Joel-Peter Witkin opening in 2008 at Catherine-Edelman/Photo: Paul Germanos
By Jason Foumberg
This is a story about what Chicago’s art galleries are doing to grow our local art economy.
More than once I have heard an art dealer joke that their commercial art gallery is really a not-for-profit because, well, their business makes no profit. Despite that appraisal, non-profit fundraising techniques are finding their way into the business models of some for-profit startups. Traditionally, commercial galleries have been run as shops that sell products with negotiable price tags. Now, some are experimenting with fundraising and sponsorships as strategies for growth. Oppositely, a couple of non-profit art organizations are incorporating commercial aspects into their practices, such as selling art and organizing an art fair.
For a long time, for-profit galleries and non-profits behaved like mirror images of each other, performing similar actions toward opposite ends, yet never touching. However, boundaries were made to be blurred in the art world. It was a huge shock to see NYC dealer Jeffrey Deitch take a director’s seat at MOCA in Los Angeles in order to save the institution from financial ruin. On the flip side, the success of many “social entrepreneurs” is changing how for-profit startups operate, including many art galleries. Read the rest of this entry »
Contemporary symbolist painting is a hard sell in Chicago. It doesn’t revel in bright, sunny landscapes, gritty urban realism, or echoes of popular culture. As developed in the late-nineteenth century, it cultivates spirituality in a dark inner world accessible only to the artist/genius and those able to follow. As the Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren once put it, “It is not our faith and our beliefs that we put forward; on the contrary, it is our doubts, our fears, our boredoms, our vices, our despair and probably our agony.”
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Meredith Zielke and Yoni Goldstein, from “The Jettisoned”
We all have our visions of medical hell that grow out of traumatic childhood memories that we would rather forget, but that haunt us throughout our lives. Meredith Zielke and Yoni Godstein have unsparingly confronted their painful pasts, merging them in a set of color photographic scenarios taken in a dark and dank derelict Chicago soap factory, that they have combined in a slow-motion video loop, which should not be seen by the faint hearted or overly sensitive. Reminiscent of a latter-day Hieronymus Bosch deploying real people, Zielke and Goldstein populate their tableaux with dense arrays of subjects administering, suffering and observing various disconnected procedures featuring tubes and seeping fluids in decidedly less-than-antiseptic settings. The artists propose to offer the “possibility of abject recognition,” and their work definitely delivers on that promise. They perform the service of alerting us to the underside of life if we are strong enough to tolerate their harsh visual medicine, which is never palliative. Read the rest of this entry »
At the heart of Elsa Muñoz’s exhibition of recent seascapes, landscapes, still-lifes and portraits seems to be a coming-of-age drama with recent or impending tragedies that may or may not be autobiographical. The sun never penetrates a humid atmosphere of sadness that hangs over these dark images, even when the artist steps outside to share a daylight view of Ireland or Mexico. All the paintings are so quiet!—as quiet as Vermeer. The interior views feature the slender figure of a young woman, alone, never facing the viewer, and always in front of a door or window. In one version she is opening a door for a presumed visitor, but she is so cautious, and the lock on the door is so large, heavy and prominent. Read the rest of this entry »
Barbara Jones-Hogu, “Unite,” 1970
A venerable South Side institution of which many Chicagoans may not have heard is the starting point for a three-stage investigation of the artists’ group AfriCOBRA. A timely collaboration among several South Side arts institutions celebrates the origins, philosophy and impact of this group of artists.
AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) was the cultural counterpart of the Black Power movement. Most people are familiar with writers like Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni, but Chicago moved into the 1960s with a very strong visual arts tradition located in Margaret Burroughs’ South Side Community Art Center in the 3800 block of South Michigan Avenue. Works in this exhibition by Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White and others associated with the center since the late 1930s, when it was established as part of the WPA, laid the groundwork for what was to come. Read the rest of this entry »
Kaoru Arima likes to straddle the lines between control and surrender, formal and casual, revelatory and obscure, mindless and calculating, and, of course, art and non-art. What better place to show the results than in this tiny second-floor apartment gallery in Pilsen. It’s as randomly located as Arima’s own gallery in Inuyama, Japan (curiously named the Art Drug Center). The gallery’s white walls feel like the small areas of white paint splashed onto Japanese newspapers on which Kaoru executed the twenty-eight cartoonish line drawings in the collection of the Walker Art Center. Read the rest of this entry »
This is the fifth installment of the Visiting Artist column. Here, Marissa Lee Benedict reflects on several of her art-research projects, of “propositions.” Benedict shows at Threewalls (119 North Peoria) through June 13.
Located on the border of Illinois and Indiana, off of Avenue O, Wolf Lake is neatly bisected by the state border; an invisible geopolitical line made visible by a two-lane road running vertically through the middle of the body of water at a precise longitude of 87º31’W.
Wolf Lake was first brought to my attention a few months ago, as I discussed my need to find water sources from which I could collect algal samples; sites which would speak to my interest in finding dis/connections. While I was sitting in his studio a few months ago, David Allan Rueter mentioned that last year he had driven down to Wolf Lake to walk its shores, tracing the edges of the fractured lake by foot.
Walking the shoreline of Wolf Lake, it’s difficult to find soil, the road and dikes being mostly composed of slag, gravel and lakefill. I’m afraid that most of what passes for soil is, in fact, dirt: soil’s less microbially active cousin. Wolf Lake, along with neighboring Calumet Lake, was once among the most biologically diverse pockets in the Midwest. To take a water or soil sample from Wolf Lake 150 years ago would have been to collect a cosmic paraphernalia of organisms. A century of heavy industrial use by the surrounding steel mills has radically reduced this biodiversity, but despite this, I have hope that the samples I collect will come alive. With the chill of winter on the lake, the ground is still frozen in early March. Many of the organisms will be dormant, arrested in their metabolic activity by the freezing cold. I’m un/certain of what I will find as I dip my hands into the frigid waters, my fingers going numb and lifeless as I walk back and forth across the state line, filling two containers: one from the Indiana side of the waters, and one from the Illinois. Read the rest of this entry »
Cauleen Smith, “Performance view, The Solar Flare: Arkestral Marching Band Project #3: Meat Packing District,” 2011. Photo: Orla McHardy, courtesy of the artist
By Anthony D. Stepter
“I wonder if he’s heard of Chet Haze?” I thought, as Kodwo Eshun, one half of the UK-based art collective The Otolith Group, took the first question at the Black Collectivities conference (May 3–4) from a “gentleman with the backwards cap.”
The event’s organizers, Northwestern University professor Huey Copeland and MCA curator Naomi Beckwith, insisted that each question asker share their name and affiliation before proceeding. This is how I came to realize that the Northwestern student asking for clarification on “hermetics and hermeneutics” was Chester Hanks, better known as the middle son of actor Tom Hanks, and perhaps even better known as Chet Haze, aspiring rapper and the subject of snarky gossip blogs across the internet.
A deeply academic gathering of artists and scholars focused on black art collectives is an unlikely place to cross paths with an internet celebrity. At least it seemed so at first. During opening remarks, Copeland mentioned that the conference’s specific topic allowed for a “fuller understanding of black collectives” specifically and the field generally. This idea of looking at broader vistas from specific perspectives was a common thread throughout the two days of discussions, screenings and performances. Read the rest of this entry »
“And Then…” by Pamela Hobbs
An emblematic representative of the most sophisticated contemporary photo-art, Pamela Hobbs combines a multitude of postmodern tactics (use of vintage photographic processes, embedded conceptual import, use of text, coloring her images) with surrealism, sentimentality and a decidedly serious feminist-modernist reflection on mortality. As improbable as the mixture might seem to be, Hobbs’ sepia and toned black-and-white prints of curio cases filled with the leavings of expired life—figurines, pictures, dolls, and Read the rest of this entry »
Kara Walker, “Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!” (detail), 2013
If brand identity is crucial to the success of the contemporary artist, few have got one as strong as the MacArthur Fellowship recipient Kara Walker. But, nearly two decades on, Walker’s trademark silhouettes and antebellum grotesqueries are showing their age, and the artist, undoubtedly aware she has cut herself into a stylistic corner, has been making strides to broaden her approach to installation.
In her latest work “Rise Up Ye Mighty Race” commissioned specifically for the Art Institute, Walker anchors the show with several mural-scale drawings and a plethora of small, variously framed studies. The signature silhouettes are still present, though play less large a role in this homage to imaginary race war. Read the rest of this entry »