Marwen Art Fair: A rousing display by the creative class

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Eleni Leventopoulos found a book in a dumpster and the rest is history, er, art.

The Lincoln Park High School senior was out with her sister, looking to flesh out her collection of hardcover Agatha Christie mysteries when she saw “the book.” It wasn’t a mystery. It wasn’t actually inside the bookstore. Rather, it was out back, near the parking lot. The old, 1950s-era bound book captured her eye as a possible art project. Plus, it was free. She took it home.

That same book — reimagined, of course — is now for sale at the Marwen Art Fair, which kicks off Nov. 7 and gives local students a chance to sell their art. Half of the proceeds go to the kids and the other half to Marwen, an organization that provides free art classes to kids from grade school to high school.

“I’ve been taking classes at Marwen since my freshman year at high school,” says Leventopoulous. “Actually my brother took a class there when he was in high school, and one of his friends is a teacher, and every time she came over she’d be like ‘Eleni, you’ll love it.’ It pulled me in.”

Leventopoulous’ piece, titled “Falling,” is a carved-up old book — a quiet kind of sculpture, weighted by heavy, old-timey inks and the kind of paper that no longer gets bound into books in today’s recycle-centric society. It’s her personal ode to Agatha Christie and Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. It’s also for sale for around $100 — a coup for a teen just getting started in the world of art.

The piece is arranged just-so on the second floor of Marwen’s building at 833 N. Orleans. Matt Austin, the director of exhibitions, put it there among 259 pieces, combining the work of newcomers with the more experienced artists — all of whom with links to Marwen’s rapidly expanding programming. The pieces stretch across two artfully sparse floors, with plenty of space to take in each subject’s breadth and depth.

“It’s like this is their place to come after school, and I feel like they really feel at home here and it’s sort of a place where they can express themselves freely and learn art for free,” Austin says. “The pieces go anywhere from like $50 to $3,000.”

Other standout pieces in the exhibit include charter school student Sinan Chen-Garvin’s painting of a tree in bloom. And then there’s Francesco Rita’s purple and turquoise-hued virtual reality piece, titled “Virtual World #1.”

The fair is an annual event, but what is different about this year’s affair is the social media component. Each piece has a QR code, which, when scanned, allows buyers to interact with the artist. This allows a neat way for say, a 14-year-old artist, to interact with say, a 60-year-old collector.

The 7 p.m. Friday event is $40 in advance and $50 at the door . Space, according to Marwen, is limited.

“Of the traditions, one of the coolest things is that oftentimes this is the first time they are selling a piece of their artwork,” says Johnny Merrifield, with the organization. “It’s really exciting for us to be able to see the students — who never maybe thought their work would be up on a gallery wall — see that somebody could come and purchase it.”

And for Joe Con-ui, an Oberlin graduate and Marwen alum who is now a Marwen apprentice? The fair is a way to learn the delicate art of hanging lovely things. “I took as many classes as I could when I first learned about Marwen,” says Con-ui. “I’m learning [now] how to curate this whole show and installation techniques that make things easier, because it can get very complicated. I’m trying to understand color relations and the flow. It’s my first time, and I’m like “oh my god, there’s so many pieces,’ but it’s all coming together. It’s one of those things you learn along the way, and this program definitely did teach it.”

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs can be reached on Twitter @adriennewrites or via email at

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