Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: Perverted Tactics

Drawings, Installation, Painting, West Loop, Wicker Park/Bucktown 1 Comment »
William S. Burroughs, "Portrait of Aleister Crowley," 1988.

William S. Burroughs, "Portrait of Aleister Crowley," 1988.

By Jason Foumberg

Aleister Crowley, occult philosopher and mystic, is best remembered for his precept: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” This phrase is often misinterpreted as an excuse for a hedonistic lifestyle because Crowley himself engaged in taboo sexual exploits and drug experimentation, edifying some to pursue individual, anarchic freedom. Really, though, Crowley promised desires fulfilled by one’s destiny, prefiguring “The Secret,” the bestselling New Age self-help book, by about a century.

Crowley was never one to water down his thinking in pursuit of popularity. Instead, his strange writings, including instructions for pagan rituals, appealed mostly to fringe thinkers. William S. Burroughs, beat poet and author of “Naked Lunch,” picked up on Crowley’s philosophy with zeal, distorting its lessons to accommodate his own blatant drug use and sexuality demonized by mid-century American morality. In a 1978 interview, Burroughs misquoted Crowley, effectively reversing the dictum: “What you want to do is, of course, eventually what you will do anyway. Sooner or Later.” His interviewer accused him of being “amoral.”

Burroughs’ “Portrait of Aleister Crowley,” a painting on paper from 1988, is now on view at Th!nkArt Salon, in Wicker Park, along with a dozen or so of his other works. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Painted Out of a Corner

Painting No Comments »

One artist included in the “Constellations” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art described the show as “art history,” believing that it finally clears up the perceived problem of Chicago’s major museums turning their backs on local artists. With about fifteen of the eighty-four paintings on view coming from local sources, or eighteen percent, and zero of the beloved Imagists, the show does produce evocative thematic groupings and a chance to view paintings rarely seen on the museum’s walls. I asked Julie Rodrigues Widholm, Associate Curator at the MCA, about her intentions. (Jason Foumberg)

Leon Golub, Reclining Youth, 1959. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Gift of the Susan and Lewis Manilow Collection of Chicago Artists. © Leon Golub / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Leon Golub, Reclining Youth, 1959. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Gift of the Susan and Lewis Manilow Collection of Chicago Artists. © Leon Golub / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

How was the exhibition conceived?

Every year we present one or two major collection-based exhibitions. We decided to focus on paintings at this time for three reasons. First, we haven’t ever surveyed the paintings in the MCA collection so it was an opportunity to dig deep into what we’ve got. Second, it was conceived as a counterpoint to Eliasson. Because his work is so ephemeral and light/installation-based, we thought it would be interesting to have one of the oldest and most traditional art mediums on view upstairs. It has proven to be a dynamic pairing. Third, given all of the recent attention to artworks that take the form of installation and environments that require the physical participation of the viewer (i.e. relational aesthetics) I was excited to look at the discrete art object again (in the form of paintings) and think about why it continues to be an exciting medium for so many artists despite the fact that it’s been around for so long. The slow handmade quality of paintings feels fresh now so I decided to focus on painting as a medium and explore its traditions, conventions, challenges, viewer expectations, and history in the exhibition, which resulted in the different “constellations” or groupings. (It is also why I created the short video asking artists why they paint.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Brian Ulrich/Museum of Contemporary Photography

Photography, South Loop No Comments »


Among the works of the six emerging photographers here, representing the Museum’s Midwest Photographers Project, Brian Ulrich’s color images of abandoned shopping emporia attract the eye immediately by virtue of the stark impenetrability of their subjects. Casualties of the economic recession, Ulrich’s stores, which were intended by their owners to be friendly and accessible, now appear to be fortresses, wastelands, or—on the inside—inert dioramas. To the defenders of capitalism who are wont to praise its proclivities for “creative destruction,” Ulrich’s exquisitely composed deadpan yet emotionally charged studies respond with a reminder of the system’s excess, waste and spoliation. Having advanced in this series, “Dark, Stores, Ghost Boxes and Dead Malls,” to a higher level of aesthetic sensitivity, Ulrich unites cultural criticism and redemption of the ruins in “Dixie Square Mall,” where the gutted shopping center at dusk takes on a post-apocalyptic guise. (Michael Weinstein)

Through September 13 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan Ave.

Review: Michael Ruggirello/The Coop

Photography, West Loop No Comments »


Through his day job as a TV cameraman for “docu-reality” channels like Discovery, Michael Ruggirello is able to pursue his deeper passion for depicting vignettes of larger stories in series of small still color photographs shot wherever his work takes him. While in Palestine for a war documentary, Ruggirello plunged into the heart of the “weekly riot” against the Israelis in the town of Ni-Lien, where he captured in four frames a masked resistance fighter launching a boulder from a state-of-the-art slingshot that any rude boy would die for. Ruggirello can also step back from the action to get a bigger picture, as when he shows us a pristine strand of trees, its brutal clearing by heavy machinery, and the devastation left in the wake. Ruggirello says that he wants his vest-pocket visual dramas to convey their meanings without textual embellishment; he achieves his aim admirably and, in the process, combines the meditative virtues of the still image with the impulsion of narrative. (Michael Weinstein)

Through September 15 at The Coop, 845 W. Fulton #201

Review: Kay Rosen/Gallery 400

Drawings, Multimedia, West Loop No Comments »


In artist Kay Rosen’s exhibition at Gallery 400, the play between the visual and verbal structures of language, and the meaning derived, is of primary concern. The exhibition will evolve over the next three months from its current selection of collages and a video to a wall painting and an accompanying essay titled “The Center is a Concept.” Despite its incomplete state, the pieces on view now are intelligent and playful examples of Rosen’s conceptual aesthetic.

In “HIJACKED,” from 2002, Rosen created a collage of book covers using the Kinsey Millhone series by crime thriller author Sue Grafton. Grafton’s covers, ripe for Rosen’s art, make a simple game with words. “L is for Lawless,” is one title; “M is for Malice” is another. As the alphabet plods along, so does Grafton’s series. From this stream, Rosen plucks a few titles and arranges them in a crossword-puzzle style on a wall. Rosen barely more than re-presents these covers because in their current state they are like readymade Rosen pieces, complete with the artist’s signature punning style.

In “W,” from 2003, Rosen appropriates an image from the New York Times on beige card stock with a capitalized W placed on top of the image. One can easily draw conclusions. The photo shows a complete state of decay and destruction. A group of soldiers ascend stairs in a building. The specifics of the image, coupled with the letter W, reference former President George W. Bush and the unending Iraq war that first began in 2003. The letter, now typecast, is no longer a building block for other words. It is a whispered curse. (Britt Julious)

Through November 21 at Gallery 400, 400 S. Peoria St.

Review: Liz Wuerffel/Center on Halsted

Lakeview, Photography No Comments »


Liz Wuerffel’s show on the third floor of the Center on Halsted, “Looking for Lala: Photos and Stories of Queer Beijing,” a photo essay that depicts the LGBTQ community in Beijing,  displays the photographic perspective of a visitor who doesn’t speak Chinese, putting viewers on the same level as the photographer.  She qualifies the language bias up front so that we know her view is akin to our own.  We see these photographs as western English speakers, wandering the back alleys of China’s capital city.  The small and intimate photographs draw the viewer in with color and the everyday unfamiliarity of a world that’s tilt rimed with our own.  Laudably, the admission of this language bias foregrounds the ways in which straight and LGBTQ communities worldwide rely on non-linguistic ways of showing affection that are both obvious and hidden. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Artists Making Do

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Chad Kouri and Adrianne Goodrich, grocery store installation for Get It Together at the Co-Prosperity Sphere, 2009.

Chad Kouri and Adrianne Goodrich, grocery store installation for Get It Together at the Co-Prosperity Sphere, 2009.

By Jason Foumberg

Like a good cell-phone plan, most artists have only nights and weekends free to actually make their art. This is a problem for aspiring professional artists. Must our time always be divided by periods of art and artlessness? Must the day job, our sustenance, get in the way of that which really sustains us? Must we recession-proof our lives by shelving the art dream? A recent panel discussion, organized by the Chicago Artists Resource and part of the Artists at Work lectures series, convened on the subject of making a living as an artist.

One panelist, designer Chad Kouri, related a conversation with full-time printmaker Amos Paul Kennedy. Apprehensive about shifting the art career into high gear, Kouri asked the seasoned Kennedy if he made many sacrifices—medical and dental, prescribed vacation days. The only sacrifice Kennedy made, he said, was when he sacrificed time to his day job. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Candace Hunter

Artist Profiles 1 Comment »

chu 068An artist working in collage can make one of two major statements: by selecting and cutting material from piles of old magazines, the collagist either despairingly critiques the ever-flowing fountain of consumer information, or else she is a cosmopolite, joining disparate faces and places into a communal frame.

Candace Hunter is this second type of collagist. She is a practitioner of inclusion and willingly inherits the wealth, and burdens, of history. When Hunter was a child, she visited the Art Institute so often with her mother and siblings that she believed the museum was built for her. She saw every exhibition, and was privy to behind the scenes tours. Later in life it came as a surprise to her that not everyone in her community felt this way about the museum. Although it is open to the public, many African-Americans, she says, do not feel welcomed by high culture. They restrict their own access.

“Like the air we breathe,” says Hunter, “art belongs to all.” For seven years Hunter covered the African-American art scene in Chicago for N’Digo, a weekly magazine. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 1st Annual Painting Exhibition/Around the Coyote

Painting, Wicker Park/Bucktown No Comments »
Matthew Hallinan, “Energumeno"

Matthew Hallinan, “Energumeno"


Staying true to its charge of working primarily with emerging artists, Around the Coyote’s 1st Annual Painting Competition and Exhibition convincingly expands those efforts for painters. In the past, the gallery played host to open-call shows for works on paper and photography. In lending its resources to those striving for footholds in the paint medium, Matthew Hallinan’s “Energumeno,” a large, vibrant oil on canvas with surrealist leanings emerged as the premier piece of this exhibition. There are figures partying and one waving a Sandinista flag from the rooftop.

“The purpose of these types of shows are really to just give artists more exhibition opportunities, so they can show their work, meet other artists in the same discipline, meet art patrons, collectors, curators, etcetera,” says Anne Mills, Around the Coyote’s executive director. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Larry Chait/Anne Loucks Gallery

Photography, West Loop No Comments »


Whizzing by the barns, silos and churches on the Midwestern plains as you drive relentlessly to your destination deprives you of the sense that the structures that you pass have any integrity of their own. Larry Chait is determined to correct that sense in his color shots of roadside buildings taken from a speeding car—driven by his wife—in Iowa, Illinois and Kansas. Striking a fine balance between a blur that carries the eye from left to right, and a precision that allows each structure to body forth, Chait freezes his subjects in momentary suspension, allowing us to realize that other lives than our own have their distinctive patterns and gain whatever meaning they possess in places that we pass through thoughtlessly. Chait has risen to the challenge of his problem and has achieved equipoise. (Michael Weinstein)

Through September 8 at Anne Loucks Gallery, 1046 W. Fulton Market