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Art 50: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists

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Nick Cave/Photo: James Prinz

11 Nick Cave
A former dancer with Alvin Ailey, Nick Cave has made a global name for himself with his “soundsuits,” costumes for dance that are also spectacular towering sculptural assemblages of worked and found materials, which, when set in motion, provide their own soundtrack. This fall in Lille, France, he will be presenting an immersive audiovisual environment of hand-painted bamboo “architectural forms” created in conjunction with the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia, and showing eight new films that will premiere in Chicago. Along with an upcoming local show of “twenty witch doctors,” and a packed slate of national and international solo shows, Cave will be putting together a lengthy residency at the Chicago Cultural Center, planned for fall 2013, in which he wants to display work, but also to curate “open studio” situations for artists and viewers. This open-ended, interactive approach looms large in his future plans; after all, as he reflects, “permanence isn’t what it used to be.”

Gregg Bordowitz

12 Gregg Bordowitz
Gregg Bordowitz emerged from the trenches of ACT UP, the 1980s New York propaganda vanguard organized to battle the official perpetuation of the AIDS crisis. He has recently developed theatrical projects based on the works of Michel Foucault, and he is now in production on the third in a series of autobiographical films about living with AIDS. The first in the series was “Fast Trip Long Drop,” which is one of the more powerful documents of personal experience in the nationally touring survey of 1980s art, “This Will Have Been.” He is also at work now on a new book of poems; indeed, his writing and lectures have been central to his commanding charismatic influence. An early proponent of what has come to be called art’s “affective turn,” Bordowitz has championed a visionary, sensual re-enchantment of politicized aesthetics, depicting illness as a relation between “inner” and “outer” realities. “I am not the beginning, nor the end, of my emotions,” he said in his performance/lecture “Testing Some Beliefs,” “because I believe that emotions are wavelike sensations that pass through me.” The waves he initiated have now been passed on to multiple generations of queer and activist artists, starting in Chicago and resonating worldwide.

Chris Ware self-portrait

13 Chris Ware
Chris Ware dumbfounded his peers and the audience on a panel discussion this past May at the University of Chicago. He described his new book, “Building Stories,” due this October as less a graphic novel than a box full of vibrant and variously sized texts that weave together to tell the story of one Chicago apartment building’s occupants. Ware said that he wanted to make a “book that you didn’t know where to start and you didn’t necessarily know where it finished.” The result is fourteen linked comics that don’t require linear reading. As pictures of the book appeared on a screen behind the panel, the cartoonist Seth simply sighed, “Man, that makes me feel really shitty.” Expectations for the author of “Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth” are high, but Ware has a tendency not just to beat readers’ expectations; he redefines them.

Wesley Kimler

14 Wesley Kimler
Entering Wesley Kimler’s cavernous warehouse studio is like touring his mind. Among a menagerie of screaming macaws, Halloween decorations, salvaged piñatas, endless extension cords and piles of paper sketches are his iconic paintings—huge canvases (some nine-by-twenty-seven feet) where thick oil paint chronicles an endless war. Kimler will readily tell you that he’s the hardest-working painter in Chicago, and admits that after thirty years of painting he’s just now hitting his stride—even though he has no local gallery representation and lives off his studio sales. Conflict is the dominant theme of his artwork, from wars to natural disasters to global recessions, but also art’s professional minefields and the inner battle to attain perfection, all expressed on canvas as amorphous forms that suddenly shift into crisp faces, colors that teeter at edge of garishness and kaleidoscopic surfaces that are, in turn, glossy, raw, velveteen or saggy as geriatric skin. Like Kimler’s studio, each painting is its own wonderland: simultaneously imposing and inviting, noisy and subtle. His passion is often misconstrued as aggression, but beneath it all is a sincere desire to see Chicago have an international presence on the world art stage.

Anne Wilson

15 Anne Wilson
Anne Wilson redefined the fiber art genre and helped expand it into the Fiber and Material Studies Department at SAIC, where she has been teaching since 1979. Her intricate, wide-ranging multimedia practice began with the concept of the textile as a material subject; the last fifteen years of her work have explored the “conjunction between visual art concepts and material culture where the histories embedded in materials and the way things are made are critically important to the content of the work.” These materials have included lace, wire, human hair, thread and bedsheets; her 2002 piece for the Whitney Biennial translated the cultural semiotics of black lace into computer generated topographies. Her forthcoming exhibitions include projects in Yorkshire, England and Hangzhou, China.

Karl Wirsum

16 Karl Wirsum
A point man of the late-sixties Chicago Imagists, Karl Wirsum has been a stalwart in the local art scene for decades, creating paintings and drawings that have been consistently humorous, colorful and joyfully surreal. While so much contemporary art has figured these tough times with a dark and stone-faced pessimism, Wirsum’s work has never lacked in vitality. His recent output has drawn more from Japanese prints and the patterned geometries of Latin American art, but his style has remained constant and his punning titles (“Sputter in the Niche of Time,” “Unsure Denture”) have only gotten better. A recent running accident has delayed his work, but Wirsum has consistently exhibited in Chicago and in New York, where he was recently recognized by the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is producing a small piece as part of a fundraiser for the New Yorker. He just curated an exhibition of permanent collection pieces at Intuit, and, fittingly, is teaching painting and a course on drawing and the imagination at the School of the Art Institute.

Jose Lerma

17  José Lerma
Unlike Olympic athletes, artists belong nowhere and represent no one but themselves. That is, until the art market comes calling asking for a shtick. José Lerma, a tall, good-looking heartthrob born in Spain but raised in Puerto Rico, who studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has used his exotic biography to play the market without having to succumb to Latino or Hispanic stereotypes. In the eyes of many, Lerma is simply a trans-global citizen and young art star who happens to live between Chicago and Brooklyn. In New York he is represented by Andrea Rosen but spends half the year teaching at the School of the Art Institute, where he helps young artists get their first breaks in the New York scene. From time to time he exhibits locally, but not as often as we would like. But jet-setting does not, in itself, make a successful art career. It is Lerma’s work that really resounds. His oversized installations and paintings portray Baroque-style portrait busts of wigged-out royalty and bankers. They are decadent, sardonic and a favorite among museums, including the Contemporary Art Museum, in Raleigh, North Carolina, which recently unfurled a monstrous carpet depicting Charles II of Spain, a casualty of empire and inbreeding.

Barbara Crane

18 Barbara Crane
Chicago was once the world center of photography, and Barbara Crane one of the few women in an important generation of photographers to come out of the Institute of Design, formerly the New Bauhaus, in Chicago. She studied with Aaron Siskind and then, for half a century, worked her way through black-and-white and color processes, portraiture and abstraction, technical perfection and experimentation. Crane’s images cannot be disassociated from their locations, often the city of Chicago and its citizens. Her street photography follows the rules perfectly to capture our dynamic humanism. But she insistently pushed her images toward abstraction, distancing herself like a modernist, and always following her endlessly curious eye. Crane has had more than seventy-five solo exhibitions and is currently working on a new book about photos taken in the southwestern Michigan woods from the past twenty years.

Jason Lazarus

19 Jason Lazarus
Jason Lazarus came to prominence as a photographer, a discipline that, as the artist has described, asks a basic question: “What goes in the frame, and what escapes the frame?” As Lazarus’ recognition flourishes locally and internationally, the artist has allowed this problem of inclusion and omission to operate as a model in organizing not only the formal composition of a photograph, but organizing people, archives, experimental projects, and ideas in general. Certain projects, such as 2011’s “The Search” at Andrew Rafacz Gallery or the ongoing film project twohundredfiftysixcolors, are widely collaborative and participatory. Other projects investigate archival practices, promote intervention, or establish new opportunities for critical exchange, as in Lazarus’ most recent project Chicago Artist Writers, an alternative platform for arts criticism in Chicago. In early 2013, Jason Lazarus will have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Jim Lutes

20 Jim Lutes
Jim Lutes once said: “Being an artist is like being born in a house whose yard is full of stuff you didn’t choose; the only way to navigate through the large masses of objects is by slowly rearranging them, piling something here and moving another thing there, in a way that makes sense.” Further pressed to make a point, he concluded: “If you’re lucky, you’ll make a path and find your way out, otherwise you just die.” This is not as devastating as it may sound. Lutes’ paintings are a breach in understanding of what he sees, in favor of what he knows. Often identified for his cascading lyrical abstractions, fields of intertwining signature strokes among photographic sources, Lutes’ invention registers with such palpability that we cannot help but accept the reality he delivers, no matter the deviations. His mid-career survey at the Renaissance Society in 2009, the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010, and two Whitney Biennales position Lutes’ most risky work likely to come in the next ten years—exploring whatever virtues may still be left for the image with curiosity and the urge to surmount his cluttered garden, perhaps a world less desired.

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6 Responses to “Art 50: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists”

  1. amy lowry Says:

    To be included next time…. Karen Ami, amazing artist and founder of the chicago mosaic school.

  2. vetron5000 Says:

    Simply put: Ageism. Yes these artists are oldies but goodies – the majority are 45+….and many are former teachers from my art school days…6 to be exact…but where are my youngin’s at?!?! With an overwhelming amount of incredible, influential, innovative and unrecognized young artistic power houses under that age of 40 creating in Chicago….And another thing, did I see any women of color mentioned? Just asking….

  3. vetron5000 Says:

    My apologies, I did see 1 woman of color recognized. Thank you.

  4. R-tizt Says:

    Probably many others should be included, amy. Must be thousands of great artists in Chicago. Feel bad for #51 – just like #4 at the Olympics!

    I know Jno (37). What great art and photography – and a great guy! Yes to “No Carrier” – what an innovator.

    And not only that, but he has put his art aside for ten years to write the most detailed and amazing alternative cosmology. It has changed my life, or at least my understanding of it. Might change yours, too…

    Through Jno, I got to Dawoud (8) also – also some really nice stuff, and a very nice guy in email conversation.

  5. Jason Foumberg Says:

    hi vetron5000, re: ageism, the complaint usually goes the opposite direction. The art world loves to make child stars and put its old-timers out to pasture. Plus, every year we do the Breakout Artists issue which features local emerging artists. thanks for reading. Jason

  6. vetron5000 Says:

    Critique is in now way a complaint. Yes, you do compartmentalize emerging artists in the Breakout Artists issue. Thank you. Isms do not have a direction – there is no “this way” or “the other way”.

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