LINCOLN SQUARE — Forgive The Space, a newly-opened storefront on Lawrence Avenue, for being enigmatic about its intentions. It's hard for a name on an awning to encapsulate an operation that's one part art gallery, one part bacon.
"We don't know exactly what's going to happen," said Lance Avery, founder of Big Fork Bacon Sausage, who jointly owns The Space with friend Tim Duerkop.
Over the weekend, the partners celebrated the grand opening of Moberg Gallery @ The Space, Duerkop's half of the enterprise. Avery runs Big Fork out of a kitchen in the back.
"I 100 percent believe in collaboration," said Avery. "It's going to work, we're going to have fun."
The tentative plan is for Duerkop to mount a new Moberg art exhibit every two months, while Big Fork churns out sausage and caters parties and special events. Or Avery could expand Big Fork brands and run a retail operation out of The Space. Or he could host pop-up dinners.
"We're just going to see where the chips will fall," said the 38-year-old. "That's why 'The Space' is really vague. It can evolve wherever it goes."
As unusual as Avery and Duerkop's collaboration appears, the origin story behind The Space is stranger still. The business is actually an outpost of Moberg Gallery in Des Moines, Iowa, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.
"TJ [Moberg] wanted to open in Chicago; in Iowa, everyone wants to go to Chicago," explained Ryan Mullin, 37, Moberg's gallery manager in Des Moines, who attended the grand opening bash. "We think we can start franchising."
Mullin's sister Kate, 32, and her boyfriend, Duerkop, 40, took charge of planting the Moberg stake in the Windy City and brought pal Avery along for the ride. The two men scouted locations via bike, nearly settling on Logan Square before opting to stick close to their homes in Lincoln Square. (Avery and wife Ann are parents at Waters Elementary.)
"We definitely felt like the neighborhood needed a gallery," said Duerkop of the decision to buck artsier areas. "There's no rule of where your gallery has to be."
Call it the "Goosefoot effect." Since Chris Nugent opened his now Michelin star-rated restaurant in 2011 on this previously lonely stretch of Lawrence Avenue, businesses seem more willing to give what Avery terms an "alternative area" a second look.
"One of the best restaurants in the city is here right now," said Sandra Perlow, a Chicago artist who signed on with Moberg and exhibited at the inaugural show. "I think it's a great idea to bring art into neighborhoods that don't have a lot."
The proposition isn't necessarily as risky as it sounds.
"I'm dubious, but I have a lot of faith in TJ and Ryan," said Lynn Basa, who's been showing with Moberg in Des Moines for the past three years and signed onto the Chicago gallery.
A professional artist since she was 15 years old, Basa has reason to trust Moberg. "They just sold a big painting of mine."
Basa, who's lived in Chicago for 11 years after spending 22 in Seatle, thinks the city's art scene is big enough to embrace Lawrence Avenue.
"It's so dynamic," she said. "It's ever-evolving"
Jennifer Norback, a Lincoln Square resident and fellow Waters parent who also happens to run her own gallery in the more likely setting of River North, explained that Moberg doesn't need to attract foot traffic from the nearby Dunkin' Donuts or Old Style bar on Rockwell Street in order to be successful. "The Internet's really changed the way people buy art," she said. "In the end, you go to the buyer."
If it sounds like The Space is turning its back on its new neighbors, that's the opposite of what the Moberg gang intend.
Duerkop was attracted to the address because of its "comfortable setting." Though the gallery will operate by appointment only, he wants the entire community to feel welcome at Moberg's exhibit openings.
Mary Lou Zelazny, a Jefferson Park resident and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, hopes Moberg's location and laid-back vibe will make art more approachable to the masses.
"I think it's very cool, especially for people who live really close. I think it demystifies [art] for people who don't know that much about art but are interested," she said. "People are intimidated by galleries and 'gallery neighborhoods.' We've been cutting arts in schools for so long, your average person feels undereducated."
Duerkop is ready to help fill in those gaps. "Learn about art, come and have a good time," he said. "Eat bacon sausage."