Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Art 50 2014: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists

Art 50 1 Comment »

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If you’ve spent any amount of time observing or participating in visual art in Chicago, you know it’s more community oriented and inclusive than competitive or exclusive. In Chicago, everybody’s in, and no one is out. That said, Newcity publishes this ranked list of influential artists every other year in order to celebrate the accomplishments of a few people who work hard and smart, and who happen to call Chicago their home. The Art 50 also serves as a primer for newcomers—know these names and their practices and you can start to understand Chicago art pretty quick. This year we rotated out a bunch of artists who made the pick in 2012. This doesn’t mean we don’t care for their artwork anymore; we just wanted to open up the list for more voices to be heard. (Jason Foumberg)

Art 50 was written by Jason Foumberg, Matt Morris, Kate Sierzputowski, Anastasia Karpova Tinari, Maria Girgenti, Erin Toale, Abraham Ritchie, Collin Pressler and B. David Zarley.

All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at the Smart Museum of Art, the University of Chicago. Top photo in front of Judy Ledgerwood’s “Chromatic Patterns.” Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of a Gallery: Comfort Station

Gallerist profile, Logan Square, Photography, Public Art No Comments »
The Comfort Station in Logan Square

The Comfort Station in Logan Square

My first exposure to Comfort Station coincided with Matthew Hoffman’s 2013 exhibition “Independence.” A mysterious placard was erected in the shadow of the Illinois Centennial Monument. Like most of Hoffman’s work, it was aggressively present on social networks. In the background of some of the photos was a puzzling Tudor-style building that looked comically out of place in trendy Logan Square. The text read: “A motivational sign in a grassy field is nice and all, but it’s not going to do the hard work for you. That’s up to you.”

This wording resonates with the ethos and initiative of Comfort Station. It is a unique architectural landmark that places equal emphasis on both programming and exhibitions. In a recent conversation I had with both of the directors, Jordan Martins characterized their vision as such: “We identify as an ‘art space’ not just due to the exhibitions, but through all of our programs as a totality. The most important thing for us is the plurality, multiplicity and simultaneity of these events and programs and how they activate the space.” Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artists: Miller & Shellabarger

Artist Profiles, Drawings, Installation, Loop No Comments »
Miller & Shellabarger. "Again Gone," installation view

Miller & Shellabarger. “Again Gone,” installation view

“Western Exhibitions shows all three of us,” say Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger, meaning the Chicago gallery separately represents Dutes, Stan and S&M, their collaborative practice as Miller & Shellabarger. The two met as undergraduates studying ceramics and organically began to work together on artistic projects. Twenty-one years later, the couple shares an Irving Park home and studio where individual art practices continue to grow alongside joint projects. Teaming up as Miller & Shellabarger periodically dominates their individual practices, while at other times independent work demands a hiatus from the collaborative. They have found an effortless ebb-and-flow, and three is not a crowd in this household.

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Portrait of the Artist: Margot Bergman

Artist Profiles, Painting No Comments »
"Bernice," acrylic on linen, 2014

“Bernice,” acrylic on linen, 2014

“Sometimes they are quite shocking to even me,” says artist Margot Bergman about her paintings as we walk from canvas to canvas at Corbett vs. Dempsey prior to her opening. Newly opened at the gallery, a solo show by the artist titled “Greetings” features brash and vigorously emotive neo-expressionist paintings. Large flat female faces with rough features and tense expressions stare directly at incoming viewers from some of the paintings while others exist as perverted, almost violent still-lifes of abstracted flowers and patterned wallpaper. Four-eyed “Marie Christine” and “Bernice,” who has no nose at all, manage to make me feel alien rather than the other way around. The bold directness and volatile energy of the paintings conjure the rough aesthetics of children’s drawings, while maintaining self-aware and complex psychological depth. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Macon Reed

Artist Profiles, Installation, Painting, Pilsen, Sculpture No Comments »
Macon Reed and the gymnasts who performed "Team Spirited" in her installation "Physical Education." Photo by Mat Wilson

Macon Reed and the gymnasts who performed “Team Spirited” in her installation “Physical Education”/Photo: Mat Wilson

“I lived outside for a year in my mid-twenties,” says Macon Reed. This was communal full-time camping in Santa Cruz’s redwood forests. We are speaking by phone while she is on a road trip, and she exuberantly tells me that she is calling from another forest along their travel route. A few years after this outdoor social experiment, Reed founded Camp Out in 2012, a summer camp outside Portland, Oregon, for campers aged eighteen to twenty-three who self-identify as female. Their only requirement to participate is that each of them had to teach a workshop on any topic they chose. “People brought what they needed to the camp,” Reed says. “I think of structures that create community as a medium.”

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Portrait of the Artist: Rebecca Gray Smith

Artist Profiles, Loop, Prints No Comments »
"L - Legal, Law," intaglio print on Somerset cream paper, 2014

“L – Legal, Law,” intaglio print on Somerset cream paper, 2014

Rebecca Gray Smith’s suite of black-and-white etchings currently on display at Bert Green Fine Art took nearly twenty-five years to complete. Personal histories, comedy and spirituality are infused into each of the intricate prints that feature a letter of the alphabet along with skeletal beings that act out foreboding narratives. The engravings, originally intended as a response to the AIDS crisis, evolved over time into an examination of all death and became a cathartic process for Smith’s grief after losing her husband to lung cancer. “The whole fact of death is absurd to me,” she says. “I still can’t believe that these people I loved so much aren’t here any more.” Smith also grapples with her father’s death and mother’s suicide in her work.

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Visiting Artist: Judith Brotman

Artist Profiles No Comments »
Judith Brotman. Photo: Kurt Peterson.

Judith Brotman. Photo: Kurt Peterson.

This is the sixth installment of the Visiting Artist column, in which we ask an artist to produce a text in response to their art practice. Shortly after experiencing intense carpal tunnel symptoms, longtime Chicago artist Judith Brotman dramatically altered how she makes art. Formerly a studio artist who crafted intricate, hand-sewn sculptures, Brotman has turned her attention to writing and performance, and composed “Dreams for the Month of May” for Newcity.

Dream 1 You ask me why you are not like other people. I will tell you but you will not like the answer.

Dream 4 You begin to hate your neighbor’s wife in ways that seem slightly scary and obsessive. One day she invites you over for tea and you steal her wigs. The following day you regret not taking her children, too.

Dream 5 You are a black leather glove. You are somewhat germ phobic and have concerns about what you will be required to touch.

Dream 6 You desperately want me to love you, and I tell you that I do. Five minutes and seventeen seconds later I will change my mind about this.

Dream 8 You are in the arms of the love of your life. Unfortunately the rest of the body is missing.

Dream 9 You wait for your sex drive to return from the road trip it took to Oklahoma. Read the rest of this entry »

Breakout Artists 2014: Chicago’s Next Generation of Image Makers

Breakout Artists No Comments »
Cover art by Hebru Brantley, Breakout Artist 2013

Cover art by Hebru Brantley, Breakout Artist 2013

By Jason Foumberg

Breakout Artists is our annual showcase of Chicago artists we think you should know. This is our eleventh edition.

There are many power lists now that permeate the art media, and readers often wonder why we make these lists, and how the lists are made. Breakout Artists is not a competition or a ranking list. Here we do not feature the most powerful, nor do we speculate who will rock the art market, nor do we tally how many exhibits they had at prestigious galleries. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Some of our Breakout Artists are big thinkers who work quietly underground. Some don’t sell things called artworks. Several are simply creative people who happen to find a happy home in the catchall “art world.”

Breakout Artists is a chance to spotlight a handful of artists who are making art in Chicago in the margins of institutional support. Often they craft their own institutions to circulate and validate art. Some engage alternative systems of value and distribution, including independent presses, the internet, public performances and open-source materials. None currently have gallery representation. This year’s bunch are notable for their ability to make meaningful art using what’s at hand.

Every year when assembling the shortlist of Breakout Artists, I dutifully count the number of woman artists, brown artists, black artists, gender non-conforming artists, artists who didn’t graduate from SAIC or any art college at all, and on through the diversity checklist. If Breakout Artists is our chance to showcase underrepresented artists, then the presentation should be inclusive. I think about diversity when considering Breakout Artists, but there is no quota to fill. Diversity plays a role here, but it does not determine the final list.

This was the first year that an artist rejected her inclusion in Breakout Artists. The artist queried the line between “emerging artist” and whatever comes after that, and she had determined she is already in the after-that phase of her career. We can publish articles about whomever is newsworthy, and don’t need participation to do so. But who has ever argued they are too famous for more press? This year I included only the people who wanted to be here. Read the rest of this entry »

Portrait of the Artist: Chris Cosnowski

Artist Profiles No Comments »
"Nike with Slit Skirt," oil on panel, 2014

“Nike with Slit Skirt,” oil on panel, 2014

I met Chris Cosnowski’s cats before I met him.

It’s one of those all-too-common unbearably chilly Chicago days, and I’m making my way up the artist’s freshly shoveled driveway, concentrating mostly on the fact that I can’t feel my toes. Thankfully, his home is inviting and warm, as is his wife Allison (and their two felines). As Chris takes my coat, I notice several of his own paintings adorning the high-ceilinged walls of his living room.

“Has your studio always been in your basement?” I ask as we head downstairs.

“Yeah, it has. But I’m thinking of making a change. It’s really tough getting my paintings up the stairs, and I hate having my sizing be limited.”

“Have fun in the dungeon!” Allison yells after us with a giggle.

The first things I notice in Chris’ studio are his boxes. Lots of boxes. They’re the kind you see at a garage sale, or perhaps a disorganized thrift shop. I want to walk over and peer into them, to rummage through them. But I resist. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Bronzeville’s Second Renaissance

Artist Profiles, Bronzeville, Hyde Park No Comments »
Samantha Hill's "Great Migration" installation at the Southside Hub of Production

Samantha Hill’s “Great Migration” installation at the Southside Hub of Production

Samantha Hill claims there is a cultural renaissance occurring in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood. “There is palpable new energy circulating here amongst organizers, educators and residents that isn’t yet defined.” Determined to capture and engage in this revival, for her first solo exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center, Hill presents “Topographical Depictions of the Bronzeville Renaissance.”

Originally from Philadelphia, Hill has been naturally drawn toward and deeply involved in the cultural activities of the South Side since her arrival in the city ten years ago. She has organized happenings, held residencies and taught art courses at the South Side Community Art Center and Chicago State University. As a social art practitioner, bringing people together and facilitating conversations is at the heart of heart of what she does, and it is through working in these neighborhoods that Hill has been able to get to know people at the forefront of Bronzeville’s new momentum, record their stories and discover the spirit of the neighborhood. Read the rest of this entry »