt your head down so i can see the design. i've never known anyone to ponder things the way you have and am so appreciative of the view inside. people assign things to appearances. is she punk? is she an avant garde artist making a statement? is this a choice, this hairstyle, or a reaction? from the outside looking in we never know. we only see your henna-ed head, your large eyes, your grace. this leads me to wonder, then, do you need a t-shirt to explain what the head situation is? not really, but i twirl that around. as if there needs to be an explanation, or as if people need to 'know' and/or 'understand' what's happening. this reminds me: my father never wanted to wear a medic alert bracelet that said he was allergic to penecillin. he doesn't like jewelry. so he said he was going to get an ankle bracelet with the info about his allergy and then get a bracelet that said: see ankle.