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Art 50: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists

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Aay Preston-Myint

41 Aay Preston-Myint
Aay Preston-Myint is best known for his collaborative art experiments-turned-celebrations, such as queer dance party Chances Dances, the queer arts grant Critical Fierceness, the bookstore/studio/gallery No Coast, and the art publication Monsters + Dust. Much of his artwork, from the collaborations to his own studio sculptures, are focused on critiquing identity and politics through material engagement—but the critique is always pleasurable. His sculpture, “Of Their Slaves, and Of Their Marriages,” which was included in a recent group show at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, turned a map of Utopia into a sculpture topped with delicious cake. In a nutshell, that is exactly what Aay’s practice molds into: A look at queer utopias, and an ability to produce art experiences that may or may not become art objects. Currently, his work is included in “All Good Things Become Wild and Free” curated by Danny Orendorff at Carthage College.

Curtis Mann

42 Curtis Mann
In the four years since graduating from Columbia College, Curtis Mann has ripped through the rulebook of contemporary photography’s do’s and don’ts. He’s more editor than photographer, as he bleaches his prints, slices and tears them, and transposes female nudes with journalistic images from the Middle East. His unique process of critique has earned him international acclaim, from the Whitney Biennial to Torino, Milan and beyond.




Ellen Lanyon

43 Ellen Lanyon
Ellen Lanyon is the living encyclopedia of Chicago art history. At eighty-six years old, she is in the midst of her sixth decade as a working professional artist. Many of her paintings and prints begin with her looking at her odd collection of antique machines, junk-shop contraptions, rusty science instruments, old toys—whatever seems to promise a secret purpose from an irretrievable past. Perhaps one day she will tell you about the politics of the1960s-era Chicago art scene, or how artist collectives didn’t begin yesterday but forty years ago and in which she participated, or about how her husband Roland Ginzel invented collagraphy. Sometimes history is like one of her paintings—totally open to interpretation by whoever is doing the looking—but Lanyon is a friendly oracle whose wisdom is readily available. Her exhibition of paintings, prints and collectibles is on view at the DePaul Art Museum through November 18.

44 William Pope.L
Best known for crawling through the streets of New York wearing a Superman outfit, William Pope.L, the self-proclaimed “friendliest black artist in America,” has created numerous public actions—like holding the door to an ATM lobby while tied to the bank with a link of sausages and encouraging customers to take a piece of his dollar-bill skirt, and chewing and spitting out a copy of the Wall Street Journal. He has displayed unwrapped Pop-Tarts defaced with racist graffiti, and an elephant sculpture covered in decaying peanut butter. For an upcoming collaboration with Spaces Gallery in Cleveland, and sponsored by the Joyce Foundation, Pope.L will be convincing locals in the city’s segregated neighborhoods to work together in pulling a truck through the streets, while also deploying the truck, used in the past for his mobile “Black Factory” interventions, as a surface for a “newspaper,” and a film comprised of residents’ stills and footage expressing their dreams for the potential of Cleveland. He follows not only Adrian Piper and David Hammons but also Sun Ra and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in acting out the abject fantasies underpinning the absurdity of black male identity—and, by extension, all American identities.

Brandon Alvendia

45 Brandon Alvendia
While the divergent roles that Brandon Alvendia has occupied are individually exceptional, each is a conceptual extension of his studio practice, or perhaps one in the same, “intertwined like a cluttered music space of tangled cables and equipment all scattered randomly about,” as the artist has described. Alvendia’s studio practice, his curatorial practice, his role as an organizer, and his role as an educator inform one another and materialize in projects diverse in their tangible composition and eventual destination. In 2012, Alvendia’s nomadic publishing project Silver Galleon Press will be present at Chicago art fairs EXPO and MDW. The Storefront, in Chicago, at which he is founder and director, will continue producing experimental exhibitions. Alvendia’s practice is nimble and mobile, collaborative and exploratory and truly contemporaneous as a reflection of and response to societal and economic flux.

Scott Reeder

Tyson Reeder

46 Scott Reeder & Tyson Reeder
Individually, brothers Scott and Tyson Reeder have been exhibiting nationally and internationally for nearly fifteen years, developing idiosyncratic studio practices while maintaining a significant presence within the cultural landscapes of Chicago and Milwaukee alike. Together, the brothers collaborate artistically, musically, and curatorially, often alongside Scott’s wife Elysia Borowy-Reeder, mounting exhibitions at White Columns and Gavin Brown’s enterprise in New York, co-founding the alternative space General Store in Milwaukee, as well as organizing iterations of the experimental comedy club/television show Club Nutz at Frieze Art Fair in London and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Next, the Reeder Brothers plan to expand Club Nutz into a record label for comedy, music and spoken word.

Ryan Travis Christian

47 Ryan Travis Christian
Ryan Travis Christian has one of the most strikingly recognizable styles in Chicago right now. His monochrome graphite drawings pull cartoony caricatures into chiaroscuro smokescreens—hallucinogenic residue or a terrorist’s daydream? The compositions are complicated, the figures unnerving. His 2011 exhibition, “The River Rats,” at Western Exhibitions, set the stage for his meandering, twisted path to portraiture; a crisp Surrealist interpretation of the after-dark alley cat junk aesthetic so readily plucked from 1920s Disney animations, yet recall the human comedy and tragedy of James Ensor’s masks. Christian is also an energetic promoter of peers on the web, resulting in invitations to collaborate on drawings exhibited around the country.

Phillip Hanson

48 Phillip Hanson
The antechamber to a popular artist studio co-op building is the working place of Phil Hanson, and any visit to any studio there is filtered through Hanson’s work, a colorful prelude. This approach is a perfect metaphor, for Hanson was associated with the Chicago Imagists of the 1960s and seventies, a style that touched every successive generation in the city. Since then, Hanson slipped quietly under the radar but kept working, followed up on early innovations, and refined and expanded his visual language. Hanson’s painted texts, which he describes as “operatic,” flow through painted spaces and meander like melodies.

49 Travis
Travis lives in Chicago but most of his artistic energy is focused on bringing awareness and art to Itawamba County, Mississippi. It’s not only his birthplace but also, he claims, the birthplace of black blues and black gospel, where a pure form of black art flourishes. Travis says that “Chicago’s population is made up of more people from Mississippi than from any other place,” so he performs here in the spirit of Mississippi culture. Before attaining a master’s degree in performance art from Northwestern University in 1993 (thesis: “The Role of the Shotgun House in Afro-American Vernacular Architecture”), Travis served in the United States Navy. He was a gay black man stationed at Guantanamo Bay in the 1960s. Much of his performance art reflects on his experiences of race and sexuality in America. He’s also an advocate for lesbian, gay and transgender equal rights for United States veterans. This Sunday marks Travis’ sixty-sixth birthday.

50 Zhou Brothers
Brothers Shan Zuo and Da Huang Zhou have exhibited their paintings, sculptures and prints throughout the world, performed together at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, converted a Bridgeport warehouse into a multi-story art center, and produced a commissioned painting for President Obama to give to visiting President Hu Jintao of China. Yet despite their achievements as artists they have received relatively little attention here in Chicago, and are known by many on the sole basis of their eponymous Zhou B. Art Center, a multi-use space for exhibitions and artists that they opened in 2004, the same year that a Chicago Cultural Center retrospective highlighted their collaborative process of working in a “dream dialogue” with one another. Since then the brothers have continued creating new artworks, and while most of these have been exhibited abroad in China and Europe, the brothers’ influence in the Chicago art scene is mostly felt through the support and space that they give to local artists at their center. To remedy that lapse, the brothers have opened a new exhibition, “The River of Souls,” at the Bridgeport space, which is their largest Chicago show since their Cultural Center retrospective eight years ago.

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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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