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Ruth Starr's retrospective at the GALA Center showcases a lifetime of art practice 

Take time to walk slowly around what must once have been the front parlor of 1060 Palm St., which now houses the GALA Center. This becolumned former residence presents an inviting façade to the viewer, entirely in keeping with its current exhibit of the work of Ruth Starr. The collection is tucked amid a mixture of couches and chairs that beg to be occupied by the weary Art-After-Darker needing a moment of quiet contemplation—or of pontification on subjects high and low, as I have personally witnessed with eye-rolling amusement. Starr’s work feels perfectly at home in such a setting, as its ease of existence implies a life of art-making entirely free of the pretensions of capital-a “Art.”

Long-time local artist Starr did graduate work at Northwestern but doesn’t seem to have been coerced by stylistic trends that can emerge from such communities. Her work is deeply personal—the show includes a portrait of the artist’s daughter—both in that it focuses on figural and crowd scenes, and that the view of its subjects is direct, and often openly jovial. Two men in what appears to be Hasidic dress share a moment of conversation in Two Men Having a Walk, the elder leaning on the younger. It’s both a poignant and a pleasant moment, and would make the perfect cover to a pocket paperback edition of I.B. Singer stories. Other subjects include street musicians performing a scene of art-within-art, painted wood bas-relief carvings whose hilarity in no way lessens their power, and two notable color-rich, joyful depictions of far more serious subjects. I won’t give away everything—go see these vibrant works for yourself. There is a lifetime’s worth of experience in this room, a life dedicated to living rather than focused solely on art production. In a press release put out by GALA, Starr says of her own work, “Most of the work here … has never been show at any art fairs or galleries but hang in my home where I have enjoyed them and what they meant to me.” And what better purpose, after all, can works of art have?

The Ruth Starr retrospective is on view now during gallery hours, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., though March 31. There will be a reception for the artist on March 7 from 6 to 9 p.m. in conjunction with Art After Dark. Call 541-4252 for more information.

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