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Eye Exam: New Moves in Chicago Sculpture

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By Jason Foumberg

It’s an exciting moment for sculpture in Chicago. I’ve tracked a few patterns in contemporary object-making through these nine current exhibitions.

IMG_5281Jun Kaneko at Millennium Park
The newest addition of public art to Millennium Park (for seven months) are dozens of large glazed ceramic sculptures by Jun Kaneko, a Japanese-born, Omaha-based artist who should be familiar to Chicagoans (he’s shown here seventeen times in the past thirty years, but not since 2003.) All of the ceramic sculptures are graphically painted (polka dots, mummy tape) in bright colors. On the Randolph Street side are standing figures, tall and fat as taxidermied bears, but with pig faces and Looney Tunes eyes. There’s a hoard of them, and they’re a little freaky (one has blue nipples). On the Monroe Street side are tablet-shaped objects, the size of tombs, similarly painted. I almost scorned these sculptures—they verge on Cows on Parade kitsch—until I read the artist’s description. The figures are Tanuki, or mythical Japanese trickster characters with jazzy skin and desperate smiles. They’re pleasurably sinister, and a little more non-denominational than the Buddha heads spouting all over Chicago, by Indira Johnson.
Through November 3 at Millennium Park.



Chloe Seibert at Queer Thoughts
Chloe Seibert’s “Rafflesia” makes a great counterpoint to Jun Kaneko’s new sculptures in Millennium Park. It is a red beast, tucked into the closet of a third-story Pilsen apartment gallery. Is this the thing in the room we all know intimately, uncomfortably, but cannot discuss? The downward-facing dog sculpture, with eleven front claws, erect tail, and a dumb/happy face, begs for attention. Overheard are the screams of a woman in a video. It is the artist, filming and shrieking at Chicago architecture.
Through April 21 at Queer Thoughts, 1640 West 18th, #3.



Karthik Pandian at Rhona Hoffman Gallery
The Los Angeles-native is the new visiting professor of art at the University of Chicago, and has his first solo Chicago show at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, which is filled with leftover objects from a performance held elsewhere. The performance is documented on video, and displayed upstairs, but it’s a montage with cheesy editing that does little to explain the gallery objects. In spite of that, many of the sculptures stand on their own, and seem dropped out of a film noir prop room: a black feather wig, a mop, a pair of black wax gloves. Several sculptures incorporate stainless-steel poles, to varying degrees of success. Most of the mock objects have a sense of humor, but you’ll be laughing on the inside.
Through April 20 at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 118 North Peoria.



Abigail DeVille at Iceberg Projects
This is an enchanting exhibition of classic-style, immersive installation art. The backyard art gallery of Dr. Daniel Berger is transformed into a set for the viewer to explore. It’s a hovel of spiraling scrap, culled from neighborhood trash bins and demolition. It’s a squatter’s hut. It’s a magical den. It’s participatory and open-ended theater. This is the best exhibition I’ve seen yet at this venue—not to be missed, but by appointment only. There are secrets here. I don’t want to give them away. Watch your step.
Through June 1 at Iceberg Projects, 7714 North Sheridan.


photo: Robin Dluzen

Photo: Robin Dluzen

Troy Briggs and Brendan Fowler at Shane Campbell Gallery
A t-shaped display wall crammed into a small room. Essentially, it’s a white cube nestled inside a white cube, i.e., insider art. What is on display here? The temporary wall, by artist Brendan Fowler, is a showcase for others to use at their artistic discretion. (The premise is reminiscent of Gaylen Gerber’s gray supports.) For his contribution to the wall, Troy Briggs refurbished the structure, cleaned it, sanded it and repainted it. Was it object worship or housework? Finally, Briggs elevated the t-shaped wall atop cans of tuna, giving it the hovering effect of a Tony Smith minimalist cube, but the tuna winked with irony.
Through April 28 at Shane Campbell Gallery at the Suburban, 125 North Harvey, Oak Park.



Rafael E. Vera at Bert Green Fine Art
In the exhibition “Nothing Concrete,” two sculptures endanger pillows, squashed by concrete blocks. The fluffy white pillows, asphyxiated by the pressure of concrete, bloat at the edges for escape. These simple, symbolic sculptures, like totems, speak of hardship and unrest, of being trapped and squeezed beneath something—but what? The detail remains buried in these moody, funerary sculptures, but a feeling of imprisonment pervades. The accompanying large, stark graphite drawings of trompe-l’oeil stone walls echo the hollow dirge song.
Through April 27 at Bert Green Fine Art, 8 South Michigan, #1220.



Haseeb Ahmed and Daniel Baird at Roots & Culture
Roots & Culture has been altered into a sculpture artifact gallery, in “Has the World Already Been Made? x4.” Plaster-cast galleries used to be common for the purpose of sketching world masterpieces. Haseeb Ahmed and Daniel Baird have taken this to another level, and a higher plane of consciousness, by making molds of public sculptures and architectural ornamentation, from Berlin, Moscow, Maastricht and beyond, arranging them in a funky, plaza-like object garden. Being in this gallery of colorful molds, with a tunnel, and sound art, is like being transported into the afterlife of art, where rainbow death masks and bloodless facsimiles hang as carcasses in a museum.
Through April 27 at Roots & Culture, 1034 North Milwaukee.



Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford at the Hyde Park Art Center
“Hall of Khan,” Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford’s spectacle of an exhibition, includes cast-foam objects that mimic, manipulate and molest public statues, especially ones featuring horses. (There is a unicorn modification kit, too.) Suspended from a contraption of the artist’s devising is a pink polystyrene and wood replica (of a replica) of London’s Crystal Palace. All of this, plus a live horse will drop in and hang out at the in-gallery stable a few times during the show’s run. The artist’s deep scrubbing of theories of urbanism, the town square, public memory, nationalism, and power objects all mingled together in this exuberant and decadent display. The artist’s mania for building things is rivaled only by the mania of his subjects— Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc and Ralph Lauren.
Through July 28 at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 South Cornell.


David Hartt at Corbett vs. Dempsey
The show is titled “for everyone a garden” and features hand-blown, stackable glass pods about the size of pumpkins. These interact with mid-century modern furniture and large-scale reference illustrations of modernist architecture. Hartt’s glass baubles are an unexpected shape, like thought bubbles. But if it is a show about architecture, why is Hartt creating furnishings? It’s a familiar critique: modernists wanted to integrate life, art and design, and we are left with well-designed home goods. (All this gets into Josiah McElheny territory, his blown-glass mirror bottles in infinite display cases). Sure, Hartt’s transparent sculpture pods are instantly collectible, and would make good terrariums, but you can visit the gallery’s neighbor, Circa Modern, to bask in the textures of the real good old modernism.
Through May 11 at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 North Ashland.

14 Responses to “Eye Exam: New Moves in Chicago Sculpture”

  1. sibyllefriche Says:

    Dear Jason,

    I regret not having been able to talk to you when you came to visit Karthik Pandian’s exhibition at the gallery, and am sorry that you didn’t come to the front desk to ask for more information about the show.

    My colleagues and I always enjoy engaging conversation with visitors, whether they want to discuss the work on a conceptual level, or simply express curiosity for the artist.

    Left aside differences in opinion (although I am intrigued by what you mean by “cheesy editing”), I think that asking the gallery for information is crucial especially if you intend to write publicly about the work. You seem to want the work to be self-explanatory (when you say “the video (…) does little to explain the gallery objects”). Well, I am sorry to say that this is no longer the case, mostly since the emergence of conceptual art in the 1960s.

    For this reason, and even before going onto the next level and talk about the meaning of the show (which I would be happy to do in a private conversation), I think it is important to make a few very simple factual corrections to your paragraph:

    – Karthik Pandian is not “new visiting professor of art at the University of Chicago” but has been teaching there since 2011.
    – The medium of the work you saw on the second floor cannot be defined as a “video”, nor as the “documentation” of a performance. It is technically a “moving image and sound installation”, sourced in real time and made of 2 different programs (image and sound)run by a computer, and based on a series of stills from a 16mm film.
    – The object you describe is not a wig but a hat.

    Thank you for your time. Again, I would be happy to discuss the exhibition with you at any point.

    Sibylle Friche
    Rhona Hoffman Gallery

    P.S: On another note, I am also very surprised by your repetitive mention of “modernism” in David Hartt’s show at Corbett vs. Dempsey, and by the omission of the term “utopia” which seems to be at the core of David’s exhibition.

  2. Jason Foumberg Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Sibylle. I believe that art on view in a gallery should be able to stand on its own, without needing a gallerina or a “private conversation” to explain its meaning. Sometimes I look to a press release for some clues, but RH Gallery did not seem to circulate a press release for this show. Of course I am familiar with conceptual video art, but I have viewed this artist’s video-work in other venues and have not been impressed.
    Re: Hartt’s show and the topic of utopia, please don’t tell me what to write about. What if everyone wrote the same thing, over and over… it would be so dull and predictable and not worth reading. (The topic of modernist utopias is, to me, tired.) So that’s why as a critic I bring my own interpretation to the artworks.
    Thanks for reading, Jason

  3. sibyllefriche Says:

    Pandian’s work is complex enough that it can be talked about on different levels. Notions of medium, but also history, memory, or artistic labor are questioned in his practice. Welcoming and engaging discussion inside the gallery space is what I consider part of my job, and ethics. It has nothing to do with the ability of the work to “stand on its own”.

    I deliberately made the choice of writing a non-conventional press release, and assume the consequences of it. It can be found at the front desk. Other press material is also available upon request.

    Sorry for having brought up the question of utopia in Hartt’s work. You’re right, I cannot dictate what you write about. However, if I may point one last thing before I stop spending more time on this: I would appreciate not to be referred (nor any of my colleagues) as a “gallerina”. It is not only pejorative, but also completely sexist.

    Thanks, Sibylle.

  4. Jason Foumberg Says:

    Why didn’t you hand me the “non-conventional press release” when you saw me in the gallery? Since when did the word gallerina become offensive?

  5. toddchilton Says:

    “Gallerina” has never not been sexist.

  6. Jason Foumberg Says:

    Gallerinas are “gatekeepers to the art world.”

  7. toddchilton Says:

    A New York Times article does not absolve the term of its implied sexism.

  8. JoeM Says:

    You guys (Jason and Sybil) both are super annoying and take all the fun out of the art world. It’s why the vast majority of the population is put off by it and avoids it outside of going to the met once a year while christmas shopping. Now go chastise yourself silently for the first thought that comes into your head after reading that last sentence – that thought is the problem.

  9. mikeparo Says:

    I am ashamed to be adding fuel to the fire here, but there’s a fundamental contradiction in this article above and beyond the utterly embarrassing exchange of comments listed above. Although it seems needless to point out that Jason’s personal attack on a well restrained explanation of the RH exhibition was really the LAST thing that should have been posted, I would like to take this time to point out two opposing statements in the

    1) “I almost scorned these sculptures (…) until I read the artist’s description

    2) I believe that art on view in a gallery should be able to stand on its own.

    The contradiction between these statements, in addition to the comments Jason has left above are appalling indications of the dysfunctional art criticism that happens in this city. I am not only personally embarrassed for the artists mentioned in this article but for the journalistic integrity of newcity (as well as my ability to leave a comment on a mobile device).

    This criticism lacks in stance, insight, and critical investigation. It is tame, not willing to take risks and all around part of the problem that is art in Chicago.

  10. Jason Foumberg Says:

    I respect your criticism (of my criticism) Mike. At the RH Gallery opening I was told by the artist to make sure and view the video piece, because it explains the sculptures. I found the video did not explain them, and that’s why I wrote what I wrote.

  11. Doma Says:

    The show at Roots and Culture completely transformed the space. Huge range of elements but with a intense sense of cohesion- yes!

  12. mountshang Says:

    Some seek visuality that transcends context, others seek the reverse. Despite claims of relevance regarding social, psychological, epistemological, or environmental issues, the primary context relevant within the artworld is reputation / brand recognition. Personally, I only look for a visuality that is fascinating, regardless of what anybody has to say about it. That disqualifies me from writing about much of what goes into the leading exhibition spaces. But the editor of New City Art needs to be more inclusive, which got Jason into the contradiction that Mike Paro has astutely observed

  13. nicolewhite Says:

    Not that I want to get in on this, but I can’t help myself as the “lack of context” problem really does seem like a recurring issue on both sides (in-gallery and in-critique) and one that I actively attempt to remedy on a daily basis. I’m unsure as to if there is any immediate answer, but one starting point would be for both the information and the information seeker to be more present and visible.

    Pardon the colloquialism here, but I’m very weirded out by the notion of art being able to stand on its own. It’s a very satisfying experience when the thing/object/person you are observing provides some semblance of meaning that you then take away and interpret. That is what should happen with the best works. However, I can’t think of many instances where I would want the work to give me everything…it’s too easy and lessens the possibility for the unexpected.

    In addition, when is the art ever truly allowed to stand on its own anyways? Do you actually think that your experience is ever unmediated? And for us nerds out there, art in tandem with text, other objects, or strategic editing allows for a much fuller experience.

    To summarize: If you are looking at conceptually-based art, you should know that chances are there’s something guiding the production of the work that may not be present within the work. I don’t see why an art critic would be against having that information. I am a stringent believer in viewing art first without external influences (a.k.a like Jason), and if my interest in piqued, then I ask or look for more information so that the work shifts and new meaning is added (a.k.a. like Sibylle). If I don’t like the work, then I leave…and that’s that. However, if I am reviewing the work for the public, then it is part of my role to both react to the work and provide my readership with a comprehensive description of the show. Which might mean asking for more information….

    Your gallerina du jour,
    Nicole White
    Assistant Director
    Schneider Gallery

    *And yes, the term gallerina assumes certain character traits with which I would rather not be associated. So, while it is widely used, that doesn’t neutralize its gendered leanings.

    **I’m also sensitive to the fact that the reviews are about 150 words and not everything can be expressed in a blurb.

  14. Alicia Eler Says:

    When will the term “gallerina” open up to a broader gender spectrum that includes a variety of femme and female-identified genders while simultaneously departing from its problematic connotations around assumed class (a “girl” who comes from a monied background, and can afford to dress like she makes $70K when really she probably just breaks $25K, if that), race (mostly white or Caucasian) and sexuality (predominantly heterosexual, or “bisexual”), and become part of the New Queerness?


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