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Harold's Chicken Turned Rare Art Book Store Won't Profit -- But That's OK

By Sam Cholke | November 6, 2015 6:05am | Updated on November 6, 2015 6:06am

Bing starts sales on Saturday of a burgeoning collection of rare and discount art books. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]

WASHINGTON PARK — Theaster Gates and friends will sell rare art books in Washington Park starting Saturday at Bing, but they don't plan to make much profit from it.

Bing, 307 E. Garfield Blvd. in a former Harold’s Chicken, had a soft opening on Oct. 22, but none of the rare or collectible imprints officially go on sale until Saturday. Eventually, the space will include a wine bar and an events venue to help expose neighbors to the art scene.

“It spawned from the notion of: Let’s have a store where these things are accessible for people who can’t afford them,” said Chris Salmon, general manager of Bing. “It’s not a library because you can’t check things out, but you’re welcome to come in and hang out as long as you want.”

Salmon is a familiar face for Hyde Parkers. He worked for 12 years at Powell’s, 1501 E. 57th St., a gold mine for those looking for a bargain on art books.

Salmon said he’s tapped his contacts at Powell’s to help fill the shelves with a lot of affordable art books, like a nearly 1,000-page collection of interviews with artists and intellectuals for less than $10.

Next to those very affordable options are items that Salmon said he had trouble pricing because nothing else like them exists.

He pulled down a small red and tan book titled “Le Club Mickey,” a rare light-hearted work about the Mickey Mouse Club by the French artist Christian Boltanski, whose work more often focuses on the Holocaust and genocide.

Salmon priced it at $750, but he said anyone is free to come in and leaf through it.

“Some things are a little more expensive because we don’t want it to go away necessarily,” Salmon said. “The idea is to get people in the door and get them interested in things they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.”

Salmon said much of the stock comes from Hamza Walker’s collection or connections. Walker, a curator at the Renaissance Society currently on leave, called galleries and other curators to raid their basements for rare exhibition catalogs or books that were thought be out of print, according to Salmon.

He said Walker has turned up a lot of exciting stuff, particularly from Rhona Hoffman, who was clearing out some of the older books and catalogs from her gallery Downtown. Salmon said the hardest thing has been keeping Walker and Gates from buying up all the most interesting books for their own notoriously large personal collections.

Hoffman’s gallery turned up the most expensive item in the store, two 72-volume collections of the art journal Parakett priced at $3,500 each, according to Salmon.

If all this sounds like a sounds like a losing venture for Washington Park, Salmon said the owners aren’t going to disagree.

“Theaster would be the first to tell you this is a financially losing position,” Salmon said. “It’s not going to make money, so what can we do to make it successful?”

According to Salmon, part of that success will come from events. The bookstore has already scheduled a film series starting Nov. 11 in partnership with another Gates’ project, Black Cinema House.

Though many readings happen in the front room, Salmon opens a door to the back where screenings will happen.

In the back is a wine bar, opening next year after the store gets its liquor license, and floors made from an old basketball court that open to a lounge area in the basement.

Past the lounge, Salmon flips on a few shop lights to reveal a small room with stone walls that will be converted into an events space.

He said the wine bar and the events space will become more of the heart of the bookstore’s financial success in the future.

Salmon said people are stopping in with increasing frequency, but the bookstore might still be flying under the radar in the broader art community. He said people from the neighborhood stop in and are increasingly less surprised to see something like a rare art bookstore pop up next to Gate’s Currency Exchange coffee shop and the Washington Park Arts Incubator.

“This is something that belongs on the North Side,” Salmon said. “It would fit right in, but why wouldn’t it fit in here?”

Musician and artist Mikel Patrick Avery will begin a year-long residency at the bookstore with a 6 p.m. performance on Thursday.

Chris Salmon said the store has two rare 72-volume sets of the art periodical Parakett.

Bing opened Oct. 22 in a former Harold's Chicken restaurant.

The back room is being converted into a wine bar, which will open next year.

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