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Art 50: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists

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Robert Lostutter

31 Robert Lostutter
The first time you meet Robert Lostutter he will be taking mental notes, rather imperceptibly, on the shape of your ears and the slope of your nose. Later, he may incorporate them into one of his imaginative watercolor drawings of bird-men. But don’t expect that to happen soon. “Everything I do is slow,” Lostutter says, meaning methodical, subtle, perfect. Lostutter has entered the mature phase of his lifework. With fellow Imagist artists, decades ago, he produced quirky, semi-violent, carnivalesque paintings. He has slowly progressed to focus on a single figure’s face, a man with evolved or mutant bird-like features. They are exquisitely drawn, and in this way Lostutter is like his peer Jim Nutt, whose artistic trajectory has similarly narrowed on a woman’s face, with evolved or mutant features, each exquisitely drawn. But even more insightful about Lostutter’s flock of bird-men are the portraits made by nineteenth-century Japanese printmaker Toyohara Kunichika. There are the faces of Lostutter’s bird-men, peeking out from Japan’s past into our Chicago present. Lostutter delights in the story of Kunichika’s prints as they were once used as wrapping paper for Japanese exports. The gorgeous prints just showed up in shipping containers, one day, like flotsam treasures. “Sometimes good artists come into history at the wrong time,” says Lostutter. He shows through October 20 at Corbett vs. Dempsey.

32 Gaylen Gerber
If Yves Klein can have blue, then Gaylen Gerber surely gets gray. But he’s not selfish about it—in fact, Gerber sends his gray-painted canvases to other artists, such as Scott Burton, Michelle Grabner and Kay Rosen, for them to complete as they see fit. Some obliterate the gray primer, while others play and collaborate. The canvases are part of an ongoing series called “Supports.” Recently, Gerber has reversed the flow. He’s grayed-out parts of a Daniel Buren stripe painting. Part iconoclasm, part homage, the act recalls the Rauschenberg erasing of a graphite de Kooning drawing, fifty years ago. Often, the two-artist interactions are impossible to separate, and Gerber enjoys this doubling and troubling of perception. Like the color gray itself, Gerber is cool as Zen; the longer he speaks, the more complexities are revealed. At SAIC, Gerber has essentially taught an entire generation of art students how to see. His solo exhibition at Wallspace in New York opens October 26.

Diane Simpson

33 Diane Simpson
A working Chicago artist with thirty years’ tenure, sculptor Diane Simpson approaches each of her sculptures individually, trying out new shapes, colors and materials each time, and yet her work is remarkably consistent. Her sculptures—each one an abstracted version of some mundane or utilitarian object, like a bib, kimono, piece of furniture or art deco building facade—bear the stamp of her particular style, while never appearing redundant. Accumulations of flat surfaces, juxtaposed planes and pin-straight lines that morph into gentle curves are signature Simpson moves, and her 2010 retrospective at the Chicago Cultural Center demonstrated a particular interest in two to three-dimensional spatial shifts, with geometric constructions that seemed to hatch forth from the flat gallery walls the way Bugs Bunny occasionally pops halfway out of the sketch on his animator’s desk. We can anticipate more forays into formal exploration and spatial play with her upcoming solo shows at Corbett vs. Dempsey in Chicago and JTT Gallery in New York, and with this remarkable artist, we are privileged to hope for nothing less than more of the same.

Jessica Stockholder

34 Jessica Stockholder
Jessica Stockholder headed Yale’s sculpture program for more than a decade, so her arrival in Chicago earlier this year, as chair of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago, was like a gift from the art gods. After settling in, a few months later Stockholder revealed “Color Jam,” the largest public artwork, by square footage, ever installed in Chicago. The spread of saturated colors ran up the sides of four skyscrapers at the intersection of State and Adams, and along the sidewalks and streets. “Color Jam” was supposed to announce a regime change in Chicago’s contemporary art pantheon. But unexpected wear and tear by cars, pedestrian, and weather basically erased broad swathes of the colors’ jam before it was due for deinstallation, on September 30. In advance of the art world’s descent on Chicago for EXPO, “Color Jam” will be fully removed and the intersection returned to business as usual. Hopefully Stockholder is not deterred by the grand failure. If there’s anyone with the vision to alter our familiar landscape so wonderfully, it’s Stockholder. Chicago waits for her next move.

Jan Tichy

35 Jan Tichy
A pastor from the South Side of Chicago told Jan Tichy that lower levels of violent crime have been recorded in the areas surrounding public murals. This was a revelation to Tichy, yet somehow he knew it all along. While living in Israel for over a decade, and then relocating to Chicago five years ago, Tichy has consistently sought out sites that represent failures of human communication. This has included segregated sections of Hartford, Connecticut, Tel Aviv, Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing development, even an art museum’s website. At each juncture he employs time-based media, such as light projections or video, as well as local students to improve public awareness of commonplace iniquities that lurk in the blind spots of our denial. Wrapped up in this pursuit is Tichy’s constant reevaluation of Modernism and museum collections. Sometimes, though, he simply creates experiences that meditate on light and darkness. This fall Tichy will be everywhere in Chicago: overtaking the Museum of Contemporary Photography, intervening in the quiet Ando Gallery of Japanese art at the Art Institute of Chicago and publishing a reader on his Cabrini Green demolition project.

Barbara Kasten

36 Barbara Kasten
Barbara Kasten is an artist who traces her lineage along the wire-rimmed frames and steel grids of those who reinvented the line itself: Malevich, Moholy, Mondrian, Mies. Kasten speaks of Moholy as if a friend. “I was born into Modernism,” she says, as if the Modernists delivered babies and ran the preschools. But she means she was born in Chicago the year before Moholy arrived to head the New Bauhaus. It is a coincidence, yes, the way things fall into place on a timeline. But when Kasten decided to learn photography and to pursue it as a career, she was in the Bay Area and then Arizona, and Moholy was dead by decades. It’s tempting to place Kasten in the same classrooms and cafés as the Modernists, for her images are all about the structure and form. But there’s an undeniable postmodernism in the garish colors and shapes of her images from the 1980s, definitely more Vegas than Bauhaus. In fact, Kasten has exhibited in many cities, for many decades, and when she finally returned to Chicago, to teach photography at Columbia College in 1998 (the same year Dawoud Bey started there), she picked up the Modernist strain again. Now retired, but as the first recipient of Columbia’s distinguished artist award, she’s working as hard as ever, making new images that feel as fresh as ever, and Chicago feels like the right place to be. Here, she is a new master of the genre, and a new generation of abstract artists spins off Kasten’s axis.

Jno Cook

37 Jno Cook
Before the art world appointed Cory Arcangel king of net and pixel art, Chicago’s Jno Cook (Jno is pronounced ‘John’) pioneered the use of the information superhighway as a conduit for artists to access each other. His proto-social network was (created in the 1990s and still in operation), and was Chicago’s obligatory stop, a virtual public plaza to archive blogs (before the term existed), artists’ websites, projects, or to send out announcements and gossip. Jno quickly understood that the physical world of art would need to be closely connected in the future to that of the digital realm, and that every artwork could feature an online component. His artwork “No Carrier” (1996), for example, collected women’s faces from online porn, reduced each to forty-by-fifty pixels, and altered and expanded them in printing so the faces dissolve at close range into color abstractions. The prints look much better today due to the great sense of nostalgia they evoke. As quickly as the internet changes, Jno’s art was forgotten, but recent renewed interest in his work has resulted in a special project at the MDW art fair and a retrospective at the Brauer Museum in Indiana. At seventy-two years old, there is still research to be done on his legacy, and any assessment of internet art must include his important contributions.

A. Laurie Palmer

38 A. Laurie Palmer
A. Laurie Palmer is a pioneer of Chicago political art that blends action, collaboration and sculptural installation. She was one of four artists to form Haha, in 1988, whose interventions righted societal wrongs, with or without permission, and showed many artists that they, too, could be effective agents of community change. For example, “Flood,” a 1994 storefront installation, housed a hydroponic garden that provided free vegetables to AIDS patients. After Haha dissolved, Palmer continued to mine important local topics. This fall at the Sullivan Galleries she will open the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, one part of which is an exhibition of responses to police violence.

39 Michael Rakowitz
Michael Rakowitz has made a career of offering ideal solutions to political prohibitions. His 1990s pieces address the deprivation of housing; “Dull Roar” was a deflating and inflating model that recreated and reversed the demolition of St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe housing projects, and “paraSITE” was a series of shelters that a homeless person could inflate by attaching to a ventilation duct. In the last decade work has sprung from Rakowitz’s Iraqi-Jewish ancestry, such as “RETURN,” a community center and grocery to import UN-sanctioned Iraqi date syrup, “Enemy Kitchen,” an Iraq-themed cooking workshop for young people in New York, and “the invisible enemy should not exist,” replicas of artifacts looted from Iraqi museums. For the international Documenta fair this year he created stone replicas of books burned by the SS in Kassel, Germany, and helped to found a stone-carving workshop in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, where two sixth-century giant stone Buddhas were infamously destroyed by the Taliban. Rakowitz also just set up a show in New York documenting a radio project he did in Jerusalem and Palestine in 2010 comparing landmark moments in regional history and in the development and disintegration of the Beatles and has projects upcoming in Australia and India.

Barbara Jones-Hogu

40 Barbara Jones-Hogu
Even if you’ve never heard of Barbara Jones-Hogu, you can feel the effects of her legacy. A founding member of AfriCOBRA (the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) and contributing muralist to the “Wall of Respect,” a 1967 South Side mural featuring fifty heroes of the black-power movement, Jones-Hogu used art as a tool for rousing ethnic and civic pride, and rattling Chicago’s political establishment. Jones-Hogu wrote AfriCOBRA’s founding philosophical literature and spearheaded the production of all their prints in the early 1970s. Between the mural and the prints, Jones-Hogu’s design was instrumental in forming a distinct and cohesive visual identity for the Black Power movement. With forthcoming AfriCOBRA retrospective exhibitions at the University of Chicago, Jones-Hogu’s legacy will be in the important context of socially and politically engaged Chicago artists of all stripes, from Theaster Gates to Mess Hall, who are indebted to Jones-Hogu for her seamless fusion of art and political activism, potent enough to catch the attention of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who described the “Wall of Respect” thusly: “On Forty-third and Langley/ black furnaces resent ancient/ legislatures/ of ploy and scruple and practical gelatin./  They keep the fever in,/ fondle the fever./ All/ worship the Wall.”

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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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