Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: Rashid Returns

Photography, Sculpture No Comments »

"Self-Portrait with my hair parted like Frederick Douglass," 2003

By Jason Foumberg

In 2004, Rashid Johnson was named a “Breakout Artist” by this publication in our annual feature of the best emerging artists in Chicago. The following year Johnson relocated to New York City, interrupting his pursuit of an MFA degree from SAIC to chase his rising star. Now, at just thirty-four years old, Johnson, who was born and raised here, returns to Chicago for a mid-career survey at the MCA, titled “Message to Our Folks.”

“You’ve changed” is the oft-expressed reaction to a homecoming, and indeed, Johnson’s work has changed since his days in Chicago. Early on, Johnson pursued direct provocations of black male identity as his photographs examined, in vivid detail, the weathered skin of a homeless man and the artist’s own naked body. Shortly after relocating, Johnson expanded his materials list to include painting, sculpture, video and installation, and he turned his attention away from straightforward race politics toward the complex cultural history of black Americana.

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Review: Erik Wenzel/65 Grand

Installation, Multimedia, West Loop No Comments »

In Real Life


We’re familiar with the notion that context dictates whether a fan is an appliance or an objet d’art—whether a desktop background image could hang in an art gallery. Erik Wenzel’s solo exhibition, titled “Fresh Fat,” complexly applies e-commerce, digital dissemination, and the language of social networks to these distinctions. At bottom, he’s asking how the artist should adapt to new technologies of creation and distribution at the level of everyday practice. On the gallery’s east wall, he’s lightly penciled the characters #IRL—online parlance for “in real life”—to serve as a hesitant and tentatively small affirmation of the physical world, composed in Twitterese. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Colleen Plumb/Union League Club of Chicago

Loop, Photography No Comments »


In the commodious world of animal photography, Colleen Plumb has carved out a unique niche, documenting in slightly muted yet distinct color the various ways in which assorted fauna find their places inside the human heart, gut and imagination, whether in the flesh or in reproductions. In her solo show “Animals Are Outside Today,” Plumb points out that we are radically ambivalent about animals, leading us to obsess about them, whether they strike fear or provoke greed in us, touch us with tenderness or envelope us with sentimentality. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: David Salkin/Peregrine Program

Garfield Park, Installation, Textiles No Comments »


On the surface, David Salkin’s “Room for Views” is a whimsical celebration of texture and pattern—a slight divergence from his work as an interior designer, but certainly not much of a leap. The difference, perhaps, is that in “Room for Views,” Salkin gets to let loose and create his ideal room, “with the hopes of discovering a therapeutic and highly customized environment,” says the artist. Upon further consideration, this whimsical celebration turns into a meditation on the arrangement of space. We are asked to pay attention to the many ways our material environment is ordered, from the layout of our cities to the arrangements on our mantles. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Fifty Years: Contemporary American Glass from Illinois Collections/Krannert Art Museum

Craft Work, Sculpture No Comments »

Marvin Lipofsky


In 1962, Harvey Littleton, a ceramic instructor at the University of Wisconsin, and Dominick Labino, a visionary industrial engineer, collaborated to assemble a glass-blowing workshop at the Toledo Museum of Art, training students like Dale Chihuly and Marvin Lipofsky, and thus beginning the American Studio Glass Movement. To mark its fiftieth anniversary, the Krannert Museum has assembled thirty-six pieces representing both its origins and diversity of practice.

That diversity is more than a little mind-boggling. Like the creative people who made them, these pieces are defiantly individualistic, and every kind of glass technique seems to have been included: casting, laminating, blowing, enameling, etching and others. A wide variety of artistic discourse is present as well, from classical figuration to abstract expression, folk art, ethnic art and modern decorative design. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Justin Thomas Leonard/Alibi Fine Art

Photography, Ravenswood No Comments »


It’s tornado season hereabouts and Justin Thomas Leonard just goes gaga over those thunderheads that incubate and generate the twisters, so much so that he goes out into the roiling gray-black miasma that fills the air, yearning to capture in color, not a funnel cloud (though he gets close), but people who didn’t honor their better judgment and went into the meteorological wilderness to watch, transfixed. The thunderstorm is the epitome of the sublime, and people want to feel the awe, judging by their focused stances, because Leonard almost always shoots them from behind. Only once does he go head on; his subject is a young man, wreathed by the clouds, his gaze unwavering and his lips closed and blissful. Read the rest of this entry »